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2014-GMF-Composite2Top left: OSCE PA President Emeritus Ranko Krivokapic (MP, Montenegro), GMF President Karen Donfried, OSCE PA President Ilkka Kanerva 
Top right: OSCE PA Secretary General Spencer Oliver, Kanerva, GMF Senior Vice President for Programs Ivan Vejvoda 
Bottom left: former OSCE PA President and U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings, former OSCE PA President and Helsinki +40 Project Chair Joao Soares, Russian Academy of Sciences expert Andrei Zagorski, former OSCE PA President Amb. Javier Ruperez, Wilson Center expert Martin Sletzinger
Bottom right: U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin, U.S. Congressman Christopher Smith

COPENHAGEN, 19 November 2014 – The second leg of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Helsinki +40 seminar series has concluded in Washington, with six current and former Assembly presidents, members of the U.S. Congress, diplomats, experts and academics considering how the OSCE can most effectively promote good transatlantic relations and respond to new challenges, particularly in light of the crisis in Ukraine.

The need for an East-West bridge that inspired the creation of the OSCE remains acute today, but the capacities of OSCE institutions, particularly its parliamentary dimension, must be strengthened, and there must be renewed focus on adherence to the Organization’s core principles, the participants said.

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 Washington seminar, “Helsinki +40: Implications for the Transatlantic Relationship,” was hosted by The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) on 18 November. It also included a session on Capitol Hill with U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin and U.S. Congressman Christopher Smith, the Chair and Co-Chair, respectively, of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

The seminar follows the Project’s opening event, hosted by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in Moscow in September. 

In opening the seminar, OSCE PA President Ilkka Kanerva (MP, Finland) laid out the challenges that Helsinki +40 Project expects to address: 

“What should be done to overcome the dividing lines and sclerosis that have emerged stronger than ever in the Organization over the past 20 years? How to make the participating States live up to their commitments and account for the transgression of the OSCE’s founding principles? And, in general, what mechanisms need to be developed to make the OSCE’s soft power a little harder and to prevent that the Organization’s 40th anniversary from becoming a ‘final act’ for the Helsinki Final Act?” he asked.

GMF President Karen Donfried noted that the international community’s reliance on the OSCE to respond to the crisis in Ukraine had proven the Organization’s continued value, but that reform is needed to maximize its potential.

Martin Sletzinger, a Senior Scholar at the Wilson Center, and Klas Bergman, a journalist and former spokesperson for the OSCE PA, presented policy briefs for the seminar, tracing the lasting impact of the Helsinki Final Act and emphasizing the importance of a public dimension to the OSCE’s work, in particular through its Parliamentary Assembly.

Ambassador Javier Ruperez, a former OSCE PA President and participant in the drafting of the Helsinki Final Act, also presented a paper at the seminar. He argued that public accountability for violations of the Act’s principles would be key if the Organization is to weather the Ukraine crisis with its credibility intact.

Helsinki +40 Project Chair Joao Soares (MP, Portugal) recommended an expanded role for the PA within the OSCE as a means to increase credibility by giving elected representatives greater input in decision-making. He also emphasized that all OSCE participating States – not just Russia in the context of the Ukraine crisis – must be held to the standards they have vowed to uphold.

U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin suggested that the OSCE should actively encourage and even institutionalize a self-evaluation procedure, whereby participating States assess their own actions against commitments undertaken in the OSCE, strengthening the Organization’s spirit of mutual responsibility in the process.

U.S. Congressman Christopher Smith, who also serves as Head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA, called for the OSCE to make increased investments in training for its personnel and devote more resources to initiatives that combat anti-Semitism and human-trafficking, among others.

Former OSCE PA President and U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings and several other participants argued that empowering the Organization to better respond to crises such as the one in Ukraine requires reconsideration of the consensus-based decision-making that governs much of what the OSCE can do. They noted that the upcoming OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Switzerland provides an opportunity to reconsider the consensus rule, at least for budgetary and personnel issues as a start.

Other suggestions offered during the seminar included strengthening the Organization’s accountability and transparency by opening Permanent Council meetings to the press and providing for a parliamentary role in approving the OSCE budget and appointments of senior officials.

Following the seminar, Kanerva, Soares and Ivan Vejvoda, the Senior Vice President for Programs at the GMF, led a town-hall event on the OSCE with students at Washington’s Georgetown University on 19 November.

Further OSCE PA Helsinki +40 seminars will be held in Stockholm in March 2015, in co-operation with the Swedish Parliament and The Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI); in Copenhagen in April 2015, in co-operation with the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS); and in Belgrade in May 2015, 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 2015.

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