The signing of the Helsinki Final Act 40 years ago today (1 August 1975) marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War. On this anniversary, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier emphasised the significance of this agreement that he said amounted to a “vision of a Europe of trust and cooperation” to which we must hold firm.
In the midst of the Cold War, the High Representatives of 15 NATO countries, seven countries from the Warsaw Pact and 13 neutral countries met at the Conference on Security and Co‑operation in Europe (CSCE) on 3 July 1973 for negotiations that lasted almost two years. In the end, however, they managed to draft a groundbreaking document for Europe’s security architecture. The participating States agreed to ten principles for their mutual relations, guidelines for their realisation and specific confidence-building measures.
The Helsinki Final Act, signed at an official ceremony on 1 August 1975, was based on a comprehensive concept of security. In addition to the inviolability of frontiers and the peaceful settlement of their disputes, the CSCE participating States – including the countries of the Warsaw Pact – expressed their commitment to respecting human rights and the fundamental freedoms of their citizens. Moreover, they agreed to develop their cooperation in the fields of trade, industry, science, technology and the environment in order to help reinforce “peace and security in Europe and in the world as a whole”.
Vision of a Europe of trust
Foreign Minister Steinmeier issued the following statement on the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act on 1 August 1975:
Forty years ago, amidst the very coldest days of the Cold War, seemingly implacable enemies in East and West took a difficult yet momentous step towards understanding and confidence-building with the Helsinki Final Act. For us as Germans, the dialogue of Helsinki is inextricably bound up with the round table dialogue in Berlin and the peaceful reunification of the two German states.
We should hold firm to the vision of Helsinki, to the vision of a Europe of trust and cooperation, especially at a time when new lines of conflict have emerged in Europe.
An agreement with a remarkable impact
The Helsinki Final Act had a remarkable impact, despite the fact that it was not a binding agreement under international law. As the 35 CSCE participating States had consented to publish the text of the Final Act following its signature, all citizens were given access to the obligations and principles that had been agreed on.
The subsequent CSCE process encouraged rapprochement between East and West and helped to overcome the division of Europe, and therefore also the division of Germany. At a summit of the heads of state and government of the CSCE in Paris in November 1990, the participating States declared that Europe’s decades-long division was over. The CSCE was renamed the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) at the beginning of 1995, with Vienna as the seat of its Secretariat.