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 conditions for long-term security in Europe. The Organization has its roots in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), a forum for dialogue between East and West that was established in the early 1970s. In 1993, the CSCE was given the status of a regional arrangement by the United Nations, under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter. In 1995, CSCE changed its name to the OSCE, and established 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. Examples of activities pursued in line with this concept are monitoring and promoting respect for human rights, election support and observation, conflict prevention and mediation as well as conventional arms control.
All European states as well as Canada, the United States and the Central Asian countries participate in the OSCE, a total of 57 countries. The newest participating State is Mongolia, which joined the organization in 2012.
The OSCE’s highest decision-making body is the Summit at the level of Heads of State or Government. The last Summit took place in Astana in 2010. In between Summits, the Foreign Ministers of the participating States convene for yearly Ministerial Councils. The last Ministerial Council was held in Skopje, North Macedonia in December 2023 and the next is planned to take place in Valetta, Malta, who will Chair the OSCE in 2024. 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 normally meets weekly and is responsible for the daily business of the organization and consists of the participating States’ Ambassadors/Permanent Representatives. Four committees and various working groups are established under the Permanent Council. There is a committee for each of the three dimensions, and a fourth committee for budgetary and management issues. These bodies prepare the various decisions that are to be taken by the Permanent Council, by the participating States’ Foreign Ministers or by Heads of State and Government. The Chairpersonship of the OSCE is held by one participating State and rotates annually. Sweden served as Chairperson-in-Office in 2021.
The OSCE structures are geographically dispersed. The Secretariat, directed by the Secretary General, 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) in Warsaw. In addition, there are twelve field presences in the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is based in Copenhagen.
Sweden’s priorities in the OSCE
The Russian aggression against Ukraine will continue to dominate the OSCE agenda for a foreseeable future. Sweden puts particular emphasis on the need to uphold and safeguarding the rules-based European security order, based on OSCE principles and commitments, embodied in the Helsinki Final Act (1975), the Charter of Paris (1990) and other documents. The OSCE plays an important normative role in managing the conflict and was up until the fullscale invasion of Ukraine on 24th February 2022 also the international community's main actor on the ground. In March 2014, a civilian observer mission, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (SMM), was established to observe and report on developments on the ground. The Mission discontinued its operations on 31 March 2022.
Sweden was one of the major contributors with around thirty observers. On 1 November 2022 – a new donor-funded Support Programme for Ukraine (SPU) was launched by contributing OSCE participating States, including Sweden. The Support Programme addresses some of the immediate challenges to civilians posed by the Russian aggression against Ukraine and supports the long-term democratic and social resilience of Ukrainian institutions and civil society organizations.
In addition, ODIHR has conducted several comprehensive election observations since the outbreak of the conflict in 2014.
Other key priorities for Sweden are to strengthen the OSCE's work to protect and promote the implementation of commitments on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Special focus is placed on election monitoring and fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression and of media. Together with other EU Member States, Sweden is actively engaging to ensure that these issues remain high on the OSCE agenda. As the EU's local coordinator for media freedom issues within the OSCE, Sweden contributes and shapes 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 democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Moreover, the field operations of the OSCE make a significant contribution by advancing 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.
Furthermore, arms control, military transparency and confidence-building measures are of central interest to Sweden in the OSCE, as well as in a broader foreign- and security policy context.
Sweden is an active signatory of the Vienna Document 2011 and the Treaty on Open Skies, through which we contribute to transparency and confidence building. This is done in accordance with the provisions of the instruments through comprehensive reporting of our defence structures and by allowing other signatory states to inspect how we live up to our commitments. In the same way, Sweden also has the opportunity to actively inspect the other parties to the Treaties in return. Other important issues from the Swedish perspective are – for example, the discussions within the Structured Dialogue, as well as the so-called Code of Conduct, which stipulates ethical rules and the lowest common denominator of civilian control of national armed forces.
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 conflict, along with a dozen other countries.
Sweden actively works to ensure that gender equality is a natural and integral part of the OSCE's comprehensive security concept.
The Swedish membership contribution to the OSCE amounts to 48 million SEK. In addition, Sweden contributes to ODIHR election monitoring and OSCE extra-budgetary projects.