The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, is with its wide circle of participating States and comprehensive concept of security an important instrument for creating long-term security in Europe. The Organization has its roots in the forum for negotiations between East and West that was established in the early 1970s, called the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). In 1993, the CSCE was given the status of a regional arrangement of the United Nations, under Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter. In 1995, CSCE changed its name to the OSCE, with its headquarters in Vienna.
The OSCE’s activities are based on a comprehensive concept of security, covering politico-military, economic and environmental aspects as well as democracy and human rights – the so called “three dimensions” of security. Concrete examples of activities pursued in line with this concept are monitoring and promoting respect for human rights, election support and observation, preventing armed conflicts and conventional arms control.
All European states as well as Canada, the USA and the Central Asian countries participate in the OSCE, a total of 57 countries. The newest participating State is Mongolia, which was granted to join the organization at the end of 2012.
The OSCE’s highest decision-making body is the Summit, where Heads of States or Governments of the OSCE participating States gather. The last Summit took place in Astana in 2010. During periods between Summits, the Foreign Ministers of the participating States convene for Ministerial Councils, which are held in December every year. The last Ministerial Council was held in Hamburg, Germany, on 8-9 December 2016 and the next one will take place on 7-8 December 2017 in Vienna, Austria. Decision making within the OSCE is based on the principle of consensus.
The Permanent Council is the OSCE’s regular body for decision making. It is responsible for the daily business of the organization and consists of the participating States’ Ambassadors. Four committees are established under the Permanent Council’s direction, as well as various working groups. Three committees reflect the three dimensions of the broad security concept, and the fourth one handles budgetary and management issues. These bodies prepare the various decisions that are to be made by the Permanent Council, by the participating States’ Foreign Ministers or Heads of States or Governments. The chairmanship of the OSCE is held annually by one participating State. In 2016 Germany served as Chairman-in-Office. Since January 2017 Austria has assumed the role of Chair, and will be succeeded by Italy in 2018.
The OSCE structures are quite dispersed. The Secretariat, directed by the Secretary General Thomas Greminger (since 2017), and the Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFOM) are based in Vienna. The High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) is located in The Hague and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is based in Warsaw. In addition, there are fourteen field offices in the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is based in Copenhagen.
Sweden’s priorities in the OSCE
The Russian aggression against Ukraine will dominate the OSCE agenda normatively and practically for a foreseeable future. Sweden puts particular emphasis on ensuring the rule-based European security order embodied by the OSCE foundations (the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris and other documents). OSCE therefore has a central normative role in the crisis management, but is also the international community's main player on the ground in managing the crisis practically. Among other tasks, the ODIHR conducted three comprehensive election observations since the onset of the crisis.
After the decision of the OSCE's 57 participating states in March 21 2014, a civilian observer mission in Ukraine, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (SMM), was established to observe and report on developments on the ground. The Mission's mandate allows a maximum of 1000 observers to operate within the whole Ukraine. The Headquarter is located in Kiev. Sweden is one of the major donors and around twenty Swedish observers are working on site.
Other key priorities are to strengthen the OSCE's democracy work (particularly election monitoring) and human rights with a special focus on the fundamental rights and freedoms including media and internet freedoms. Fundamental rights and freedoms must have a continued importance on the EU agenda and within the work of the OSCE as a whole. As EU's local coordinator for media freedom issues, Sweden continues to safeguard the discussion on these important topics within the organization.
The three OSCE autonomous institutions (the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, HCNM, and the Representative on Freedom of the Media, RFOM) constitute important cornerstones of the organization's activities, not least when it comes to human rights and fundamental freedoms. Moreover, the field operations of the OSCE make a significant contribution by working for democratic development, strengthening human rights and the rule of law in the countries and regions where they operate. Sweden actively supports – politically and financially – the OSCE institutions and field presences and believes it is key to safeguard their work and mandates.
Moreover, arms control, military transparency and confidence-building measures are of central interest in the OSCE and in a broader foreign- and security policy context. These efforts include identification of - and action from - platforms to demonstrate the benefits of the Swedish nonalignment.
Sweden is an active member of the Vienna Document 2011 and the Treaty on Open Skies, where we committed ourselves to contribute to transparency and confidence through comprehensive reporting of our defense structures and by allowing the other treaty states to inspect how we live up to our commitments, which also give us the opportunity to actively inspect the other countries in the same way. Other important issues from the Swedish point are, for example, the work of the so-called Code of Conduct which stipulates ethical rules and the lowest common denominator of civic control of national armed forces. Furthermore the delegation works for gender equality to be a natural and integral part of the OSCE's comprehensive security concept.
Sweden is also committed to strengthening the OSCE's ability to contribute to the solution of the protracted conflicts in the region. For example, since 1992 Sweden is a member of the so-called Minsk Group, working for a peaceful solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh along with a dozen other countries.
The Swedish membership contribution to the OSCE in 2017 amounts to 45 million SEK. In addition, Sweden contributes to ODIHR election monitoring and some OSCE extra budgetary projects.