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 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), a forum for negotiations 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. 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 United States 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 State or Government 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 Tirana, Albania in December 2020 and the next will take place in December 2021 in Stockholm. 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 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. In 2020 Albania served as Chairman-in-Office. Since January 2021 Sweden has assumed the role of Chair. Find out more about the Swedish Chairpersonship of the OSCE in 2021 on the Swedish government's webpage.
Sweden will be succeeded by Poland in 2022 and in 2023, North Macedonia will take over as Chair.
The OSCE structures are geographically 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 sixteen field offices of missions 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 for a foreseeable future. Sweden puts particular emphasis on safeguarding the rules-based European security order, based on OSCE principles and commitments, embodied in the Helsinki Final Act, the Charter of Paris and other documents. The OSCE therefore has a central normative role in managing the conflict, but is also the international community's main actor on the ground. Among other tasks, ODIHR has conducted several comprehensive election observations since the outbreak of the conflict.
After the decision of the OSCE's 57 participating states 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's mandate allows a maximum of 1000 observers to operate within the whole of Ukraine. The Headquarter is located in Kiev. Sweden is one of the major contributors with around thirty observers.
Other key priorities are to strengthen the OSCE's democracy work (particularly election monitoring) and human rights, with a special focus on fundamental rights and freedoms, including media and internet freedoms. Fundamental rights and freedoms must remain high on the EU agenda and have a continued importance for the work of the OSCE as a whole. As the EU's local coordinator for media freedom issues, 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 human rights and fundamental freedoms. Moreover, the field operations of the OSCE make a significant contribution by adcancing 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, given our military nonalignment.
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 through comprehensive reporting of our defense structures and by allowing other signatory states to inspect how we live up to our commitments. We are also given the opportunity to actively inspect the other states 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. Furthermore the delegation works for gender equality to be a natural and integral part of the OSCE's comprehensive security concept.
In addition, the delegation works for gender equality to be a natural and integral part of the OSCE's concept of comprehensive security.
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.
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.