Kyiv Post

17 January 2013

By Riccardo Migliori

When Ukraine kicks off its chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the world’s largest regional security organization, it will be the start of a crucial year and a moment to reset expectations for what the OSCE can be. 

In Vienna, there will be speeches, applause and when the toasts are done. When Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara heads back to Kyiv, some in Vienna may want to blow off any lofty chairmanship goals as New Year hype. 

We must not let that happen. Ukraine must beat expectations for the sake of the OSCE.

Given the chance to stand out in the international community as an established and independent world actor, Ukraine must demonstrate its potential to be a global political bridge between East and West and help the OSCE succeed on security matters where it has too often fallen short. 

From Internet freedom and human rights to energy security and climate change, frozen conflicts to the broken nature of OSCE decision-making, Ukraine should view its chairmanship as an opportunity to, as Kozhara said, “change the mindset” at the OSCE. 

Freedom online

Ukraine proved its leadership last year, co-sponsoring a draft declaration on fundamental freedoms in the digital age. Forty-seven OSCE countries stood with them on this simple notion that our commitment to human rights does not change with new technology. Now Ukraine must work to get the nine remaining OSCE countries on board. If successful, Kozhara would be credited with modernizing an organization that many still see as rooted in the Cold War.

New approach to energy

Kyiv may have its own plate full on the energy agenda, but the OSCE provides a platform to broaden this discussion. Kozhara’s goal to emphasize the environmental impact of energy security at the OSCE is a smart approach. Whether we are talking transit or exploration, I hope he will include the Arctic frontier high on this agenda. Ukraine could adopt a two-fold approach with this regard: increasing co-operation with the Arctic Council and creating a coherent OSCE Arctic strategy building on past projects. 

To most effectively address these concerns, I also recommend action on food security – the concept that links climate change with human rights. Swift action is needed to avert humanitarian catastrophes in the OSCE area. Inaction would entail a price too high, especially for our poorest citizens. 

Proud peacemaker

Bringing new creativity from Kyiv to these issues can help revitalize the OSCE, but nothing could give this security organization a bigger boost in 2013 than a peaceful breakthrough in one of the protracted conflicts. And no country is better suited to achieve this in its chairmanship than Ukraine.

Ukraine stands in a privileged and strategic position to tackle security and humanitarian questions stalled in the OSCE. The Transdniestrian conflict can reach a decisive breakthrough if Ukraine, through closely working with its partners in the 5+2 negotiations, adopts a courageous approach and commits to accelerating the recently re-started process. 

This chairmanship also should take advantage of its historical relationship with Belarus and other CIS members, to encourage progress on commitments in the field of human rights.  

To truly beat expectations that the OSCE chairmanship is not just some rotating title – that it can have tangible meaning – Kyiv should work starting today to realize its potential impact. The 323-member OSCE Parliamentary Assembly – the democratic base of the organization - has laid out numerous recommendations in its annual declarations that could improve the work of the OSCE and we stand ready to work with the Ukrainian chairmanship to help make this year a success. 

Stand for reform 

I fully endorse the chairmanship’s ambitious goals and pragmatic proposals. But at the outset of this year, Ukraine has a choice. Will Kozhara be content just to be the steward of the OSCE and let one year pass to the next, or will Kyiv turn the key to unlock the spirit of Helsinki as we approach the 40th anniversary of our historic agreement? To make a difference, reform of the OSCE cannot be postponed any longer. 

Last November, Ukraine and Belarus discussed the need to enhance the OSCE’s economic and environmental dimension. I could not agree more. And Kozhara’s call for constructive contributions from civil society is right in line with OSCE Parliamentary Assembly recommendations for a more transparent OSCE, one where the Vienna structures welcome greater input from NGOs. But the change most needed is even more fundamental. The consensus rule must end. To avoid stalemates and strengthen our decision-making process, no one country can be allowed to wield a veto in secret as the rules allow at present.  

Ukraine will need to invest the time, patience and political will to make these changes real, to make the OSCE matter and to make the Kyiv ministerial an event that caps a year of beating expectations.

Riccardo Migliori is president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and a member of the Italian parliament.