The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's 16th Winter Meeting took place at the Hofburg Congress Centre in Vienna on 23-24 February 2017.
Opening the meeting, President of the National Council of Austria Doris Bures and OSCE PA President Christine Muttonen spoke about the work being conducted in Austria to advance OSCE commitments and values in addressing common challenges. In her remarks, Bures noted that “isolation and nationalism” are “not a path to a peaceful and secure future.”
“In the interests of our citizens, we must travel the more difficult but better road. Through dialogue and co-operation, we must seek solutions that embrace the ideals of our community: peace, security, prosperity and the guarantee of democratic values in the OSCE area on both sides of the Atlantic,” Bures said.
President Muttonen expressed concern that the OSCE area today is simultaneously impacted by multiple crises, noting in particular the deterioration of the security situation in eastern Ukraine as a growing concern, as well as recent escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the ongoing threat of terrorism affecting OSCE countries. Muttonen stressed the role of parliamentarians in enhancing the level of dialogue.
“Relationships need to be cultivated,” she said. “Aggressive rhetoric and nationalistic politics will only narrow the view and make more difficult necessary and global solutions. We should try to build bridges whenever possible and always seek to cultivate co-operation.”
Also addressing the opening session was OSCE PA Special Representative on Gender Issues Hedy Fry (MP, Canada) who focused on the gender aspects of the refugee and migrant crisis, and specifically integration into host communities. “If we want to build secure societies we need to be sure that newcomers are integrated and feel secure,” she said, emphasizing in particular language training and health care as priorities, as well as the special needs of women and children.
The PA's three general committees met during the Winter Meeting to hear from government representatives of OSCE participating States and debate issues related to political and security affairs, economics and the environment, and human rights and humanitarian questions. Each committee also heard presentations by committee rapporteurs regarding their ideas and intentions for the reports and draft resolutions to be prepared for the 26th Annual Session in Minsk in July 2017.
Several bilateral discussions took place on the margins of the Winter Meeting, including a number of meetings between President Muttonen and heads of OSCE PA delegations. The President also participated in a side event organized by the Finnish delegation entitled “The Human Security Dimension in Peace Mediation.” Other side meetings taking place during the Winter Meeting included one on energy security, organized by Ukraine, and an event organized by the United Kingdom on the theme “Relevant, Responsive, Responsible Democracy.”
The PA’s Standing Committee of heads of national delegations met on 23 February to hear reports by President Muttonen, OSCE PA Treasurer Doris Barnett, Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on the Rules of Procedure Peter Bowness, and Secretary General Roberto Montella, as well as from OSCE PA Special Representatives, leaders of recent election observation missions and the chairs of ad hoc committees.
The closing joint session on the afternoon of 24 February featured a special debate on protecting human rights in times of crisis. Dozens of interventions by members of parliament from more than 20 OSCE participating States addressed issues related to counter-terrorism, radicalization, protracted conflicts in the OSCE region, and challenges to state authority, emphasizing the importance of upholding fundamental rights during periods of heightened security concerns.
Parliamentarians also heard addresses by Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria Sebastian Kurz and OSCE Secretary General Amb. Lamberto Zannier, followed by a question and answer session.
Minister Kurz commended the valuable role of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. “As representatives of the people, you contribute in an impressive manner to defend, protect and implement the values and aspirations of the OSCE. Democratic feedback as well as dialogue through complementary channels of communication are indispensable for our organization and can contribute to building trust and confidence,” he said.
“At a time when we face growing mistrust and an increasing number of ever more complex challenges, it is important that we make full use of all possibilities to revive co-operative security,” said Zannier. “By engaging in parliamentary diplomacy and in their national capacity, members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly strongly contribute to the Organization’s objectives. As a central forum for dialogue between our 57 participating States, the OSCE PA provides a vital link towards a more secure future.”
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