The OSCE traces its origins to the détente phase of the early 1970s when the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) was created to serve as a multilateral forum for dialogue and negotiation between the East and the West. As a result of meetings held over two years in Helsinki and Geneva, the CSCE reached agreement on the Helsinki Final Act which was signed on 1 August, 1975. This document contained a number of key commitments on politico-military, economic and environmental and human rights issues that became central to the so-called 'Helsinki process'. It also established ten fundamental principles (the 'Decalogue') governing the behaviour of States towards their citizens as well as towards each other.
Its 56 participating states are in Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and North America and cover most of the northern hemisphere. Its mandate includes issues such as arms control, human rights, freedom of the press and fair elections. The OSCE employs some 450 people in its various institutions and around 3,000 in its field operations. Locally-contracted employees outnumber international seconded employees by roughly five to one. Seconded staff members are funded by their national administrations.
OSCE Decision-making Bodies
OSCE has several bodies that deal with issues of common interest of Participating States and adopt decisions that are politically binding. The decisions are adopted by consensus (there is no voting in the OSCE), which means in the absence of any objections on the part of any Participating State. This principle reflects the cooperative approach of the Organization towards security and also the fact that all participating States have equal footing.
Summit is a periodic meeting of Heads of State and/or Government of the Participating States. It adopts decisions at the highest political level, sets the principles and provides the Organization with the basic direction of its work. Since its foundation in 1975 (then called Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe - CSCE), 7 summits (both CSCE and OSCE) have taken place so far (Helsinki 1975, Paris 1990, Helsinki 1992, Budapest 1994, Lisbon 1996, Istanbul 1999, Astana 2010).
Ministerial Council (MC) is the second highest OSCE decision-making body where the Participating States are represented by their Foreign Ministers. MC meets once a year, as a rule at the end of the calendar year (corresponds to the end of the presidency). In the year when a summit takes place, there is usually no MC meeting. MC discusses relevant issues of OSCE concern, reviews and assesses its activities and adopts necessary decisions.
Senior Council (SC) was created as a body for preparation, implementation and as a decision-making body where the Political Directors from Ministries of Foreign Affairs would meet for preparatory work and implementation of MC decisions. Since 1997, steadily growing part of its tasks was being step by step transferred onto the Permanent Council. This led to its final abolition by an MC decision in 2006. At present, the Political Directors meet if necessary e.g. in the framework of the Reinforced Permanent Council.
Permanent Council (PC) is a regular political consultation and decision-making body discussing all issues of OSCE interest. It is responsible for everyday OSCE agenda. Its members are Permanent Representatives of Participating States (diplomats of ambassadorial rank). It meets regularly once a week or more frequently when needed in the Congress Center of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.
Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC) is a consultative and decision-making body where the Participating States are represented by their Permanent Representatives. FSB focuses mainly on following topics: a) negotiations on armament control, disarmament and confidence building, b) cooperation in security area, c) further elimination of conflict risks and d) implementation of agreed steps. It meets once a week in Hofburg.
Operational Structure and Institution of the OSCE
I) Chairman in Office (CiO)
Minister for Foreign Affairs of the presiding country assumes the duties of CiO. His primary task is to coordinate the decision-making process of the Organization and all its current activities. He or she is therefore responsible for creation of the agenda and organization of activities of the OSCE decision-making bodies. He or she chairs the MC meetings.
The role of CiO is distributed on the annual basis. The decision on OSCE presidency is adopted by MC on the basis of consensus as a rule two years before assuming the duties.
The Czech Republic presided the OSCE in 1992, at that time still as the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.
List of Chairmen in Office:
2014: Didier Burkhalter (Switzerland)
2013: Leonid Kozhara (Ukraine)
2012: Eamon Gilmore (Ireland)
2011: Renatas Norkus (Lithuania)
2010: Kairat Abdrakhmanov (Kazakhstan)
2009: Dora Bakoyannis (Greece)
2008: Alexander Stubb (Finland)
2007: Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé (Spain)
2006: Karel De Gucht (Belgium)
2005: Dimitrij Rupel (Slovenia)
2004: Solomon Passy (Bulgaria)
2003: Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, later Bernard Rudolf Bot (The Netherlands)
2002: Jaime Gama, later Antonio Martins da Cruz (Portugal)
2001: Mircea Dan Geoana (Rumania)
2000: Wolfgang Schüssel, later Benita Ferrero-Waldner (Austria)
1999: Knut Vollebaek (Norway)
1998: Bronislaw Geremek (Poland)
1997: Niels Helveg Petersen (Denmark)
1996: Flavio Cotti (Switzerland)
1995: Lászlo Kovacs (Hungary)
1994: Beniamino Andreatta, later Antonio Martino (Italy)
1993: Margaretha af Ugglas (Sweden)
1992: Jiří Dienstbier, later Josef Moravčík (Czechoslovakia)
1991: Hans-Dietrich Genscher (Germany)
II) OSCE Secretariat and Institutions
The headquarters of the OSCE is in Vienna, however the Organization has other offices in Kopenhagen, Geneva, Hague, Prague and Warsaw. A number of institutions and other instruments have evolved over time to help the OSCE participating States fulfil their commitments.
- Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)
Warsaw-based office observes elections, monitors human rights in the region and hosts the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Europe’s biggest human rights conference. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights is active also in the fields of democratic development, tolerance and non-discrimination and rule of law.
The Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues is the main structure within the OSCE that assists governments in implementing their commitments relating to the rights of Roma and Sinti populations. The Contact Point is located within the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The Contact Point was created by the participating States of the OSCE at the 1994 Budapest Summit.
- High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM)
The post of the High Commissioner on National Minorities was established in 1992 to identify and seek early resolution of ethnic tensions that might endanger peace, stability or friendly relations between OSCE participating States. The office is based in Hague. Ambassador Knut Vollebaek was appointed to the post of High Commissioner for a three-year term on 4 July 2007, succeeding Mr. Rolf Ekéus of Sweden. The OSCE participating States extended his mandate for another three-year period on 20 August 2010.
- Representative on the Freedom of the Media
The Vienna based Representative on Freedom of the Media observes media developments in all 56 OSCE participating States. The Representative provides early warning on violations of freedom of expression and promotes full compliance with OSCE press freedom commitments. Dunja Mijatovic assumed the post of the Representative on 11 March 2010.
For more on the OSCE, its history and its work, visit the website.
The Organization has its roots in the 1973 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Talks had been mooted about a European security grouping since the 1950s but the Cold War prevented any substantial progress until the talks at Dipoli in Helsinki began in November 1972. These negotiations were held upon the suggestion of the Soviet Union which wished to use the talks to maintain its control over communist countries in Eastern Europe. Western Europe, however, saw these talks as a way to reduce the tension in the region, furthering economic cooperation and obtaining humanitarian improvements for the populations of the Communist bloc.
The recommendations of the talks, "The Blue Book", gave the practical foundations for a three-stage conference, the Helsinki Process. The CSCE opened in Helsinki on July 3, 1973 with 35 states sending representatives. Stage I took only five days and resulted in an agreement to follow the Blue Book. Stage II was the main working phase and was conducted in Geneva from September 18, 1973 until July 21, 1975. The result of Stage II, which took place in Finlandia Hall from July 30 to August 1, 1975, was the Helsinki Final Act signed by the 35 participating States.
The concepts of improving relations and implementing the Act were developed over a series of follow-up meeting with major gatherings in Belgrade (October 4, 1977 - March 8, 1978), Madrid (November 11, 1980 - September 9, 1983), and Vienna (November 4, 1986 - January 19, 1989).
A unique aspect of the OSCE is the non-binding status of its provisions. Rather than being a formal treaty, the OSCE Final Act represents a political commitment by all signatories to build security and cooperation in Europe on the basis of its provisions. This allows the OSCE to remain flexible for the evolution of improved cooperation which avoids disputes and/or sanctions over implementation. By agreeing these commitments, signatories for the first time accepted that the treatment of citizens within their borders was also a matter of legitimate international concern. This open process of the OSCE is often given credit for helping to build democracy in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, leading thus to the end of the Cold War.
The collapse of Communism required a change of the role of the CSCE. The Charter of Paris for a New Europe which was signed on November 21, 1990 marked the beginning of this change. The decision to re-name the conference was taken in Budapest in 1994. The OSCE had now a formal Secretariat, Senior Council, Parliamentary Assembly, Conflict Prevention Centre, and Office for Free Elections (later becoming the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights).
In December 1996, the "Lisbon Declaration on a Common and Comprehensive Security Model for Europe for the Twenty-First Century" affirmed the universal and indivisible nature of security on the European continent.
In Istanbul on November 19, 1999, the OSCE ended a two-day summit by calling for a political settlement in Chechnya and adopting a Charter for European Security.
Budget of the OSCE
The Unified Budget of OSCE is about 150 milion euros. The unified budget includes funds for the OSCE Secretariat and institutions, as well as the OSCE field operations and activities, with the latter accounting for almost two-thirds of the total budget. OSCE field missions use also considerable extrabudgetary funding sources.
Activities of the OSCE
The OSCE's comprehensive view of security covers three dimensions: the politico-military; the economic and environmental; and the human.
The OSCE's activities cover all three areas, from "hard" security issues such as conflict prevention to fostering economic development, ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources, and promoting the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The OSCE helps to stop surplus weapons being available illegally and offers assistance with their destruction. The OSCE has also developed mechanisms to regulate the transfer of conventional arms, improve military transparency and build confidence between states.
The OSCE seeks to enhance border security while facilitating legitimate travel and commerce, protecting human rights and promoting human contacts. The OSCE Border Management Staff College in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, trains border officers from OSCE participating States and Partners for Co-operation, including Afghanistan, and promotes cross-border co-operation in the Central Asian region.
Combating human trafficking
Human trafficking affects virtually all OSCE states, either as countries of origin or destination.
With its expertise in conflict prevention, crisis management and early warning, the OSCE contributes to world-wide efforts in combating terrorism. Many effective counter-terrorism measures fall into other areas in which the OSCE is active, such as police training and border monitoring. The OSCE also looks at human rights issues in relation to counter-terrorism.
Main bodies dealing with counter-terrorist activities are:
Conflict prevention and resolution
The OSCE works to prevent conflicts from arising and to facilitate lasting comprehensive political settlements for existing conflicts. It also helps with the process of rehabilitation in post-conflict areas. It co-operates with representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations operating in areas of conflict.
Following the April 2010 crisis and subsequent violence in June 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office sent his Special Envoy, Zhanybek Karibzhanov, to facilitate dialogue and co-ordinate efforts with other international organizations.
The OSCE is involved in mediation efforts in several unresolved conflicts:
The conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh- through the Minsk Group (co-chaired by France, the Russian Federation and the United States) and the Personal Representative of the Chairman-in-Office on the Conflict Dealt with by the OSCE Minsk Conference.
Transdniestria - through the "5+2" talks, which includes the sides, the Republic of Moldova and Transdniestria, the mediators - the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the OSCE - and the United States and the European Union as observers.
Post-2008 conflict in Georgia - the OSCE, together with the UN and EU, co-chairs the international Geneva Discussions in the wake of the conflict in Georgia. It also, with EUMM, co-facilitates the meetings of the Dvani/Ergneti Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) dealing with matters that affect the daily life of populations on the ground.
The OSCE undertakes numerous activities to support economic growth, including the strengthening of small- and medium-sized enterprises, monitoring the economic impact of trafficking and taking action against corruption and money laundering.
Education programmes are an integral part of the Organization's efforts in conflict prevention and post-conflict rehabilitation. The OSCE's youth projects include human rights, environmental, tolerance, and gender education as well as support for education of minorities.
The OSCE is a leading organization in the field of election observation. It conducts election-related activities across the 56 participating States, including technical assistance and election observation missions.
Recognizing the close connection between environmental issues and security, the OSCE assists participating States with sustainable use and sound management of natural resources.
The OSCE aims to provide equal opportunities for women and men, as well as to integrate gender equality into policies and practices, both within participating States and the Organization itself.
The OSCE assists OSCE participating States in fighting corruption and in building democratic, accountable state institutions.
Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms forms a key part of the OSCE's comprehensive security concept. The OSCE monitors the human rights situation in its 56 participating States.
Media freedom and development
Free and well-developed media are a cornerstone of democratic societies. The OSCE monitors media developments in its participating States for violations of freedom of expression. This includes reviewing legislation regulating the media, as well as monitoring cases where journalists are prosecuted for their professional activities or are the victims of harassment.
Military reform and co-operation
The Forum for Security Co-operation, which meets weekly in Vienna, provides a framework for dialogue between the OSCE participating States on military conduct, and on confidence- and security-building measures.
The OSCE identifies and seeks early resolution of ethnic tensions that might endanger peace or stability. It promotes the rights of national minorities and pays particular attention to the situation of Roma and Sinti.
OSCE police operations are an integral part of the Organization's efforts in conflict prevention and post-conflict rehabilitation. The OSCE’s police-related activities focus on challenges posed by trans-national and organized crime, by trafficking in drugs, arms and human beings, failure to uphold the rule of law and by human rights violations. Activities include police education and training, community policing and administrative and structural reforms.
Roma and Sinti
The OSCE promotes the rights of Roma and Sinti through projects on political participation, education, housing, civil registration, combating racism and discrimination, and protecting the rights of displaced persons.
Rule of law
The concept of rule of law forms a cornerstone of the OSCE's human rights and democratization activities. It not only describes formal legal frameworks, but also aims at justice based on the full acceptance of human dignity.
Tolerance and non-discrimination
The OSCE actively supports its 56 participating States in combating all forms of racism, xenophobia, and discrimination, including anti-Semitism, and discrimination against Christians and Muslims.
OSCE Politico-military dimension
Cooperation in the Politico-military dimension of the OSCE is primarily based on respect for commitments included in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty), the Treaty on Open Skies and the Vienna Document 1999. The main goal of the first dimension is to create military transparency, improve the security and mutual trust among participating States in the area between Vancouver and Vladivostok.
The CFE Treaty is considered as a fundamental basis for the European security and its “Cornerstone”. There are 30 States Parties to the CFE Treaty which are at the same time participating States of the OSCE. The CFE Treaty includes the system of limitations, information exchanges and verifications in five categories of conventional arms and equipments (battle tanks; artillery systems, armored combat vehicles, combat aircraft; and attack helicopters)
The original goal of the CFE Treaty was disarmament, elimination of the possible surprise attack and suspension of the arms race in Europe.
At the 1999 OSCE Summit in Istanbul, CFE States Parties signed an Agreement on Adaptation (A/CFE) to reflect changes in the European security environment after the end of the Cold War among others would replace the old block to block approach in dealing with the national and territorial limitations of conventional armed forces. However NATO Allies did not seek ratification because Russia did not fulfill its associated 1999 political commitments regarding withdrawal of forces and equipment from Moldova and Georgia. Russia met some, but not all, of those commitments. In December 2007, in response to the Allied non-ratification of A/CFE and reflecting other Russian concerns, Moscow ceased implementing CFE. Russia has not shared CFE data or allowed Treaty inspections since then, while all other CFE States Parties have continued to implement the Treaty.
In 2010 NATO member states prepared a new initiative which tries to modernize the conventional arms control regime in Europe. This initiative has been negotiated in Vienna among 36 states which are signatories of CFE Treaty and/or the NATO member states. The Czech Republic actively supports international effort to create the operational conventional arms control system in Europe. The negotiations should support transparency, trust and security. The 36 countries were working on a short Framework statement of key provisions and principles to guide new negotiations to strengthen and modernize the CFE regime. Considerable progress has been made in narrowing differences mainly between Allies and Russia, but more work remains to conclude a framework and begin negotiations.
The Open Skies Treaty aims at trust building among 34 State Parties of the Treaty. The main its instruments are observation flights by certified planes to monitor territory of other States Parties. Treaty permits each state-party to conduct short-notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over the others' entire territories to collect data on military forces and activities. These flights take medium resolution photos of lines and areas selected by inspectors.
The Vienna Document 1999 (VD-99) is main element of the Confidence and Security Building Measures (CSBM) among all OSCE Participating States (pS). VD-99 is composed of politically binding CSBMs designed to increase openness and transparency concerning military activities conducted inside the OSCE's zone of application. A variety of information exchanges, on-site inspections, evaluation visits, observation visits, and other military-to-military contacts take place according to VD-99 provisions. At the present time negotiations among pS are conducted to modernize provisions of VD-99 in line with new politico-military environment at the zone of VD-99 application.
Other CSBMs agreed among OSCE participating states are the Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons, the Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Aspects of Security, the Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers or the Global Exchange of Military Information.