Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) led a congressional delegation to Marrakech, Morocco, in early October for the 18th Autumn Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA).
The delegation included Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), an OSCE Vice President and head of the U.S. Delegation to OSCE PA in 2019, as well as Ranking House Commissioner Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioner Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05) and Rep. Andy Harris (MD). Prior to arriving in Marrakech, the delegation visited Tunisia and Israel for a firsthand examination of what recently has been a dynamic political landscape in each country, with implications for U.S. policy.
The Assembly’s ongoing activities provide the United States good opportunities for active engagement of its allies and friends, as well as to advance issues of U.S. concern or interest. Autumn Meetings were established in 2002 to bridge the gap between the OSCE PA’s annual sessions, usually held in late June or early July and ending with the adoption of a substantive declaration, and winter meetings held in mid-February to engage OSCE officials and institutions. Autumn meetings provide an additional opportunity for dialogue and often include—as was the case in Marrakech—a forum focusing on Mediterranean issues. The program also includes a meeting of the Standing Committee, composed of heads of delegations, which makes many of the executive decisions shaping OSCE PA activity. For the first time, in 2019 the Autumn Meeting was hosted not by an OSCE participating State, but by a Mediterranean partner country.
The 2019 meeting attracted approximately 190 parliamentarians from among the 57 participating States and five Mediterranean partner countries. The U.S. delegation was the largest ever to an Autumn Meeting, making overall U.S. participation in the OSCE PA in 2019 the highest since the assembly was founded in 1991.
Chairman Hastings addressed the Mediterranean forum, reporting on the delegation’s visit to Tunisia and Israel beforehand and emphasizing the need to increase opportunities for youth and to engage civil society. Co-Chairman Wicker also reported on delegation travels in the Standing Committee, concentrating on elections and government formation in Tunisia and Israel, adding that in Israel the threat posed by Iran also was an important topic. He also noted that the U.S. Government shared the concerns of France and Italy, among other countries, regarding Turkish drilling for natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea near Cyprus.
The three other sessions of the Autumn Meeting focused on the security, economic/environmental and human dimensions of OSCE work, each with guest speakers from the host country or elsewhere in Africa. In his capacity as a Vice President of OSCE PA, Sen. Wicker chaired a session on the exchange of best practices between the OSCE and African regional partners, noting that the OSCE’s concept of “comprehensive security” has had successful applications in European dialogue that could also be valuable in the wider Euro-Mediterranean region.
Rep. Harris spoke in a session highlighting economic development and environmental migration, addressing issues ranging from human trafficking to energy diversity to water supplies. In a session on combating intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, Rep. Cleaver focused on the real dangers of rising intolerance in an ever-smaller world.
On the margins of the formal sessions, the U.S. delegation held bilateral meetings with the parliamentary delegations of Ukraine and Morocco, and Chairman Hastings hosted all attending Mediterranean partner country parliamentarians to a session focusing on U.S. policy and interests in North Africa and the Middle East. Chairman Hastings and Co-Chairman Wicker also participated in a working lunch to discuss possible reforms of the OSCE PA to make the Assembly more effective and visible.
Rep. Harris attended an event convened by the OSCE Ad Hoc Committee on Migration, while Rep. Joe Wilson met with the Bulgarian and other delegations to discuss items of common interest. The U.S. delegation also extensively engaged parliamentarians and diplomats from Albania ahead of that country’s chairmanship of the OSCE in 2020.
While the OSCE PA will remain active throughout the remainder of 2019—including observing elections in Belarus and Uzbekistan and attending the December meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Bratislava, Slovakia—the next large gathering of OSCE PA delegates will be in February of 2020, for the Winter Meeting in Vienna.