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  1. What were the goals of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Helsinki +40 Project?
  2. What makes the Helsinki Final Act so important?
  3. Why the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly?
  4. How will the Helsinki +40 Project be organized?
  5. Who is involved?
  6. What will the end result be?
  7. How can I participate and stay informed?
  8. What has the Parliamentary Assembly already done to consider the OSCE’s role and suggest reforms?
  9. The governmental dimension of the OSCE is also involved in the Helsinki +40 Process. Where can I find more information regarding this? How are the OSCE PA Helsinki +40 Project and the Helsinki +40 Process interrelated?

 


1. What were the goals of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Helsinki +40 Project?

August 2015 marked the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act , the OSCE’s founding document. The two years (2014-2015) before this milestone gave the OSCE PA time to fulfill commitments and to develop, looking towards the future and capitalizing on the past, concrete lines of action and reform recommendations for the OSCE and its participating States.

The Helsinki +40 Project sought to promote reform and reaffirm the Organization’s institutional and conceptual framework in the spirit of that landmark document. Drawing on a rich cross-section of the OSCE’s many interlocutors, this seminar-based initiative helped the Organization reflect on what has been accomplished and identify where change is needed in order to stay relevant and effective. As the OSCE’s democratic backbone, the Parliamentary Assembly was particularly suited to take on this ambitious initiative.

2. What makes the Helsinki Final Act so important?

The significance of the Helsinki Final Act lay in its articulation of a security concept that was as innovative as it was comprehensive. In an era in which security was almost exclusively defined in relation to the external security of states, inter-state relations and military threats, the agreement bound politico-military security to two additional dimensions: the economic-environmental and the human. This was an unprecedented departure given that, amidst sustained militarized hostility between competing blocs, human rights and fundamental freedoms had not hitherto been addressed as genuine security issues.

The timeliness of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE, the forerunner to the OSCE) and this new approach were reflected in the immediate centrality of the human dimension to the Organization’s workings. As Peter Schlotter, professor of political science at the University of Heidelberg, explains: “The basis of the CSCE accords was a trade-off: The Western states complied with the desire of the Soviet Union and its allies for recognition – political and under international law – of the post-war territorial status quo. In return, the West sought to bind Soviet foreign policy to norms and rules.” The latter was deemed achievable through mutual respect for human rights and democracy, hinting at the reinvention of the very concept of ‘security’ that was underway.

Another notable feature which differentiated the Helsinki Final Act from other inter-governmental instruments was the fact that it was essentially an agreement born of continued disagreement in the thematic areas concerned. Although it was implicitly acknowledged that the two camps would continue to hold divergent views across all three dimensions, it was understood with equal sincerity that this would not preclude discussion.

This linkage – not only as a negotiating tactic, but also as an institutionalized principle of international relations – would be emulated by many governments and institutions in the years to come. The Helsinki Final Act’s establishment of a comprehensive forum for both parties also helped lay the groundwork for the eventual dissolution of East-West divisions, with the spirit and goals of the Act having survived into the post-Cold War era.

3. Why the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly?

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly occupies a unique position within the OSCE, as it provides a vital link between the governmental side of the Organization and the people in the OSCE area. As a forum for parliamentarians, enjoying high democratic legitimacy and visibility, the Parliamentary Assembly had a responsibility to foster public debate and build support for the processes of reform in the run-up to the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act. There was a need to take stock of where the OSCE PA stands in 2015, exploring possible new tools and methods of moving forward, with a particular focus on the role of parliamentary diplomacy in general and the OSCE PA in particular.

4. How was the Helsinki +40 Project organized?

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly organized several seminars in conjunction with hosting think-tanks:

  • The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in Moscow on 25-26 September 2014
  • The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Washington on 18-19 November 2014
  • The Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI) in Stockholm on 11 March 2015
  • The Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) in Copenhagen on 27 April 2015
  • The Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE) in Serbia on 27-28 May 2015

Discussion of the outcomes of the Helsinki +40 Project took place on 5 July, in co-operation with The Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA). The Final Report was presented during the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's 24th Annual Session in Helsinki on 6 July and at the Informal High-Level Meeting.

Themes of the seminars included a historic overview of OSCE activities, mechanisms for boosting the input of parliamentary and public diplomacy in the work of the Organization, and analysis of the Organization's strengths and weaknesses at the beginning of the 21st century.

 

5. Who was involved?

The project was co-chaired by the OSCE PA President Ilkka Kanerva (Finland) and the Head of the PA's Committee on Transparency and Reform of the OSCE, former PA President Joao Soares (Portugal). The participants of the project included the members of the Committee on Transparency and Reform of the OSCE. In addition, national delegations to the OSCE PA of the countries hosting the seminars were also invited to participate in the respective events. Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly Spencer Oliver, who has been involved in the CSCE/OSCE for over 30 years, was the Project's special co-ordinator responsible for the project's overall co-ordination, and assisted by Programme Officer Maria Chepurina as Project co-ordinator.

In addition to the parliamentarians directly involved in the project, a number of policy experts, politicians, diplomats and representatives of academia, all of whom had been involved in the activities of the CSCE/OSCE, were involved in each seminar.

 

6. What was the end result?

The outcomes of each seminar were reflected in a final report available online. The report contains recommendations on shaping the future of the OSCE and was presented at the Parliamentary Assembly’s 2015 Annual Session in Helsinki and to the governmental side of the Organization.

In addition, the project itself was an ambitious confidence-building measure between the various parts of the OSCE. It also served to increase awareness of the OSCE and its work, including amongst Members of Parliament, academia and youth.

 

7. Where can I learn more?

The materials from each seminar are available on the OSCE PA Helsinki +40 website. Interested parties can also subscribe to the Organization’s press releases, Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as the weekly ‘News from Copenhagen’ newsletter.

Alternatively, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Secretary General Spencer Oliver ([email protected]), Programme Officer Maria Chepurina ([email protected]) and Director of Communications Richard Solash ([email protected]) can be contacted directly for more information.

 

8. What has the Parliamentary Assembly already done to consider the OSCE’s role and suggest reforms?

Since its founding in 1990, the Parliamentary Assembly has been actively engaged in the debate on the future of the OSCE and the need for reform. A compilation of all relevant OSCE PA Resolutions is available here.

In 2005 the PA organized a colloquium to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act. The event served to promote the role of the OSCE and stipulate necessary reform, both for the Organization itself and in the OSCE area. The report of the Colloquium on the Future of the OSCE is available here.

 

9. The governmental dimension of the OSCE was also involved in the Helsinki +40 Process. Where can I find more information regarding this? How were the OSCE PA Helsinki +40 Project and the Helsinki +40 Process interrelated?

A variety of documents referring to the governmental dimension of the Helsinki +40 Process can be accessed here.

One of the Helsinki +40 Project’s primary roles was to help shape the agenda and direction of the OSCE as a whole. As such, the recommendations put forth and decisions reached during the seminars are expected to inform the work and functioning of the OSCE far beyond the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act.