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2022 was a difficult year for the OSCE: How the organisation is responding to Russia’s obstructionist policy and why supporting the work of the OSCE is worthwhile

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock OSCE general secretary Helga Schmid at the meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers in Łódź

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock OSCE general secretary Helga Schmid at the meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers in Łódź, © Thomas Koehler/photothek.de

01.12.2022 - Article

Before the meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers in Łódź, let us take a look at the work of the OSCE, Russia’s obstructionist policy and the value that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe offers to the world.

Russia’s criticism of the OSCE is not new.  What bothers Russia about the organisation is precisely what many other member states, including Germany, find attractive: it is a diverse alliance of 57 states ranging from North America and Europe to Russia and Central Asia which was established to resolve conflicts and enable more than one billion people to coexist in peace. The OSCE’s objective is to enhance security in Europe through cooperation between the European and the eastern and western neighbouring countries. The OSCE is based on a modern definition of security that encompasses the “three dimensions”:  the politico‑military dimension, the economic and environmental dimension, and the human dimension of security policy. Russia has frequently obstructed the work of the Organization, but 2022 was particularly difficult.

Support for Ukraine continues – despite Russia’s obstructionist policy

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers in Łódź
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers in Łódź© Thomas Koehler

​​​​​​​With the war against Ukraine, Russia has violated fundamental principles of international law and the OSCE and frequently used obstructionist tactics in the OSCE (where decisions are taken unanimously). Since autumn 2021, Russia has, for example, forced the OSCE to end three of its missions in Ukraine, including the mission monitoring the ceasefire in Donbas. Three local OSCE employees in the Russian-held regions of Luhansk and Donetsk have been imprisoned. Two of these have been sentenced to more than ten years in prison for high treason in connection with their work for the OSCE. And yet the OSCE has not simply accepted Russia’s abuse of the system of consensual politics and is maintaining its support for the people in Ukraine.

The OSCE launched a new programme on 1 November 2022 to help Ukraine implement reforms and to support the reconstruction of the country. The OSCE will thus be continuing the engagement in support of Ukraine that it began more than 28 years ago. It will maintain a presence in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine. OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid, together with a voluntary group of like-minded members that includes Germany, and proceeding in close coordination with the organisation’s Ukrainian partners, has set up this new programme. Russia cannot veto the voluntary contributions that fund these efforts, as they lie outside of the regular OSCE budget.

Germany is putting the climate crisis on the agenda of the OSCE

One year ago in Stockholm, the OSCE adopted a climate decision for the first time. The OSCE can now launch climate initiatives on this basis. This year in Łódź, at the instigation of Germany, the OSCE will focus on the issue of climate change and security in mountain regions. Next year, we as the OSCE will go one step further and organise our own OSCE climate change conference in Vienna. Germany is convinced that the OSCE can play a central role in the fight against climate change. For example, the OSCE can coordinate cross-border projects in the area of early warning as well as exchange on extreme weather events, droughts and scarcity of resources.

Meetings with the ODIHR: the OSCE – an important player in election monitoring

The ODIHR (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) is the OSCE’s central institution in the area of human rights. Founded in 1990, it assists all OSCE member states in implementing their OSCE commitments in the area of elections, fundamental freedoms, tolerance and non-discrimination. This primarily takes the form of observation missions, but also consultations on draft legislation. Since its founding, ODIHR has conducted more than 400 such election observation missions. The focus is not only on the events on the election day and vote counting, but also election campaigns, freedom of the media and opinion as well as election law. The results are released to the public in the form of reports. In Łódź, Foreign Minister Baerbock will meet ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci for the first time and assure him of Germany’s support.

And what’s next for the OSCE?

Germany will continue to support the OSCE, Secretary General Helga Schmid and the Chairmanship, which North Macedonia will assume in 2023, to help ensure that the OSCE runs smoothly.

The OSCE represents the goal of a pan-European area of security, cooperation and free self-expression for more than one billion people. Although this goal seems far away this year, it is now more crucial than ever that we do not lose sight of it and allow our support for the OSCE to diminish. For this unique organisation, through countless projects in the area of human rights, fighting organised crime, tackling drugs and human trafficking, promoting gender equality, the rule of law and freedom of expression, affects the lives of people in 57 countries. We resolutely intend to carry this legacy of overcoming confrontation and conflict into the future. – Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock

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