Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the first plenary meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Belgrade
I began my speech to the OSCE Ambassadors in Vienna in July by saying that Europe is navigating “extremely turbulent waters”. That was just over five months ago. The waters haven’t calmed down since then. On the contrary!
We’ve seen a new wave of terror since then: in Iraq, Syria, Paris, Tunisia, Libya as well as in the Sinai Peninsula. What’s more, we’ve also experienced an unprecedented influx of refugees into Europe. This issue is the subject of intense debate among our fellow citizens. However, there are also other concerns: we’ve just seen the shooting down of a Russian military aircraft at the Turkish-Syrian border, an incident of relevance to this forum, for the armed forces of two OSCE states have become involved in a direct military confrontation as a result.
In eastern Ukraine, the conflict has been defused to some extent, although the ceasefire is still being violated. However, we’ve still a long way to go before the Minsk agreements are implemented.
Given these challenges, we really should be concerned about the state of our common security in Europe.
We’ve been unable to agree on any political declaration for the last 12 years in the OSCE.
We don’t seem to be able any more to reach a consensus on how to interpret our jointly agreed principles or on the work of the institutions which we established together. What’s more, our principles have been breached in an unacceptable manner. This has tended to make the divisions between us even deeper.
And every year, we struggle to provide the OSCE with resources – and we usually only manage to provide it with the same level it had the previous year. That means de facto that the OSCE has less each year – even though its tasks have increased.
The OSCE has a wide range of instruments at its disposal which could indeed help us master the various major challenges we face at present.
We see it every day in Ukraine: the OSCE has contributed greatly to every step which has led to a de-escalation. At the conference with our Mediterranean partners in Jordan, it was evident that other regions of the world are very much interested in the OSCE and how it works.
Thus my appeal to you all: let’s not dismantle our ship, the OSCE, in stormy waters just because it isn’t easy to agree on a joint course. Let’s not try and build a new vessel which would be at risk of failure. Rather, our task must be to harden and strengthen our ship.
I believe that three spheres are especially important:
Firstly, crisis reaction: the OSCE should be able to react to crises sooner, more decisively and more effectively. Our experience from Ukraine and other crises can show us the way forward. We should strengthen the Secretariat, the field missions as well as the institutions of the OSCE: ODIHR, the Representative on Freedom of the Media and the High Commissioner on National Minorities.
Secondly, confidence-building: the incident at the Syrian-Turkish border shows how much we need instruments to reduce military risks. This includes tools to enhance military transparency and confidence-building, which we deal with under the auspices of the OSCE. We want to modernise them so that we’re better able to prevent crises in future.
Thirdly, the future of the European security order: we have to consolidate the foundations within the OSCE area. We should begin to talk again about how we want to shape our common area. For this we need dialogue, also among Ministers. The situation is too fragile for us to get bogged down for weeks in a dispute about wording.
We don’t know where we’ll be in a year’s time. New storms can emerge at any time. It’s therefore all the more important that we make the OSCE stronger. We can make quite concrete contributions towards this here in Belgrade. I can assure you that this is my main aim for Germany’s OSCE Chairmanship in 2016. We have to make the public aware of the fragility of the situation, as well as the necessity of the OSCE. We want to strengthen the OSCE and its foundations in dialogue and to use it to foster our joint security, especially in these turbulent times. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your support for this endeavour.