Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the 21st OSCE Ministerial Council in Basel

04.12.2014 - Speech

-- translation of advance text --

Mr Chairperson in Office,
Mr Secretary General,

On 9 November we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Rarely at a commemorative event have I experienced such depth of quiet joy, but also of reflection, as on that weekend a few weeks ago in Berlin. The current deep-reaching crisis around the European security order has made one thing very clear: namely, what a tremendous gift the end of the division of Europe 25 years ago really was.

We Germans – and I am keen to say it here – owe this gift to the CSCE process, which – and again I am keen to point this out – began in what was perhaps the coldest phase of the Cold War.

And then in 1989 and 1990 we had a shared vision, the vision of a common space and of indivisible security for each and every one of us from Vancouver to Vladivostok. It would be a space without dividing lines, without zones of influence, without policy of hegemony and without the use of force, a space united quite simply by a shared commitment to the CSCE Final Act and the Charter of Paris.

Unfortunately, colleagues, we are a long way away from that today. The annexation of Crimea, in violation of international law, the military conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s actions pose a direct danger to the European peace order. The confidence that had been built up over decades has been lost within just a few months. We are now facing the greatest challenge since the end of the Cold War.

Everyone here around this table knows that there will be no military solutions to this conflict, and no-one wants such solutions. And so we will have to tread the difficult path of negotiation – from conflict de-escalation, ceasefire, progress and setbacks when it comes to implementation, to – we hope – moves towards a political solution.

In this, we need the OSCE today more than ever before, despite the difficulty of arriving at consensus among 57 participating states with different interests and different histories. This is the only place where we sit together around the same table in this unique formation.

In a situation in which the European peace order is at stake, we cannot and must not be content to return to business as usual. We must concentrate on those issues which are crucial for security in Europe. I see two priorities for the immediate future.

Firstly, we must in the short term make the fullest possible use of the range of OSCE instruments available in order to prevent another military escalation in eastern Ukraine. Over the past few months the OSCE has done much to make precisely that possible. The Monitoring Mission, the Observer Mission at Donetsk and Gukovo border crossing points and of course the Trilateral Contact Group involving the OSCE have all played a key part in de-escalating the conflict, which at least for a while we had managed to do. All sides – including Russia – must now commit to implementing the Minsk Protocol and must be ready to do so. True, the Minsk Protocol is no guarantee of lasting peace, but as things stand it is the only tool we have to stop the spiral of escalation. If the Minsk Protocol was implemented seriously, that would be the foundation for further stabilisation, both political and economic. A lasting ceasefire with disengagement in the so-called security zone is the absolute priority for the coming days. Then, of course, securing the Russian-Ukrainian border would be a next vital step. The OSCE has the appropriate instruments to support these efforts.

Secondly, we need to regard the OSCE once again as what it was set up to be 40 years ago: a forum which promotes security and cooperation in Europe through dialogue, cooperation and confidence-building measures. We must return to this core task. The equation “monologue plus monologue equals dialogue” simply doesn’t add up, as we see day in day out.

That is why I am very grateful to the Swiss Chairmanship for setting up a Panel of Eminent Persons. It goes without saying that the OSCE acquis must not be allowed to be watered down or renegotiated. The OSCE principles are non-negotiable; they are the foundation stone on which the OSCE stands. Nevertheless, we do need to reflect – outside our rare Ministerial Council meetings – on how we can get back to the point where the OSCE principles are actually respected by all participating states. The Panel of Eminent Persons can, I believe, make an important contribution in this regard.

I would like to thank the Swiss Chairmanship not only for this idea, but also for its untiring work in a difficult year. My thanks go to all members of staff and all observers, but especially Heidi Tagliavini. I wish Serbia a sure hand as it assumes the Chairmanship.

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