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2015 UI CompositParticipants gathered at the Swedish Parliament for the OSCE PA's third Helsinki +40 seminar on 11 March. (photo courtesy of Melker Dahlstrand/The Riksdag Administration)

COPENHAGEN, 12 March 2015 – The third event in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Helsinki +40 seminar series took place on 11 March in Stockholm, with experts, policy-makers, ambassadors and OSCE parliamentarians considering how the European security architecture, and the OSCE's inclusive security community in particular, can better prevent conflicts and respond to new threats.

Among key ideas to emerge was the need for the Organization to rededicate itself to work on the ground and field presences in order to better mitigate economic, governance and human rights challenges before they escalate into conflicts. Other suggestions included the development of a specific mediation mandate for the PA; the need for greater civil society involvement in the Organization's work; the promotion of active self-evaluation by participating States; and the need to boost co-operation with other international organizations.

The OSCE PA's Helsinki +40 Project is a series of international seminars at leading think-tanks that bring together diplomats, politicians and scholars to evaluate the OSCE's past and inspire reform ahead of the 40th anniversary of the Organization's founding document, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975.

The Project's Stockholm seminar, held under the theme "The OSCE's role in (re)consolidating European security," was hosted by the Swedish Parliament and The Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI).

In his opening remarks, Tobias Billstrom, the first deputy speaker of the Swedish Parliament, underscored trust and dialogue as two critical elements in countering the "growing threat to democratic values and respect for international treaties and human rights" in the OSCE area. He emphasized the value of the OSCE PA in that regard.

Former OSCE PA President Goran Lennmarker added that the deepening trust deficit in the OSCE area means that PA's role may be greater than ever. A codified role for the PA in mediation activities should be considered, he said, along with the establishment of Helsinki Commissions, such as in the United States, to promote adherence to commitments and self-evaluation in all participating States.

Helsinki +40 Project Chair Joao Soares (MP, Portugal) argued that if the OSCE is currently facing a crisis of values, there is even greater need to put the principles it advocates into practice within the Organization itself:

"Inside the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly is the only truly democratic institution that exists. The governmental side works according to the consensus rule, which places strict limitations on actions that the OSCE can take and on the very language that the Organization uses to describe events taking place in the OSCE area," he said.

OSCE PA Vice-President Kent Harstedt (MP, Sweden) suggested that another method to increase accountability is to invite ministers and high-ranking officials from participating States to report on their implementation of OSCE commitments and answer the Assembly's questions.

Mats Karlsson, UI's director, contended that the OSCE must re-focus on its founding cross-dimensional approach to security -- encompassing economics, the environment and human rights -- if it is to make the most of its potential to prevent conflict.

One way to do so, former OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus suggested, is to refocus on field activities and tackle challenges with a more hands-on approach. A related goal is to better engage civil society in OSCE work, he said, noting that the PA could take the lead in bringing such initiatives to life.

OSCE PA Secretary General Spencer Oliver also advocated a re-dedication to field work and the need for ground-level initiatives to inform communities about the Helsinki Principles and their countries' commitments.

"Preservation, persistence and patience" are the three keys to the Helsinki Final Act's current and future vitality, he said.

The OSCE PA Helsinki +40 Project's first and second events were hosted by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in Moscow and The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Washington, respectively.

Further seminars will be held in Copenhagen in April, in co-operation with the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), and in Belgrade in May, in co-operation with the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE).

The results of the Project will be presented as a final report during the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's 24th Annual Session in Helsinki on 6 July.

For more information, visit www.oscepa.org/parliamentary-diplomacy/helsinki40.