By Commission Staff
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), the Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Vice-President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) led a delegation of four Members of the U.S. Congress to the OSCE PA Fall Meetings in Athens, Greece October 9-12, 2009. Commission Co-Chairman, Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), a past president of the OSCE PA and current Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, co-chaired the delegation, which also included Commissioner Representative Mike McIntyre (D-NC) and Senator George Voinovich (R-OH).
More than 200 parliamentarians from 49 countries throughout the OSCE region attended the meetings, which were convened under the theme of “Energy Security and Environment,” and featured a two-session Mediterranean Forum. Sessions focused on regional cooperation in Energy Security; Climate and Environmental Policy – the Road to Copenhagen; and Optimal Utilization of Natural Resources for Human Security. The Mediterranean Forum session themes were Prospects and Challenges of the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension, and Trade and Economic Cooperation in the Mediterranean. Representatives from Algeria, Egypt, Israel, and Jordan participated in the meetings.
Focus on Energy Security and the Road to Copenhagen
Over the two days of the conference, the parliamentarians exchanged information and ideas on energy security and climate change. For Europe in particular, the issue of the day is security of supply, particularly of natural gas with winter approaching and the specter of another commercial conflict between Ukraine and Russia looming. Russia has accused Ukraine of theft of natural gas and Ukraine has accused Russia of unfairly raising prices, and the stakes are getting higher as Ukraine gears up for elections January 17, 2010. A representative from the Russian natural gas company, Gazprom, presented his company’s perspective, attempted to assuage concerns, and convince parliamentarians that Russia is a reliable energy supplier.
The parliamentarians also discussed the “human dimension” of energy security and climate issues, noting the humanitarian consequences of water shortages, environmental disasters, and food shortages that could come with a warming climate. It was noted that the OSCE had a particular role to play to monitor and warn of these types of human problems, as they could be precursors to conflict.
Senator Cardin gave a keynote energy speech, in which he updated parliamentarians on the status of climate change legislation in the U.S. Congress and laid out his expectations for success at the next round of climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark, scheduled to be held in early December under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Acknowledging the criticism from others regarding the slow pace of climate change legislation in the United States, Senator Cardin reminded the parliamentarians that “We face an economic crisis, an energy security crisis, and a global climate crisis.” But far from an excuse for inaction, Senator Cardin noted that, “what people forget is reviving our global economy is inextricably linked to re-thinking how we solve our energy challenges. Investing in new technologies creates new jobs. Diversifying our energy sources creates competition – stabilizing and lowering energy prices. And thinking beyond fossil fuels buried in unstable or unreliable countries makes all of us more secure.”
Senator Cardin spoke on some specific aspects of the draft Senate climate bill, including his work to strengthen the transparency of international carbon offsets. While noting that offsets – particularly those tied to reducing deforestation – are an important part of combating climate change, Senator Cardin stated a number of concerns. Governments with endangered forests could potentially receive $30 billion a year through offset programs, which may lead to a devastating new source of corruption, similar to that experienced in countries with other natural resource wealth such as oil, gas and minerals.
Reminding the legislators of the work done previously in the OSCE PA on transparency, Senator Cardin said, “The lessons we have learned from the global movement for transparency in natural resources, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), can be translated effectively to the offset programs, and I am working hard to ensure that we have strong measures in place to prevent corruption and ensure the integrity of the offset system.”
Senator Cardin later had the opportunity to discuss the Energy Security Through Transparency (ESTT) legislation that he and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill requires disclosure of oil, gas and mining related payments made worldwide by companies currently regulated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The bill is a step forward in creating real transparency in an industry that can cause significant political and social strife. The legislation will also act as a compliment to the EITI by creating a norm for transparency of extractive payments.
In order to ensure the widest possible participation of companies in this effort, Senator Cardin encouraged his colleagues from the United Kingdom, Canada, and elsewhere to initiate similar transparency legislation that would cover companies listed on their stock exchanges as well. Senator Cardin noted that by helping people in resource-rich countries hold their governments accountable, we can truly achieve optimal utilization of natural resources for human security.
|Rep. Hastings chairs a session of the Mediterranean Forum.
The Mediterranean Forum of the 2009 OSCE PA Fall Meeting was particularly well attended. This annual forum highlighted the outlook for the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation and the promotion of economic cooperation in two sessions. Representative Alcee L. Hastings, the OSCE PA Special Representative for Mediterranean Affairs chaired the first session, entitled “The OSCE Mediterranean Dimension: Prospects and Challenges.” Speakers included OSCE PA President João Soares of Portugal, Vice President of the Hellenic Parliament Elsa Papadimitriou, and Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office to the Mediterranean Partners Sotiris Roussos.
Co-Chairman Hastings reported on the success of the July 2009 Helsinki Commission Mediterranean Seminar in Washington, which featured more than 50 participants from the parliaments and diplomatic missions of all six Mediterranean Partner countries and several OSCE participating States. Co-Chairman Hastings delineated the four key themes of the seminar: negotiating a regional role for the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension in the context of other regional dialogues; fostering leadership from the Mediterranean Partners in OSCE related activities; optimizing the OSCE Partnership Fund; and involvement in the Middle East peace process.
President Soares emphasized the influence of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the success of the Mediterranean Dimension and the need for more significant follow-up on recommendations and events. Soares also appealed to the need to engage Libya and the Palestinian National Authority for greater effectiveness in the region. Vice President Papadimitriou characterized the history of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM) in which she has played a leading role. Papadimitriou emphasized that PAM Member States all have equal footing in addressing the priorities of the organization, which include: addressing irregular migration, environmental degradation, climate change, and regional conflict management.
Personal Representative Roussos described the positive developments of the last decade regarding human security in the Maghreb to counter the bleak picture, which he said too often results from discussions of the region. He called for involving Syria and the Palestinian National Authority in the Partnership and increasing the visibility of the Mediterranean Dimension. Roussos also suggested hosting a forum of the OSCE PA on Arab-Israeli relations similar to the Georgia discussion which occurred at the 2008 OSCE PA Fall Meeting in Toronto.
Ambassador Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, OSCE Secretary General, offered the keynote address for the first session of the forum. Ambassador de Brichambaut commended the Helsinki Commission Mediterranean Seminar in Washington, specifically for garnering the political will for a conference site for the 2009 OSCE Mediterranean Conference in Cairo, Egypt. He reiterated that the Mediterranean Partners currently have the ability to be involved in all aspects of the Helsinki Process except for final adoption of decisions and recommended that the Partners should make greater use of the instruments of the OSCE to serve their needs. He encouraged broader involvement with the Mediterranean Contact Group in Vienna and noted that the timing may be right with the maturity of the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension to begin exploring adoption of OSCE commitments by Mediterranean Partner States. Following Ambassador de Brichambaut’s remarks, requests for the floor from participating delegations greatly exceeded the time available. Some delegation remarks were carried over into the subsequent session. Parliamentarians from France, Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Spain, and Sweden made remarks from the floor. Comments focused on how to improve the Middle East peace process through greater NGO engagement, the need to resolve the question of the Western Sahara, and the benefits of cooperation with the Union for the Mediterranean initiative of the European Union Barcelona Process. Some comments were made welcoming the new approach of the Obama Administration to peace in the Middle East.
Senator Jerry Grafstein of Canada, Vice-President of the OSCE PA chaired the second session of the Mediterranean Forum, entitled “Trade and Economic Cooperation in the Mediterranean.” This session featured keynote speeches from Konstantinos Agorastos of the Hellenic Parliament and Yiannis Stournaras, Research Director of the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research and the University of Athens. The delegations of Algeria, Egypt, Israel, and Jordan each offered official statements. Morocco and Tunisia did not send delegations to the meeting.
Vice President Grafstein framed the second session of the Mediterranean Forum with regional historical background on the emergence of trade, insisting that trade preceded political engagement. Grafstein cited the United Nations Development Program Arab Human Development Report for 2009, specifically the finding that 2 million new jobs are needed every year in the region to meet labor demands, yet those needs have not been met due to trade restrictions. He emphasized that coordinated efforts are needed to create jobs. The keynote speakers reiterated these trends and identified challenges inhibiting greater trade in the region. Statements from the Mediterranean Partner delegations emphasized the need to: reduce social inequality between regions north and south of the Mediterranean; address food security concerns; eradicate poverty and violence; prepare for climate-induced migration; and utilize the Union for the Mediterranean framework for scientific exchange.
Several heated exchanges ensued between the partners regarding details of Middle East peace negotiations, particularly settlement activity in the West Bank. Once the floor was opened to participating State delegations, several delegations reiterated the fatigue many feel with the multiplicity of Mediterranean regional frameworks. Several states identified migration as the greatest challenge requiring greater prioritization in OSCE activities.
|U.S. Delegation with Greek Prime Minister Papandreou (third from left) and U.S. Ambassador Speckhard (far right).
On the sidelines of the Fall Meeting, the U.S. Delegation also met with Greece’s newly-installed Prime Minister George Papandreou, who also serves as the Greek Foreign Minister. The delegation also met separately with Greek Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos. At both meetings the delegation discussed Greece’s relationship with Cyprus and Turkey, encouraged resolution to the name issue with the Republic of Macedonia to ensure that country's membership in the NATO alliance, promoted regional cooperation on migration issues and called for greater respect for human rights of all people – domestic and foreign.
Looking ahead to the new prime minister’s role as Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, the U.S. delegation pledged full cooperation to help the December ministerial meeting in Athens reach meet reasonable expectations.
|Sen. Cardin greets children at a Roma village.
The delegation also received a high level briefing from U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel V. Speckhard and visited a Roma village to see firsthand the conditions in which members of this minority group live in Greece. After discussing the need for greater access to education and health care with local Roma residents and touring a few makeshift homes, the delegation donated needed clothing and health supplies to about 40 children and their families.
U.S. engagement with partners around the world has never been so critical. Too often there is only minimal interaction between parliamentarians in concert with the diplomatic efforts of our governments. During this meeting, members of the U.S. Congressional delegation engaged formally and informally with parliamentarians from across the OSCE region (and beyond to the Mediterranean and Asian Partners) to increase understanding and to further the goals of the United States on energy, climate change and regional security issues.