The OSCE: Waning or waxing?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is not obsolete and EU member states need to understand its importance for a stronger European security architecture, writes German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens/European Free Alliance) in a commentary sent to EURACTIV.

This commentary was sent to EURACTIV by Reinhard Bütikofer MEP.

''The slow but continuous slide of the OSCE into irrelevance and oblivion, that for years marked the fate of this organisation – which had once been greeted with much fanfare – may be over. In the run-up to the OSCE summit in Astana, Kazakhstan on 1-2 December there is new hope. Is this, so to speak, the John 5:8 moment for the OSCE: 'Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!?'

I would argue that it just might be. This Euro-Atlantic organisation that brings together East and West has not yet run its course. While the EU is ushering in its new External Action Service and NATO will be considering its future strategy at its mid-November summit in Lisbon, new lease of life should be given to the OSCE as an indispensible part of a complex European security architecture.

First created in the early 1970s as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the Organisation on Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has since then largely contributed to building peace and security in many regions, comprising 56 participating states from North America, Europe and Asia. The achievements of this organisation during the past four decades, regarding the promotion and maintenance of security and cooperation, uniting countries from Vancouver to Vladivostok, form a success story.

But no organisation can rest on its laurels. The world has fundamentally changed during the past 40 years, and so have the challenges the OSCE has to face. A more ambitious security partnership must be developed between the West and Russia and other post-Soviet countries.

New security issues are emerging in the 21st century, such as climate change, energy security, cyber security, natural and man-made catastrophes and continuing conflicts in many areas of the world. In order to contribute to coping with these new challenges, and to re-establish trust and confidence as well as to renew commitments to the principles of the OSCE, as it is the goal of the Corfu Process, there are some crucial points that should be high on the agenda during the OSCE Summit in Astana.

For the European Union none is more important than the simple but powerful question: How can we as a Union actively contribute to strengthening the OSCE and further promoting the impact of this organisation?

Over the last years, the expanding scope of the EU's CSDP [Common Security and Defence Policy] has been perceived by many as constituting a growing competition for the OSCE. There is no use denying that this perception came not completely out of the blue. However, there can be no challenge to the evident truth that however much the EU is going to invest into its CSDP in the future, it will not be able to substitute the OSCE. Therefore, it should be one of the first prominent tasks for the EEAS to help the EU in defining a new strategy of comprehensive partnership with the OSCE.

To be precise, closer security cooperation between the European Union, Russia and our transatlantic partners, particularly the United States of America, is necessary. We need more transparency concerning the different goals and expectations of our partners when it comes to the future tasks of the OSCE and its role as an important pillar in the global security architecture.

The European Union has to broaden its commitment towards common OSCE missions all around the world. These missions are the most important means of the OSCE and they are crucial in promoting freedom, security and peace in the world. In this context a more effective conflict prevention and management should be a priority.

The creation of an OSCE Crisis Prevention Mechanism, as proposed by US Vice-President [Joe] Biden, would be an important step forward. Civilian conflict prevention must be one focal point in this context. The Georgia crisis last year and the ongoing conflicts in the areas of Transnistria and Kyrgyzstan are constantly reminding us of the fact that security is not to be taken for granted.

When reforming the OSCE, the balance between the three dimensions of the organisation – namely the political and military dimension, the economic-environmental dimension and the human dimension – is to be maintained. This is something the Green Group in the European Parliament considers particularly important. Not only do we need to cooperate on a military, but also on a civilian level.

Regarding this, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which plays an essential role in election observation, the promotion of human rights and democratisation, rights of minorities, peaceful coexistence of minority communities and prevention of ethnic conflicts, must be strengthened. A joint Action Plan, accepted in Astana, laying out a roadmap towards a Charter for a Security Community in the OSCE would be an important breakthrough towards these goals.

In order to further promote the important work of the OSCE, Europe has to take greater responsibilities and participate more efficiently and actively in achieving the joint objectives of the organisation. The EU as a part of this approach should raise the perspective of contributing common EU capacities to OSCE-mandated missions.

In the case of Kyrgyzstan for instance, a common Russia-EU mission under an OSCE mandate might have been a positive idea, but under the present circumstances that unfortunately was no option. Also the European External Action Service and the ODIHR should work together in order to strengthen the EU's position regarding election observation in the OSCE area.

European security is a strong supporting pillar for global security. Therefore, Europe, which extends beyond the EU, should learn speaking with one voice and closely cooperate with all partners on security issues. To this end not only NATO and the CSDP must develop, but also OSCE reform has to be delivered. The European member states have to be aware of their impact and their responsibility regarding the strengthening of the OSCE, in order to enhance security, freedom and peace to their citizens and their neighbours.''

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