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The Future of the OSCE’S Economic and Environmental Dimension

By Shelly Han and Alex Johnson
Policy Advisors

The 17th Economic and Environmental Forum (EEF) focused exclusively on the theme of migration, covering issues related to migration in the context of politico-military, environmental, sociopolitical factors. The Forum called for follow-up actions to study migration patterns for policy development in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, research the impact of climate change on migration pattern, and create regional partnerships to support female labor migrants.

While the four EEF meetings in 2008-2009 succeeded in building cooperation around migration issues, the U.S. Helsinki Commission recommends several functional and strategic changes to the Forum process, which could improve more broadly the efficacy of the Economic and Environmental Dimension. Recommended changes include altering the EEF schedule, focusing on more than one theme, and improving collaboration among international organizations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Partners for Cooperation.

Addressing Migration

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe convened Part 1 of the 17th Economic and Environmental Forum (EEF) Jan. 19-20, 2009, in Vienna, Austria, under the theme: “Migration management and its linkages with economic, social and environmental policies to the benefit of stability and security in the OSCE region.” The Greek Chairmanship chose the migration theme following up on the Slovenian Chair’s theme of migration, which focused on integration and economic policies related to migration.

Greece has been under tremendous pressure from its European Union partners and the international community to improve its treatment of migrants and refugees. Greece is on the frontline as a destination and transit country, particularly for migrants from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. The United Nations has criticized Greece for its often inhumane policy towards new arrivals, and Greece has appealed to the EU for more assistance, such as funding to house and process migrants, as well as strengthened border enforcement. In particular Greece has seen a rise in unaccompanied minors, a trend that further complicates its task. These factors have contributed to the keen interest in migration for the 17th EEF by the Greek Chairmanship.

In Vienna, conference participants discussed migration management with a focus on reducing illegal migration through implementation of appropriate labor migration policies. The key areas of discussion included: how to design labor migration policies that meet the needs of both employers and employees; ensures return or allows for permanent migration; attracts high-skilled and low-skilled labor; and enforcement of anti-human trafficking measures. Commission staff moderated a panel discussion on circular migration, looking at the mixed record of success of circular migration policies in France, Germany, Canada, and the United States. The panel discussed the need for circular migration programs to be “balanced partnerships” between the sending countries and the destination countries to meet economic and development needs.

Economics, the Environment and Migration: Drawing the Link

The Second Preparatory Meeting of the 17th EEF occurred March 16-17, 2009, in Tirana, Albania. This meeting emphasized the links between migration management and economic, social, and environmental policies. The proceedings yielded statements on important concepts, particularly the integral role of migrants in the economy of the OSCE region and the feminization of migration. The discussions also distinguished an appropriate role for the OSCE in migration management, clarifying that the institutions of the OSCE offer a proper framework to create favorable conditions for economic development through the promotion of political stability and transparency in the politico-security and human dimensions. This meeting also consisted of a review of best practices and research on migratory flows from partner organizations.

One of the most notable components of this meeting was a side event announcing the completion of the OSCE Guide on Gender-Sensitive Labor Migration Policies. This guide was a joint venture of the three components of the OSCE Secretariat: the Office of the Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (OCEEA), the Office of the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, and the Gender Section. At the side meeting, OCEEA staff facilitated a discussion on how to develop mechanisms to counter the feminization of migration and recognize the unique propensity for exploitation and violence experienced by female migrant workers. The guide analyzes partnerships between countries of origin and destination, specifically recommending better regulation of recruitment agencies, flexibility of work visas to engage different employers, greater data collection on trends, and alternate reintegration mechanisms for female migrant workers. The guide is available online here.

Follow-Up Action

On May 18-20, 2009, the 17th EEF was concluded with Part 2 in Athens. The concluding forum synthesized the findings of the previous meetings in a “Concept Note on Conclusions and the Way Forward,” which is available online here. The proceedings focused on capacity-building activities, developing enhanced partnerships to manage migration between destination, transit and origin countries, and fostering political will for OSCE institution engagement in government efforts to create national policy frameworks on migration. The event also marked the first substantive discussions among high-level OSCE delegations on what role the organization should have in managing climate-induced migration and its future challenges.

The concluding forum resulted in five proposed follow-up activities to be jointly carried out by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the OSCE, including:

  • A migration profile data collection project for policy development in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
  • A regional conference on Diaspora and Development in the OSCE Region.
  • A regional partnership development initiative to support female labor migrants.
  • A Central Asian study on the contribution of environmental degradation and climate change to migration.
  • A similar environmental study in the Caucasus.

Discussions during the forum demonstrated varying degrees of support for these proposals from the participating delegations.

The most noteworthy contribution to the proceedings of the final meeting of the forum was the release of the International Labour Office (ILO) “Review of the Implementation of OSCE Commitments related to migration by OSCE participating States.” This review reaffirmed the prominent role that the OSCE should play in the discourse of migration governance, particularly in facilitating establishment of migration management national frameworks, easing movement of citizens among participating states, providing language training for migrants, and addressing the root causes of irregular migration through economic cooperation with countries of origin.

In sum, the 17th EEF analyzed the vital topic of migration within the OSCE region, but the forum missed a number of opportunities in its redundancy. More distinct topic divisions for each of the preparatory meetings would have greatly benefited OSCE discourse on migration. Particularly, the forum process needs to emphasize more cumulative and tangible work products like the ILO implementation review, the joint IOM/OSCE projects, and the OSCE Guide on Gender Sensitive Labor Migration Policies. More time at the forum should have been spent on how governments can translate the recommendations of these projects into their own practices. Unfortunately, these items were treated as auxiliary to the proceedings as opposed to being thoroughly incorporated into the panel discussions.

The Future of the OSCE Economic and Environmental Dimension

The Economic and Environmental Dimension (EED) of the OSCE is less controversial when compared to the issues faced in the other two dimensions of the OSCE: the politico-security and human rights dimensions. In general, there is less disagreement between OSCE States, and there is no lack of constructive activities that the OSCE can pursue that can make tangible differences in everyday lives of people in the OSCE region. Despite its possibilities, the potential for this dimension has not been optimized.

The Commission wholeheartedly supports a continued emphasis within the OSCE on the economic dimension, particularly the cross-dimensional subject areas that combine economic and environmental objectives with security and human dimension objectives. There are signs, however, that the EED is not living up to its potential, and in response, a small group of participating States have established an informal working group to discuss ways to improve results. Many of the issues addressed in this working group dovetail with the following Commission findings and recommendations:

Continuity—the Single-Theme Per Year Format Has Drawbacks

The EEF meets four times per year under the rubric of one theme (note the migration theme for the Greek Chairmanship, discussed above.) With four sessions devoted to the same topic, the result is a significant amount of overlap in the information shared at each meeting. Instead of discussing specific sub-topics in depth, the presentations at each meeting usually address the same themes and few new ideas or recommendations develop. One might expect a cumulative work product resulting from the four sessions, but the same speakers and introducers are often selected to repeat variations of their presentations at multiple meetings. If repeat speakers are scheduled, emphasis should be placed on a progression of the discussion throughout the forum series.

Rigidly focusing on one theme for a whole year precludes the Forum from addressing other issues that may be more timely. In addition, international organizations are invited to get involved on one theme and then are left with little opportunity to continue their work with the OSCE the next year.

Finally, the work of economic officers in the OSCE field missions becomes unwieldy with the addition every year of a new theme and the expectation that they will add projects based on this theme. In this sense, an opportunity for review of previously implemented economic projects at field missions should also be considered. By focusing on one theme per meeting, or even choosing a slate of issues for each meeting depending on the urgency, the EEF would become more nimble and increase its responsiveness to current events.

Change in Meeting Schedule

Currently the EEF runs from September to September, while the OSCE Chairmanship terms coincide with the calendar year (January to December). This means that at least 6-8 months before taking up the Chairmanship, the incoming Chair-in-Office must seek consensus on a theme and organize one meeting before they even take up the new position as CiO. The Commission favors changing the time frame for the EEF to coincide with the Chairmanship year.

Using the EED as a Tool for Confidence Building

A higher priority should be placed on using and building expertise within the Economic Coordinator’s office. The OSCE is an active participant in the Environmental Security (ENVSEC) initiative (which brings together NATO, the UN and the OSCE) and focuses on environmental projects with security implications in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe and South Eastern Europe. In particular, there are opportunities for the OSCE to pursue confidence-building projects that focus on sensitive border issues in Central Asia in line with the transportation theme for this year, or at economic projects focused on the areas of protracted conflict.

The EED also has potential to sustain more active engagement from the OSCE Partners for Cooperation. Discussions among both the Asian Partners for Cooperation and the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation have emphasized a desire for utilization of the OSCE Partnership Fund to initiate environmental and economic activities for regional confidence building.

By covering more issues over the course of the year, changing its meeting schedule to coincide with the term of the Chair-in-office, and engaging more regularly with international organizations and OSCE Partners for Cooperation, the Economic and Environmental Dimension could substantively add greater value to the work of the OSCE and have a larger impact in uniting the 56 countries around common goals related to improving economic growth and environmental policy.

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