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Statements in International Organisations

02.02.2006

Statement by Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik at the meeting of the Permanent Council of the OSCE


Meeting of the Permanent Council of the OSCE

2 February 2006, Vienna

 

 

Mr. Chairman,
Mr. Secretary General,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

The Ljubljana Ministerial Council has given the OSCE new momentum with the solution of a number of long standing problems and decisions on important tasks for the future. In the implementation of these decisions, the participating States will show how much importance they wish to give to the OSCE in the international community.

I am convinced that the functions performed by the OSCE, with its 30 years of experience, are still important, and indeed particularly important, in a radically changed political environment. The OSCE seeks to meet this challenge through the combined commitment of parliamentarians, the Secretariat, the institutions and the field operations.

I am very happy, at this time of recovered momentum, for which the Slovenian Chairmanship deserves much of the credit, to participate in this traditional meeting between the Presidency of the European Union (EU) and the Permanent Council. Building on the recognition by the Council of the European Union of the importance of enhancing its partnership with the OSCE in a comprehensive way (Council conclusions of 14 June 2004), I should like to discuss with you the following subject: how can the EU contribute more effectively to the work of the OSCE? This is a good moment, because I have just come from the Council of Ministers of the Union, which considered a series of themes that are also on the agenda of the OSCE.

The EU, for many reasons, is conscious of a great responsibility for the work of the OSCE, particularly as, through its member States, it covers three quarters of the budget of the Organization. Its members also frequently assume the chairmanship of the Organization. Moreover, its statements in the Permanent Council are regularly supported by other participating States, something which the EU — as I should like to take this opportunity to stress — notes with gratitude and values very highly.

A general statement on the programme of the Belgian Chairmanship has already been made by the EU in the Permanent Council. Another statement, on the programme of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), carefully co ordinated with all member States and supported by other participating States, has also been delivered. I shall therefore not refer explicitly to all the topics dealt with there.

I see it as our immediate task to strengthen the confidence of all participating States in the OSCE as a regional security organization with a comprehensive security concept, which places the individual human being in the centre of attention.

As you know, confidence is also to a certain extent a problem in the EU, and there too we pay great attention to it. Despite all the differences between the two organizations, the EU and the OSCE are both communities based on shared values; their interests and goals coincide to a considerable degree.

The strengthening of confidence is a demanding political task, which needs to be approached with care. It is a matter of weighing up options, and also a matter of compromises and of understanding for each participating State’s conception of itself, while at the same time there is a need to respect and uphold the basic values and acquis of the Organization.

Ljubljana has contributed towards strengthening this confidence. The implementation of the “road map” for increasing the effectiveness of the OSCE — taking into account the very helpful recommendations of the Panel of Eminent Persons — will, I am convinced, continue this trend.

The all embracing task of the OSCE is the promotion of peaceful co operation between the countries in the area extending from Vancouver to Vladivostok. At the Economic Forum held recently in Vienna, consideration was even given to the prospects for the integration of the whole Eurasian space. Many international organizations are making their contribution in this regard. No organization has a monopoly. The configuration of the international community is constantly changing and only through intensive co operation, in which the EU is naturally ready to play its part, will it be possible to discover which organization can contribute most to progress in a specific case.

The work of the OSCE is based on solid common documents, which, beginning with the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, have developed and set forth a series of outlines for concrete action. This action unfolds in three dimensions. For each dimension, the Ministerial Council Meeting in Ljubljana gave impulses.

I should like to pick out a few topics by way of example and so illustrate how co operation between the EU and the OSCE can be developed.

Allow me, in this connection, to recall in a few phrases the successes that we can look back to in the EU:

— Between the member States, the era of violent conflicts is over for good;

— More and more obstacles are being removed to economic relations between the members; and

— Within each member State, civil liberties are better guaranteed than ever before in history.

In the OSCE, we are concerned with comparable problems and expectations, namely:

— Averting of classical and new dangers in the security area;

— Removing political and other obstacles to economic development;

— Removing restrictions on the freedom, rights, creativity and spirit of enterprise of human beings.

In the programme for 2006 of the Austrian and subsequent Finnish EU presidencies, the combating of terrorism is included as an important topic.

Like the OSCE, the EU has developed a multitude of activities in the field of fighting terrorism. In December 2005, they were combined by the European Council in a strategy document setting forth the guidelines for future action by the EU.

On this basis, closer co operation between the OSCE and the EU should be established, so that both partners can contribute more efficiently to combating terrorism.

In the politico military dimension — in which many people supposed, a few years ago, that there was little more to be done — there are a host of important tasks to be performed, of which I wish to mention only a few:

International security policy and military doctrines, like other subjects, have undergone certain changes following the events of 11 September 2001. I therefore welcome the fact that the OSCE is shortly to hold a Seminar on Military Doctrine to analyse the repercussions of contemporary threats and technologies for military doctrines and army structures. This will also give new impulses to the security work of the OSCE. The EU will be represented at this Seminar not only by the top military representatives of the different countries but also by a representative of its military component.

A threat for the security of many people is represented by the surplus stocks of small arms and light weapons and of conventional ammunition. Here the Forum for Security Co operation (FSC) has done exemplary work: by drafting the corresponding OSCE documents, by producing an internationally recognized Handbook of Best Practices on Small Arms and Light Weapons and by successfully beginning the processing of requests from a number of States for help in the securing or elimination of dangerous weapon and ammunition stockpiles.

In this area, too, I see possibilities for closer co operation between the OSCE and the EU, which are among the main actors worldwide in this area. In December, the European Council adopted a strategy to combat the accumulation of and illegal trafficking in these weapons, and the Commission is very active in this area. The EU should consider all possibilities for supporting one or other OSCE project, because we are concerned here with a typically “multidimensional” undertaking which, besides arms control, relates above all to development and human rights questions, as well as to economic and environmental issues.

Another security theme, to which the Belgian Chairmanship will give particular attention, is the struggle against organized crime. Here, too, there are many interests shared between the EU and the OSCE and other bodies such as, for example, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime here in Vienna.

As an example of a policy field in which a wide spectrum of these measures for the gradual elimination of obstacles and the warding off of new dangers can be seen in concentrated form, I should like to stress the new neighbourhood policy of the EU. The priorities and expectations are listed in the documents setting out the general principles of this policy and in the various action plans. The list includes: the combating of organized crime, corruption and trafficking in human beings; co operation with regard to migration and border management; co operation on common security threats; conflict prevention and crisis management; protection of the environment — together with a number of goals in the humanitarian, cultural and media areas.

It would seem to me worthwhile to consider all the possibilities for involving the OSCE on a more systematic and long term basis in the development and implementation of this neighbourhood policy. Here I include the field missions, which sometimes have local experience extending over a longer period.

Let me take the example of efforts to combat trafficking in human beings, which has assumed dramatic proportions, to show how such co operation can look in practice. The OSCE and its Special Representative on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings made an essential contribution to the materialization of the EU action plan against trafficking in human beings. A basic document, which expressly welcomes this co operation with the OSCE and the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons initiated by the OSCE Special Representative, gives specific indications of the next steps to be undertaken:

— First of all, an awareness raising campaign should be organized within the EU;

— A seminar that the Presidency hopes to organize with the Special Representative in the first half of 2006 is to consider the question of identification of victims;

— A research project should consider the subject of repeated trafficking in human beings, with particular reference to children. In Ljubljana, the OSCE adopted an addendum on this subject to its own Action Plan.

The ODIHR, for its part, has produced a handbook on the development of national referral mechanisms, with guidance on procedures to be followed in dealing with victims of trafficking in human beings. The EU supports this project.

On 17 March, the Austrian Presidency will be holding a high level conference in Vienna on the subject of combating trafficking in children, with 42 participating countries. The cross border character of these efforts is to be particularly emphasized at the conference. The OSCE is very closely involved.

With these measures, co operation has been given a strong impetus.

I shall now say a few words about the OSCE’s economic and environmental dimension.

The general theme of the 2006 Economic Forum, namely transport, aroused great interest, particularly in the countries of Central Asia, the Caucasus and South East Europe. In this area, co operation between the OSCE and the EU, in harmony with the 2003 economic strategy, is concentrating on a few issues such as security and regional co operation. The previous preparatory work has been carried further by the Belgian Chairmanship with great commitment. As a result of the process, we expect valuable inputs for the political dialogue and concrete action deriving from it.

A further subject which not only must be given a central place in our countries in the interests of economic development, but is also of long term significance for internal and external security, is the effort to ensure good governance. The OSCE took up this subject several years ago, thanks to a United Kingdom initiative, and is pursuing an ambitious programme in this regard in co operation with other international organizations. The EU, for its part, incorporates this goal in many agreements with third countries, such as partnership and co operation agreements. In all these agreements, good governance is included as an important development goal.

With this, and with the related matter of the central role of the rule of law, I would like to turn to the human dimension. In this connection, I should like to highlight the promotion of tolerance and non discrimination as an essential concern of the OSCE, including the ODIHR. An important partner of the OSCE in these questions is the EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia, with its headquarters in Vienna — now being converted into the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. Discrimination against people on national, ethnic, religious or racial grounds in unacceptable in today’s world, particularly at a time of increasing mobility and migration.

This is especially to be emphasized at a time when very many people in the Muslim world feel offended in their religious convictions as a result of publications in European media. Needless to say, freedom of the press and freedom of opinion are quite central values that must be defended in our society — and are equally important for this Organization. However, words and actions that disparage a religion in an offensive manner are to be condemned.

At the same time, we are very concerned about the escalation that has occurred in recent days in this connection. Against this background, the EU Council, on Monday, strongly rejected threats by militant groups against EU citizens.

Austria takes respect for religious feelings very seriously, and we regard dialogue as the best instrument for promoting mutual respect, building bridges and removing misunderstandings. This is a subject in which the OSCE, too, is taking an increasing interest.

The dialogue between cultures and religions is taking place every day. It needs to be conducted responsibly and carefully and is a task not only for each individual but also for organizations like the EU and the OSCE.

Free citizens must have the right to make political decisions in free and fair elections. The rules in this regard have been set forth, confirmed and re emphasized for fifteen years in the basic documents of the OSCE, as have also the rules regarding the accompanying observation of elections by the ODIHR. The manner in which the ODIHR carries out this mandate is seen as a model in the international community. With those participating States that do not share this opinion, detailed conversations will naturally have to take place. The Ljubljana Ministerial Council has also adopted decisions in this connection. Open access to political participation is an important subject for the OSCE and, I need not stress, for the EU also. This is naturally valid not only for periodic elections but also for democratic institutions and the democratic process as a whole.

The European Union also has an extensive election observation mechanism at its disposal, which follows the methods of the ODIHR and which enables the European Commission to participate in election observation missions outside of Europe. So as to avoid any duplication and, not least of all, to ensure that financial and human resources are used in the best possible way, it does not observe elections in the OSCE area but leaves that to the ODIHR. The parliamentarians organize their participation in election monitoring operations independently.

Another area in which intensified co operation is being considered is civilian crisis management. In view of their specific capabilities, the two organizations are eminently suited to complementing one another in this field. In the case of the EU, this is a very dynamic political area, as is demonstrated by the planning and implementation of ten such operations since 2003. These include police and border assistance missions and a mission focusing on the rule of law.

During the coming weeks, there will be a more concentrated exchange of opinions with the OSCE on these issues, beginning with a meeting of the EU Political and Security Committee, to which the Secretary General, Mr. Brichambaut, is also invited. At an informal meeting of the EU Committee for Civilian Aspects of Crisis Management on 2 and 3 March in Vienna, practical conclusions are to be drawn with the assistance of the OSCE.

Conflict management is also a keyword in regional conflicts. For many years, the EU and the OSCE have been working together in different ways to find solutions to the so called frozen conflicts and to develop peace building measures. An impressive recent example is the border assistance mission for Ukraine and Moldova. Here, the EU — in close contact with others, with advice from the OSCE mission in Chisinau and keeping all those involved and interested constantly informed — has established in a relatively short period of time a structure of some 150 persons which not only observes and reports but at the same time supports the border authorities of both countries in improving their working practices.

I believe that the Belgian Chairmanship will agree with me when I say that the EU and the OSCE have every interest in continuing this co operation in a targeted way — in the Balkans, in the Caucasus and in Central Asia — and needless to say in close co operation with the larger international community.

I am specifically thinking of Kosovo in that connection. The conversations I had in Priština while attending the funeral of President Rugova have confirmed that the OSCE has important tasks to perform there in the future, the planning for which will need to be closely co ordinated with the EU.

In view of all these areas of common ground that link the EU and the OSCE, first steps could be taken, as is provided for in the Austrian Finnish operational programme, to produce a joint EU OSCE document on questions of co operation.

I should like to close with a few more general comments.

The OSCE was created thirty years ago to overcome ideological dividing lines in Europe. The East West division of Europe ceased with the end of the Cold War. Since then, the countries in the OSCE area have made amazing progress towards rapprochement on the basis of democracy and human rights. But, of course, not all of the differences and divergences have vanished in the process. Each people has its own traditions and experiences that are politically relevant. Opposing interests manifest themselves, which is not unexpected but which disappoints excessively optimistic expectations of perfect international harmony. These realities can also come into conflict with the commitment to common values and obligations and provide the background for new political dividing lines — or for the claim that such lines are forming again.

This is one of the developments that we have to deal with. I see a role for the OSCE here that is not only relevant today but will be relevant again and again in the future. As an organization for co operative security, thanks to its consensus rule and its institutionalized mechanisms for the implementation of common commitments and especially for dealing with difficult problem situations, the OSCE is especially suited to ensuring that differences of opinion and opposing interests do not develop into genuine dividing lines. The OSCE should be in a position to recognize such dangers in good time, to minimize them and to contribute to their elimination.

Also in view of the problems underlying the current debate on strengthening the effectiveness of the OSCE, we must further develop the strategy of dialogue, so that the advantages of comprehensive co operation and solidarity on the one hand and the disadvantages of going it alone and of voluntary isolation on the other become clear to all. This goal is served by the dialogue that has been developed in the OSCE for decades, one of whose basic principles must be that controversial problems are discussed in an open manner and made visible, and remain on the agenda until they are solved. While this can involve the risk that many an important concern is reduced to an annotation on the international agenda, it also entails the hope that the subject will not be forgotten and will be taken up again in more favourable circumstances.

In the discussion concerning the role of the OSCE in the international community, its relevance and its capacity for solving problems, the challenge is clear. There can be no departing from common political commitments. In a world which remains inhomogeneous and is becoming ever more interdependent, an organization for co operative security also has the task of further extending political dialogue and refining it, avoiding policies of exclusion and strengthening confidence internationally in the integrational power of its instruments. Its operational capabilities and its specialized institutions and missions provide first class tools for this endeavour. Here the OSCE has a clear and essential task.

 

Date: 09.02.2006