Economic, scientific and environmental cooperation were grouped together in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and form the economic dimension of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Based on the view that trade, as well as scientific and environmental collaboration, enhance security, OSCE efforts in this area are designed to facilitate and build on the transition from command to market economies, to lessen economic disparities between participating States, and to combat economic and environmental threats to security.
Within the economic and environmental dimension, as it is generally referred, the OSCE countries have adopted a wide range of commitments designed to foster free market economies and enhance economic cooperation, including better economic and commercial information and improved business contacts and facilities. They have also agreed on industrial cooperation measures such as harmonization of standards and arbitration of disputes.
Additionally, this dimension includes cooperative efforts in the fields of science (such as physics, chemistry, meteorology, oceanography, space research) and technology (e.g., energy, new technologies, computer technology). With respect to the environment, participating States have committed to study bilateral and multilateral environmental problems and ways to increase the effectiveness of national and international protection measures. Areas of specific interest include trans-boundary air and water pollution, marine protection, and protection of the Mediterranean environment.
The 1999 Istanbul Charter for European Security broke new ground in the economic commitments as it was the first time that the participating States collectively recognized that corruption poses a great threat to the OSCE’s shared values. The countries, at Istanbul, committed themselves to combat corruption and the conditions that foster it.
The 2003 Maastricht Ministerial Council updated the Bonn Economic Strategy document by adopting concrete measures designed to foster sustainable development, improve corporate governance, promote regional integration and overall to address the uneven economic development among OSCE States and to address the emergence of new threats to security and stability.
The OSCE Economic Forum
With the collapse of communism, states in Central and Eastern Europe as well as those of the former Soviet Union embarked on a difficult process of economic transition.
This transition has been threatened by high unemployment, corruption and weak rule of law, factors that hinder investment, impede economic growth and fuel illegal economic activities. Environmental degradation, mismanagement and uneven distribution of natural resources have also caused tension in communities and between countries.
In the early 1990s, the United States attempted to give political stimulus to the dialogue on the transition to free market economies and to suggest practical efforts to assist in their development. Thus, in 1992 the OSCE Economic Forum was created as an annual conference designed to enhance dialogue on the transition to free-market economies; suggest practical means of developing free-market systems and economic cooperation; provide an annual focus for activities by targeting major issues of economic or environmental concern; contribute to the elaboration of specific recommendation and follow-up activities; and review the implementation of the participating States' commitments described in key documents.
The OSCE economic and environmental commitments, and activities of the OSCE in this area, reflect the desire of participating States for economic development that contributes to stability and treats citizens fairly. The Office of the Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities under the OSCE Secretariat, was created in 1997 to strengthen the ability of the Permanent Council and the OSCE institutions to address economic, social and environmental aspects of security. For example, labor migration within the OSCE region allows for an important source of income for residents of less-developed countries who are able to find work in more economically vibrant countries. With this opportunity also comes the risk of trafficking or exploitation. The OSCE has developed a “Handbook on Establishing Effective Labour Migration Policies in Countries of Origin and Destination” in conjunction with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Labour Organization (ILO). This handbook serves as a discussion point and best practices guide for participating States seeking to develop effective regional labor migration management.
Part of the OSCE’s effort to combat human trafficking is also encompassed in this work. Lack of economic opportunities, unemployment and loss of social cohesion are the main factors that contribute to women's and children's, but also men's vulnerability to trafficking. The Economic Coordinator’s office has developed an Anti-Trafficking Programme on Public-Private Co-operation in the Prevention of Trafficking in Human Beings (ATP). The ATP aims at addressing both the demand and supply side of trafficking in human beings by promoting self-regulation of the private sector; awareness-raising in countries of destination, in particular in Western countries; and creating economic empowerment opportunities for potential victims of trafficking in countries of origin.
The environment is also recognized as a key factor in not only economic development, but security as well. Environmental degradation, resource scarcity, the uneven distribution of natural resources or resource abundance are emerging as potential triggers or accelerating factors of tensions within and among states. One of the ways the OSCE is addressing environmental issues is through the Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC) that provides a framework for cooperation on environmental issues across borders and promoting peace and stability through environmental cooperation and sustainable development.
To read about other specific projects the OSCE field missions are working on in this area, click here.
The Helsinki Commission’s Role
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) is a U.S. Government agency, established in 1976 pursuant to Public Law 94-304, mandated to “monitor the acts of the signatories which reflect compliance with or violation of the articles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe…” While particular emphasis was given to “provisions relating to Cooperation in Humanitarian fields,” today known as the human dimension, the Commission has also focused attention on the economic and environmental dimension of the OSCE, including related commitments and decisions. Activities in recent years have included hearings stressing the importance of democratic governance, transparency and the role of civil society as well as a hearing specifically focused on the lingering consequences of the Chornobyl disaster. Initiatives have also been undertaken on topics ranging from ethics standards and parliamentary immunity to combating corruption and international crime.