Parliamentary Assembly’s virtual roundtable seeks to reaffirm OSCE’s common purpose ahead of 50th anniversary

COPENHAGEN, 27 January 2021 – With more than 130 participants, including former OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Presidents, OSCE Chairs, Secretaries General, current and former leaders of OSCE institutions, as well as members of OSCE PA Delegations, an online roundtable was held today under the theme, “Toward Helsinki +50: Reaffirming a Common Purpose.” Featuring keynote addresses from Christian Strohal, who served as Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights from 2003 to 2008, and Douglas Wake, Senior Expert at the OSCE Office of the Secretary General, the event followed up on the “OSCE Call for Action: Reaffirming a Common Purpose” with a view towards the 50th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act in 2025.

Roundtable LB 270121 croppedPeter Lord BownessOpening the event, OSCE PA President Peter Lord Bowness (United Kingdom) identified one of the key challenges facing the OSCE as its lack of recognition at the highest levels of government, noting that parliamentarians have some distinct assets that could help in this regard. “We have a political role to play in helping to generate that interest in our national parliaments and with our governments,” President Bowness said.

PA Secretary General Roberto Montella noted that the idea for launching an initiative to revive and strengthen the OSCE came up last summer when the top four leadership positions in the Organization remained vacant after failure to reach agreement on re-appointments. “The PA’s Helsinki +50 initiative, led and supported by the OSCE PA Bureau and co-ordinated by High-Level Expert Lamberto Zannier, is helping to pull together various ideas, as well as people who have worked in the OSCE, to strengthen the Organization as the 50th anniversary approaches,” Montella said.

Ambassador Zannier recalled that there have been many efforts over the years to help the OSCE overcome its difficulties, including the Panel of Eminent Persons in 2005 and the Corfu Process in 2009, as well as numerous recommendations offered by the PA on increasing the Organization’s effectiveness, but these recommendations have largely been disregarded. The question, Zannier said, is how parliaments can help push these initiatives to make the Organization stronger, more effective, and more visible. The focus must be on investing in multilateralism in a way that keeps everyone on board, and to present the OSCE as a tool that is useful to governments, Zannier said.

Christian Strohal expressed delight that the OSCE Call for Action has developed into a broader process, stressing that to work through disagreements a common understanding is needed of the Organization’s purpose. He underlined the importance of shared responsibility and accountability, and the need to strengthen mechanisms for reviewing implementation of commitments and follow-up. He highlighted the human dimension in particular as being in crisis, with a general fatigue of human rights engagement and civil society often sidelined. The positive role of parliamentarians, he said, must be utilized to build complementarity between the PA and the diplomatic machinery in Vienna. He mentioned, in particular, the peer-review capacities of parliamentarians and their ability to engage with civil society.

Roundtable DW 270121 smallDouglas WakeDouglas Wake noted that making the OSCE more well-known has been a long-time goal but noted that communications strategies are not effective unless there is a good story to tell. Therefore it is important to focus on the bigger picture and to highlight success stories, he said, which is something that parliamentarians can contribute to by using their platforms to speak about the OSCE to national audiences. Regarding challenges that inhibit the OSCE from playing a more positive role, he pointed to polarization in the Organization, lack of genuine dialogue, uneven implementation of commitments, the difficult budget process, disagreement over core functions, and trying to do too much with limited resources. To overcome these difficulties, he said, every participating State must do more to implement its OSCE commitments, and pursue constructive dialogue in both formal and informal settings.

In the discussion, participants highlighted ongoing challenges facing the OSCE and the ways forward. One of the challenges, it was stressed, was that some participating States do not accept OSCE principles and don’t want the Organization to succeed. The PA plays a critical role, it was noted, in empowering parliamentarians to advocate on behalf of OSCE commitments and values.

Ilkka Kanerva (Finland), who has served as both OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and OSCE PA President, emphasized that the added value of the PA is not through hard-power instruments such as sanctions but rather parliamentary diplomacy. “We must get deeper into the actual security challenges in our region so that real concrete results can be achieved,” Kanerva said.

Roundtable ROFM 270121Teresa RibeiroOSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro stressed the need to avoid duplication with other organizations, remain focused on the core business of the OSCE, and only approach new issues if they relate directly to the raison d'être of the Organization. Being close to ministers and other policymakers, parliamentarians have an important role to play in increasing attention to the Organization, Ribeiro said.

Other participants highlighted the need to promote the OSCE’s field work and to focus on what makes the OSCE unique. The need to strengthen formal structures of the Organization was stressed, as well as the need for holding more informal discussions, and for parliamentarians to engage in dialogue on OSCE issues.

Spanning three continents and consisting of 57 very different States, the OSCE’s diversity is something to value and build upon, it was emphasized.



Nat Parry

Head of Communications and Press

Office: +45 33 37 80 55
Mobile: +45 60 10 81 77
Email: [email protected]

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