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COPENHAGEN, 8 November 2013 – Lord Peter Bowness, member of the United Kingdom's delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, yesterday led a fruitful debate in the House of Lords on the British government's priorities for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Speaking about the important work of OSCE institutions and field operations, Lord Bowness noted the opaqueness of the Helsinki +40 process and asked for clarification from the Government on what has been achieved in light of the decision to launch Helsinki +40 at the Dublin Ministerial Council last year.

"What are the goals that Her Majesty's Government are hoping to achieve within the process," Lord Bowness asked. "What indicatives are they supporting in connection with reform of OSCE?" He also sought clarification on the role of the Parliamentary Assembly within the Helsinki +40 process. "In discussions about OSCE at Helsinki +40," he asked, "do Her Majesty's Government see a role for the Parliamentary Assembly? Do they agree that greater involvement for the Parliamentary Assembly would assist in supporting participating states in raising awareness of OSCE's work?"

Lord Bowness noted that the Parliamentary Assembly spends considerable time on election monitoring, which he called "a valuable and important part of its work." Nevertheless, he said, "it could have a wider political role," which would help to raise the profile of the OSCE.

In the debate, members discussed various aspects of the OSCE's work and the role of the Assembly, including the contributions that parliamentarians can make to the process of securing Afghanistan in light of the upcoming withdrawal of NATO forces. Lord William Wallace of Saltaire recalled the debate four decades ago that led to the agreement in the Helsinki Final Act on the three dimensions of security: politico-military, economic and environmental, and the human dimension.

"The co-operation baskets which were negotiated were in effect a trade-off between an emphasis on security and arms control, confidence-building measures and the economic co-operation which the Soviet Union, as it then was, very much hoped for, including in particular a degree of technological transfer, and the human rights basket which the West wanted in return," Lord Wallace said.

"As a lot of us well remember," he continued, "that led to the establishment of Helsinki groups in a number of eastern European countries." Lord Wallace recalled that in discussions he had during the 1980s with Soviet counterparts, there was recognition that if the Soviet Union wanted to be accepted as a European country, there were standards as expressed in the Helsinki Final Act to which they had to pay attention.

"That is still there in the background of what has become the post-Cold War OSCE," he pointed out.

He further stressed that the British Government continues to value the role of the OSCE. "We accept that it will continue to be limited because it is a consensus-based organization," he said, and "we recognize that the Parliamentary Assembly plays a valuable role."

The OSCE PA's last Annual Session was held in Istanbul under the theme "Helsinki +40." In the Istanbul Declaration adopted on 3 July, the Assembly called for clarification of the goals and purpose of the Helsinki +40 process by the OSCE Chairmanship, in co-operation with the next two chairmanships, while informing the public about the process to increase the level of interest and transparency.

The PA further stressed that "the Helsinki +40 process must be reinvigorated by making steady, year-by-year progress towards achieving its fundamental goals of building security in the OSCE region."

For the full OSCE debate in the House of Lords, click here.