Flags of the OSCE and its 57 participating States

Flags of the OSCE and its 57 participating States, © dpa/picture alliance

27.08.2020 - Article

The Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) is the largest regional security organisation in the world. In recent years it has again become more important as a platform for dialogue.

The OSCE’s decisions are reached by consensus, i.e. with the approval of all participating States, and are not legally binding. Beyond its participating States, the OSCE conducts dialogues with partner countries in the Mediterranean region (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan) and with Asian partner countries (Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Afghanistan), as well as Australia. These cooperation partners also attend meetings of the OSCE bodies.

Objectives of the OSCE

The OSCE’s objective is to enhance security in Europe through cooperation and dialogue between the European and the eastern and western neighbouring countries. The OSCE applies a wide‑ranging definition of security that encompasses what are known as the “three dimensions”: 1. the politico‑military dimension, 2. the economic and environmental dimension, and 3. the human dimension of security policy.

Core topics of the OSCE in the first dimension include disarmament, crisis management and counter‑terrorism. The economic and environmental dimension primarily seeks to promote good framework conditions for security and stability in the economic realm. The third dimension comprises the protection of human rights as well as the promotion of democratic and rule‑of‑law standards. This comprehensive definition of security allows participating States to win back and build trust in the long term with overarching topics of mutual interest.

Background information: Organs and institutions of the OSCE

Germany in the OSCE

Germany hosted the 2016 OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg (9 December 2016)
Germany hosted the 2016 OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg (9 December 2016) © Florian Gärtner/photothek.de

In 2016, Germany held the Chairmanship of the OSCE, which rotates annually. Germany therefore hosted the annual OSCE Ministerial Council, which took place in Hamburg. Priorities of its Chairmanship included counter‑terrorism, economic connectivity and tolerance and diversity. Germany held a conference on each of these topic areas during its Chairmanship. Moreover, it has worked intensively to expand the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) and to resolve the conflicts in Transnistria and the Southern Caucasus, and has put migration on the OSCE’s agenda.

Germany contributes just under 11 percent of the current OSCE budget, which makes it the second‑largest contributor behind the United States. The German Government also makes additional voluntary contributions to OSCE projects throughout the OSCE region. German staff are to be found in almost all the OSCE long‑term missions and institutions. All in all, Germany seconds more than 70 experts to the OSCE. Furthermore, Germany regularly contributes to the election observation missions run by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Since 2002, secondment of personnel has been organised in cooperation with the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF). Germany has a Permanent Mission to the OSCE in order to fulfil all of these tasks.

Content: Three dimensions, election observation, field missions and project offices

  • The first dimension – the politico‑military dimension – comprises security policy and military cooperation, including arms control in particular, as well as crisis and conflict management.
    Since mid‑2017, OSCE participating States have been engaged in a high‑level Structured Dialogue to address pressing politico‑military issues in the OSCE area. The aim, especially in view of the crisis between Russia and the West, is to engage in a dialogue and to rebuild trust.
  • The conventional arms control regime of OSCE participating States is built on binding international agreements, such as the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and the Treaty on Open Skies, as well as on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures like those contained in the Vienna Document that aim to enhance military transparency. The principle underlying these efforts is that, by promoting the exchange of information and military cooperation, the risk of conflict is reduced.
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  • The second dimension – the economic and environmental dimension – provides a framework for discussions on issues such as combating money laundering, corruption and terrorist financing. With good governance and connectivity, this was also one of the focuses of the German OSCE Chairmanship in 2016. The position of Co‑ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (CoEEA), who chairs an annual implementation meeting, was established in 1997.
  • The third dimension – the human dimension – comprises activities in the area of freedom of the media, minority rights, tolerance, non‑discrimination, the rule of law and combating antisemitism, which are indispensable elements of the OSCE’s comprehensive definition of security. The High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) is tasked with issuing early warnings and taking immediate measures in the event of minority issues that have the potential to lead to tensions between a number of states. The Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM) observes the development of working conditions in the media and the status quo of freedom of the media in the OSCE area. The RFoM contacts the participating State in question and other parties directly in order to prevent possible restrictions to the freedom of the media at an early stage.
  • Election observation
    The OSCE, via the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), based in Warsaw, regularly conducts election observation missions in OSCE participating States. Over the past ten years, ODIHR has conducted more than 200 such election observation missions. Not only the events of the election day and vote counting are taken into consideration, but the election period and election law are also monitored. The results are released to the public in the form of reports. More information on election observation missions can be found here.
  • The OSCE’s field missions and project offices report regularly to the OSCE Permanent Council from Ukraine, Moldova and Tajikistan, for example, and provide an objective and nuanced picture of the situation on the ground. The objectives of their project work include helping to ensure that human and minority rights are respected, assisting with building democratic and rule‑of‑law structures, fostering dialogue, especially between ethnic groups, creating modern societal and economic orders and helping to run elections. More about the OSCE field missions
  • The OSCE’s work in Ukraine
    OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine
    OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine © dpa/picture alliance
    The largest mission currently is the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. This unarmed mission primarily observes the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, including with mobile patrols, drones and video surveillance, and reports from throughout the country as an independent observer. The OSCE in Ukraine is also represented by a Project Co‑ordinator’s office in Kyiv (PCU). Swiss diplomat Heidi Grau, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson‑in‑Office in Ukraine, attends the Trilateral Contact Group (comprised of a representative from Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE respectively). This Group provides the framework for negotiating the details of implementing the Minsk Agreements.

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