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Strong Substance, Potent Politics Mark Historic Maastricht OSCE Ministerial Council

Volume 37 Number 1

By Elizabeth B. Pryor,
CSCE Senior Advisor

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) once again demonstrated its ability to promote candid political discussion and take prescient decisions when the Eleventh OSCE Ministerial Council met December 1-2, 2003. The meeting took place in Maastricht, the Netherlands, capping the Dutch chairmanship of the OSCE, under the leadership of Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Ministers and other senior officials from the 55 OSCE states engaged in extensive consultations and approved an impressive array of action programs and strategic initiatives. Members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, including Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), and representatives of OSCE partner states and other affiliated organizations joined them. Secretary of State Colin Powell led the United States delegation.

The Ministerial meeting was historic, not only for the quantity and quality of the decisions it took, but because it signaled a move away from defining the organization solely on the basis of broad formalized statements. The flexibility of the organization was also on display. When one participating state threatened a veto on jointly agreed political positions, the Chairman and other members turned it into an opportunity to forcefully reiterate their determination to see conflicts resolved through the standards set in OSCE agreements. They also intensified the pressure to fulfill previously taken commitments. The result was a stronger expression of collective political will than might have been made in a compromise document. By moving beyond the predictable rhetoric of a communiqué, the OSCE underscored its own political vitality and the unique platform it offers for frank debate and creative political action.

The Maastricht Ministerial took place in the wake of Georgia’s “Revolution of the Roses” and was attended by the Acting President of Georgia, Nino Burjanadze. That situation, and growing concern over disputes in the Transdniestria region of Moldova, produced frank comments from the Ministers, opening the way for real dialogue on the issues and an expression of international concern that was impossible to ignore.

Secretary Powell was among those who used the unconstrained OSCE stage to address issues directly. He cautioned that no support would “be given to breakaway elements seeking to weaken Georgia’s territorial integrity” and called for international support for the new elections to be held January 4, 2004. The European Union, and Dutch OSCE Chairman echoed this, voicing their own warnings against interference in Georgia’s democratic development. The Chairman also strongly reasserted the OSCE’s role in deliberations over the political future of Transdniestria. He was joined by many of the Ministers, who took exception to Russian efforts to broker an inequitable accord outside of the internationally coordinated mediation process. While applauding some progress on arms reductions by Russia in Transdniestria, the U.S. delegation, as well as many others, spoke forthrightly of the need to fulfill all provisions of the 1999 Istanbul agreement which called for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova. Even when given an extension to withdraw by December 31, 2003, no progress has been made. The exchange also gave Russia the opportunity to express its viewpoint: that ratification of the revised Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was being held up over the implementation of the Istanbul commitments and that the collapse of its diplomatic initiative in Moldova would delay any chance of reaching a settlement.

The initiatives unanimously agreed by the Ministers reflect the OSCE’s dedication to strong standard setting and innovative yet practical solutions for entrenched problems. The decisions taken on security issues continue OSCE’s long tradition of crafting action-oriented agreements with low political cost and long-term stabilizing effects. The development of more secure travel documents, export controls on portable air defense systems, “best practices” for the transfer of small arms and new measures for the destruction of stockpiles of ammunition are among the most robust set of security decisions taken in recent years by any international organization. The United States welcomed these decisions and praised the OSCE’s work as an example of effective multilateralism.

These concrete action programs were coupled with a comprehensive strategy for addressing the changing security environment of the 21st century. The holistic OSCE approach to stability is evident in this document, which encompasses everything from arms control to environmental concerns and fighting corruption. “The [Helsinki] Final Act tells us that lasting security requires not just respect for the sovereignty of states, but also respect for the integrity of human beings,” noted Secretary Powell in Maastricht.

In keeping with this integrated approach to security, the OSCE agreed to a strategic roadmap for tackling the difficult problem of trafficking in human beings. The OSCE Action Plan is the most detailed blueprint devised by any international organization; in Maastricht Ministers decided to appoint a Special Representative to ensure that its provisions are carried out. In addition, the OSCE approved a comprehensive policy for improving the situation of Roma and Sinti, the first of its kind in the region. They also strengthened their commitment to an enhanced economic and environmental work plan.

In a matter of particular interest to numerous Helsinki Commissioners, the Maastricht Ministerial formally welcomed the offer by Germany to host a conference on anti-Semitism in Berlin. Belgium will host a meeting on racism, xenophobia and discrimination. In a letter to Secretary Powell in the lead up to the ministerial, Commissioners urged U.S. leadership in securing agreement on the German proposal as well as other areas of particular concern, including disturbing developments in Turkmenistan, Chechnya, Belarus and severe limitations placed on minority religious communities in some parts of the region. “The United States’ leadership is essential to secure consensus on initiatives on combating anti-Semitism and racism; human trafficking; internally displaced persons; corruption and international crime; cooperation with the ICTY; withdrawal of foreign forces from Moldova; and the Annual Security Review Conference,” Commissioners wrote.

Ministers also addressed the wider sharing of OSCE norms, principles and commitments with others, pledging to identify additional fields of cooperation and interaction with OSCE Mediterranean and Asian Partners for Cooperation.

The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

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