Gernot Erler is Special Representative of the Federal Government for the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Chairmanship in 2016, to be held by Germany. He spoke to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about the role of the OSCE in the Ukraine conflict. Published on 19 January 2015.
Mr Erler, this year marks forty years since the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) was signed in Helsinki, ushering in a new phase of de-escalation policy. Yet the tensions in Europe are higher now than they have been for a long time. What chance do you think the OSCE, born of the CSCE, has of helping to ease the tensions?
In the Ukraine conflict in recent months, the OSCE has proven just how essential it is: with the observation mission, border control mission, but also the ability to convene and moderate contact group talks, all of which have born results within the political efforts to resolve the crisis, namely the Minsk Protocol on a ceasefire. Yet the question remains of whether in the medium term the OSCE could also take on the task of seeking a way to re-establish trust between East and West. What might such a fresh start look like? That will depend a great deal on the extent to which the Ukraine crisis can be resolved, which has long since turned into a conflict between Russia and the West. That would make it much easier to tackle the topic of a pan-European security architecture. For there are clearly difficulties and there is a great need for dialogue here.
The concept of security upon which the OSCE was developed after the end of the Cold War not only comprises the military and political aspects but also respect for human rights in Participating States. That is why the OSCE has repeatedly been sharply attacked by Russia in recent years. Do you think it is possible to bring Moscow to an understanding again within the framework of the OSCE?
After some difficulties, Russia has in fact accepted that the OSCE play a role in overcoming the crisis. Otherwise the organisation wouldn’t be able to do anything because the principle of consensus applies – the OSCE missions and even moderation through the contact groups would not have been possible without Russia’s consent. This could serve as a springboard – in principle Russia does indeed have an interest in talks on a comprehensive European security architecture. We haven’t forgotten that Medvedev himself, then President, put forward a proposal in 2008 which to the disappointment of Russia was not taken up by the West with as much flourish as they had likely expected. It’s useful to signal a willingness, particularly in times of crisis, to open up a discussion on the basis of the OSCE principles in which all countries can voice their security concerns. The OSCE is can provide a forum for this because the United States, Russia and all other European states are represented within the organisation. However, it’s also true that cooperation with Moscow had already been difficult in the past where human rights were concerned. I’m not expecting that to change.
Are there already concrete plans for what could be done to revitalise the OSCE during the German Chairmanship in 2016?
We have specifically chosen a path of participation and inclusion here. We’re not intending to pull any German agenda out of the hat and impose it on the others. We want to use the preparation for the Chairmanship to talk to all of the partner countries in the OSCE and to find out what exactly they expect from the German Chairmanship and where there is willingness to make a fresh start with a process of confidence-building. The Foreign Minister will make an initial announcement on the matter at some point during the year.
Will it play a role that for the first time in a long time Germany, a large country with political clout, which is seen as a serious power by Russia, is taking on the Chairmanship of the OSCE?
I would put it differently. It was fortunate that in 2014 the Swiss had the Chairmanship because Switzerland is a neutral country with many experienced diplomats who are trusted by Russia. We now have the continuation with the Serbian Chairmanship, which presents opportunities due to the traditionally close relationship between Serbia and Russia. Provided that we don’t remain in crisis mode, it is indeed possible that expectations will grow in the run-up to the German Chairmanship, that a new phase of confidence-building and dialogue in Europe can start, including the attempt to address and tackle the difference in the way that security problems in Europe are perceived, by the West on the one hand and by the Russian side on the other.
Interview conducted by Reinhard Veser. Reproduced by kind permission of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. © All rights reserved. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH, Frankfurt.