2011-WM-EfthymiouThe tenth Winter Meeting of the OSCE PA, held in Vienna on 24-25 February 2011, concluded with a special debate on the situation in the Mediterranean area. OSCE PA Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs Alcee Hastings (United States) opened the debate by calling on the OSCE to proactively reach out to help Mediterranean countries in transition to democracy, noting the courage of the people in the region.

"This debate is inspired by the courage and dignity of the people in Tunisia, Egypt, and throughout the Mediterranean region," Mr. Hastings said. "These are challenging and uncertain times but also hopeful in their opportunity." 

OSCE PA President Petros Efthymiou issued a statement on behalf of the Assembly at the closing of the debate, noting that the OSCE PA "expresses its deepest concern for the conflicts and violence in the countries of North Africa and for the unacceptable repression carried out in Libya by Gaddafi's regime."

"We support the principles of democracy, freedom and human rights in any place," the President said, "as well as the need for a peaceful evolution towards democracy." He further expressed the OSCE PA's readiness to co-operate with the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab League, and all international organizations, "so that effective and proactive measures are adopted in order to stop violence and the massacres of the civil population as well as to share the commitment to helping and supporting the refugees and victims of this crisis." 

The debate on the Mediterranean was preceded by another lively discussion on immigration, integration and multi-ethnic dialogue in the OSCE. The OSCE's High Commissioner for National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek, and the OSCE PA's Special Representative on Migration, Kathleen Ferrier (Netherlands), opened the the debate, with Amb. Vollebaek pointing out that when it comes to integration, OSCE parliamentarians have a special role to play. "You represent a wide range of constituencies," he said. "You are their voice and their means to participate and to have a say. You are in the position to develop innovative approaches in managing diversity in a way that can deliver the many benefits but which also contain the risk of potential human costs and conflict."

Kathleen Ferrier noted in her address that there are few issues that affect the security of OSCE countries to the extent of migration. Stressing the increased urgency of the matter considering events in the Arab world, with many people leaving their countries and seeking refuge in countries of the OSCE, she emphasized that OSCE countries should be prepared to deal with this influx in a humane manner. "Migration and immigration involve the very future of our societies," she said. Ms. Ferrier noted that the lack of prospects for integration could drive people to become migrants. As migration is here to stay, she said, it requires a balanced, comprehensive and co-operative approach.

Other speakers at the 2011 meeting included Federal President of Austria Heinz Fischer, OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis and Speaker Barbara Prammer of the Austrian Parliament. The OSCE PA's recently appointed Special Representative on Gender Issues, Dr. Hedy Fry (Canada), also addressed the Winter Meeting. In her first address as Special Representative, Dr. Fry explained Canada's approach to gender-based analysis. "The most important concept of equality between men and women," she said, "is about social cohesion and participation fully for 52 per cent of the population who are women into the economic, social, political and cultural life of our countries."

Participants included 228 parliamentarians from 53 countries in the annual Vienna meeting, including several from the Mediterranean Partners.

The Winter Meeting included meetings of the Standing Committee of Heads of Delegation, each of the three General Committees, and joint sessions of the General Committees. The second largest event on the Parliamentary Assembly's schedule, the Winter Meeting provides an opportunity for Committee Rapporteurs to discuss their draft reports for the upcoming Annual Session, to be held this year 6-10 July in Belgrade.