From the CSCE to the OSCE

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe was preceded by the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which adopted the Helsinki Final Act at its Summit in 1975. The official change of name from CSCE to OSCE became effective on 1 January 1995. With its 57 members, the OSCE is the only security policy organisation in which all European countries, the successor states of the Soviet Union, the United States, Canada and Mongolia are represented (Mongolia became the 57th member on 20 June 2012).

The Helsinki Final Act (1975), the Charter of Paris (1990), the Charter for European Security adopted in Istanbul in 1999 and the Astana Declaration “Towards a Security Community” (2010) are the OSCE’s key documents, defining a steadily evolving and maturing set of political commitments based on a broad understanding of security. 

This understanding of security includes the so-called “three dimensions” of the OSCE: 

  • the politico-military dimension, 
  • the economic and environmental dimension, and
  • the human dimension.



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The most important goals of the OSCE thus include establishing comprehensive and indivisible security, conflict prevention and conflict management in all phases of conflicts and crisis in the OSCE region, protection of human rights, democratic and rule-of-law standards as a contribution to security and stability, disarmament, confidence building measures and fighting terrorism. In the 2010 Astana declaration, the OSCE participating states also made it clear that human rights and democracy are “matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating states and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned.” All 57 OSCE participating States enjoy equal status. Decisions are taken by consensus and are politically, but not legally binding. The OSCE is especially well-known to the general public for its independent election observation missions by the ODIHR, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Documents and other up-to-date information can be accessed on the OSCE website. The Centre for OSCE Research (CORE) of the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, which is supported by the Federal Foreign Office, can provide more comprehensive information on the OSCE.

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
Centre for OSCE Research (CORE), Hamburg

Organs, institutions and instruments

The OSCE’s decision-making bodies are the Summits of Heads of State and Government (most recently in 2010), the Ministerial Council which meets once a year, the Permanent Council in Vienna composed of participating States’ Permanent Representatives to the OSCE, which meets at least once a week, and the Forum for Security Co-operation (FSC), which meets once a week and has its own decision-making competence on politico-military issues.

The Chairman‑in‑Office (Serbia in 2015) bears overall responsibility for executive action. It is supported by the previous and succeeding chairs (Switzerland in 2014, Germany in 2016), who together with the Chairman-in-Office form the so-called Troika.

OSCE-Secretary General Zannier (Archives)

OSCE-Secretary General Zannier (Archives)
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OSCE-Secretary General Zannier (Archives)

OSCE-Secretary General Zannier (Archives)

OSCE-Secretary General Zannier (Archives)

The Secretary General (since July 2011 Ambassador Lamberto Zannier from Italy) supports the Chairperson-in-Office and heads the OSCE Secretariat, which has a staff of about 310. For 2015, the OSCE’s budget totals some 141 million euros.

The OSCE also has three independent institutions that monitor the political OSCE commitments and thus serve as an early warning mechanism. They are:

At the invitation of each host country, the OSCE is currently present in 16 participating states with field missions. The goal of these field missions is to strengthen cooperation between the OSCE and the host governments and support the host countries in implementing OSCE commitments.

The public’s attention is currently focused on the OSCE’s engagement in Ukraine. There, the organisation has a Project Co‑ordinator’s office in Kyiv and since the start of the crisis it has been represented by two further missions (Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, Observation Mission at the two Russian Checkpoints)

In addition to this, as Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson‑in‑Office, Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini participates in the Trilateral Contact Group (comprised of a representative from Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE respectively). This group provides the framework for the details of implementing the Minsk agreements of 5 September 2014 to be negotiated.

The CSCE’s traditional role as a forum for political consultation and negotiation has, due to many internal and inter-ethnic conflicts, gradually expanded in the recent years to include new functions in the areas of early warning, conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding. The OSCE has developed a specific set of instruments for preventive diplomacy to enable it to perform these tasks.

German commitment to the OSCE

Germany will assume the OSCE Chairmanship in 2016. The OSCE Ministerial Council unanimously voted for this on 5 December. Germany has been a member of the so-called OSCE Troika since 1 January 2015. The Federal Government has appointed Gernot Erler as Special Representative of the Federal Government for the OSCE Chairmanship in 2016.

In 2015, Germany acts as Chair of the Contact Group with the OSCE’s Mediterranean Partners for Co‑operation (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan).

Germany is an active contributor of finance and personnel to the OSCE, providing a little over 11% of the current OSCE budget, making it the second-largest contributor behind the United States. The German Government also provides substantial support in the form of addition voluntary contributions to OSCE projects in the entire OSCE region. German staff are to be found in almost all the OSCE long-term missions and in OSCE institutions. All in all, Germany seconds 55 experts. Furthermore, Germany regularly contributes up to 15 percent – which is actually the limit prescribed by the OSCE – to the election observation missions run by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Germany considers civil society’s participation to be very important.

In order to strengthen the participation of academic institutions in security policy discussions, together with France, Poland and Russia, Germany announced the establishment of IDEAS: Initiative for the Development of a Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian Security Community.

The IDEAS report (PDF, 1 MB)

Joint Communiqué of 6 December 2011 from the four ministers (PDF, 6 KB)

In 2013, IDEAS was expanded by further scientific institutes from different OSCE participating countries. The new network is called the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions. It is currently headed by Dr Wolfgang Zellner from the Centre for OSCE Research (CORE) in Hamburg.


The German Government attaches great importance to combating anti-Semitism as part of OSCE activities to promote tolerance and non‑discrimination. In 2014, together with the ODIHR and the Swiss OSCE Chairmanship, the German Government organised an event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the OSCE’s Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism.

As well as implementing the results of the high-level Berlin OSCE Anti-Semitism Conference held in April 2004, known as the Berlin Declaration, the German Government provides support in terms of personnel and project financing for the Tolerance Unit in the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. From 2004 to 2008, Professor Gert Weisskirchen, Member of the German Bundestag, was the Personal Representative of the Chairperson-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism.

Election monitoring

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly regularly conduct election observation missions in all OSCE participating states, which all committed themselves to inviting international election observers in the 1990 Copenhagen Document. Over the past ten years the ODIHR has conducted more than 200 election observation missions.

Monitoring elections is one of the more transparent ways to promote democracy and human rights. OSCE’s election observation activity is based on two principles: on the one hand, monitoring clear government commitments to ensuring democratic elections, and on the other, no interference by the election observers in the voting process. Election observation missions can last as long as two months and do not limit themselves to election day and vote counting, but rather also include election laws and electoral campaigns. The Federal Republic of Germany usually provides up to 15 percent of the international election observers and regularly invites OSCE observers to monitor Bundestag elections.

OSCE cooperation with international organisations

The OSCE is a regional arrangement in the sense of Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter. Its 1992 Helsinki Summit provided a general mandate to conduct peacekeeping operations and the Istanbul Summit in 1999 confirmed this mandate. However, no such activity has been carried out so far by the OSCE.

The OSCE also cooperates with other international organisations such as NATO and the EU.

At the NATO summit in Lisbon on 20 November 2010, NATO reaffirmed its goal to strengthen its cooperation with the OSCE, seeing it as an important organization and a dialogue forum for Euro-Atlantic security in all three dimensions.

From the EU’s point of view, the OSCE is a pillar of common security with a comprehensive approach (three dimensions). EU Member States amount to a little more than half of the OSCE members and provide two-thirds of the OSCE’s financial contributions. The EU is working to further develop the OSCE acquis. Cooperation takes place in conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation and dealing with regional conflicts (Transdniestria, Georgia, Nagorny Karabakh). Some OSCE programmes are co-financed by the OSCE and the EU.

Cooperation partnerships

The OSCE conducts a structured dialogue with countries in the southern Mediterranean region (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan) and with some Asian states (Japan, South Korea Thailand and Afghanistan) as well as Australia. The exchange of views on cooperative security is promoted through annual conferences and seminars, and cooperation partners also take part in meetings of OSCE bodies.

Other cooperation activities are offered depending on the needs and interests of individual Cooperation Partners; for example, the OSCE offers support to the democratic transformation following the “Arab Spring” in North Africa and is especially active in training border staff for Afghanistan’s security.

Arms Control

The OSCE is the anchor of conventional arms control and military transparency as well as confidence-building in Europe. Its Forum for Security Co-operation, which meets weekly and holds annual Implementation Assessment Meetings, is responsible for monitoring compliance with the various OSCE instruments for arms control and confidence and security-building measures (CSBMs) as well as for the development of future concepts. It consults on current security dialogue developments and negotiates and adopts politically binding decisions and documents aimed at strengthening security and stability throughout the OSCE area. The OSCE also supports the implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and the Open Skies Treaty.

Among the key documents that are the subject of consultation and further development within the FSC are the Vienna Document of 2011 on confidence- and security-building measures, the Code of Conduct on politico-military aspects of security, the Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons and the Document on Stockpiles of Conventional Ammunition. Furthermore, the arms control regime defined by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords is implemented under the auspices of the OSCE.

Last updated 03.02.2015

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