Exclusive: Malta under consideration to become OSCE Chair in 2024
Malta is the latest country to be considered for taking over the OSCE Chair in 2024, multiple OSCE diplomats with knowledge of the ongoing negotiations told SHR Monitor.
The current OSCE Chair, North Macedonia, has asked Malta whether it would be available for the role starting Jan. 1, 2024, amid heightened concerns that the OSCE could be facing an unprecedented leadership vacuum next year.
North Macedonia’s tenure as OSCE Chair will expire in less than two months, on Dec. 31.
The clock is ticking and pressure is rising, with North Macedonia hosting the OSCE Ministerial Council in Skopje in four weeks. It is at that meeting that a formal decision on who will chair the OSCE would have to be adopted by consensus of the 57 OSCE participating states.
It is not yet clear whether Malta has made a final decision about launching a candidacy to become OSCE Chair next year. One issue that the country will likely consider is that it also has a seat on the U.N. Security Council during the 2023-2024 term, a function that requires significant resources.
The foreign ministry of Malta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Diplomats from North Macedonia have been conducting intense negotiations behind the scenes for the past 10 months in an effort to find a solution before time runs out and the OSCE enters the new year without agreement on its political leadership.
Bujar Osmani, the foreign minister of North Macedonia, tweeted about a phone call he had with his counterpart from Malta, Ian Borg, on Nov. 1, saying that they discussed “shared responsibility for the functionality and the future of the OSCE.”
The Chairmanship of North Macedonia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The current impasse is the result of events that began in November 2020, when Estonia launched a bid to take over the OSCE Chair in 2024. Soon after the launch of its candidacy, Estonia began to face opposition from Russia — a position Moscow has held to this day.
The situation got worse at the beginning of 2022, when Russia started its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, leading to heightened tensions and a strain in relations between Russia and the West.
Given the deadlock, OSCE diplomats have been looking into alternative options, including an extension of North Macedonia’s Chairmanship beyond 2023.
In addition, Austria, as host country of the OSCE, has hinted that it would be ready to step in, in case no consensus is found on Estonia or other alternatives.
As of recently, the situation has become even more complicated, with Russia not only opposing the Estonian candidacy but also indirectly rejecting the suggestion to prolong North Macedonia’s tenure as OSCE Chair.
In September, the Russian mission to the OSCE posted remarks by Russian Ambassador to the OSCE Alexander Lukashevich on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Russian representatives at all levels – from experts to the Minister of Foreign Affairs – have repeatedly spoken about the unacceptability of #Estonia’s candidacy. It didn’t get consensus back in 2021, and it won’t get it now either.”
Lukashevich added: “We are ready to consider alternative candidates, but not from NATO. The OSCE will not survive another year with a NATO country at the helm.”
These remarks that OSCE diplomats say have also been voiced at a reinforced meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on Sept. 26, effectively killed off the idea that NATO member North Macedonia could simply be prolonged as OSCE Chair and continue to serve in 2024.
In an article (in German) published on the website of the Russian mission to the OSCE, Lukashevich also wrote that Russia was convinced that the OSCE Chair next year should be taken by “a neutral country with a developed political culture.” In Lukashevich’s view, such countries exist “on the European political horizon.”
Yet until now, Estonia has been the only official EU candidate for OSCE Chair in 2024. For a neutral country like Malta (or Austria) to become a candidate instead, EU members would first have to agree on that, and Estonia itself would need to agree and withdraw its own candidacy.
The Permanent Mission of Estonia to the OSCE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Overall, it is not yet clear how much support a potential candidacy of Malta would receive from OSCE states, including from Russia, the United States and many others.
“There are hurdles to jump” before Malta can become an official candidate for OSCE Chair in 2024, one senior western OSCE diplomat said.
The OSCE has never been without political leadership or without a country chairing the Permanent Council, the weekly meeting of OSCE ambassadors in Vienna. If there is no agreement on who will chair the OSCE before Dec. 31, the organization will enter uncharted territory, OSCE diplomats say.
Every year a different country takes over the political leadership of the OSCE for a duration of 12 months. Finding a country to chair the OSCE is difficult at the best of times.
Applications for the OSCE Chair are conducted via a political consultation process. That process normally leads to unanimous agreement on who will chair the organization for one year, and a relevant consensus decision at the OSCE Ministerial Council at least one year in advance before the task begins — if not longer.
Having a few weeks or even just days to prepare for leading the world’s biggest regional security organization will therefore be a tough task for any country — especially a small country like Malta.
The OSCE Chair is an important function, primarily responsible for guiding negotiations among the 57 OSCE participating states and helping them achieve consensus. The foreign minister of the country at the helm of the OSCE is a troubleshooter who travels to crisis hotspots in the OSCE region, including Ukraine, the Caucasus and South Eastern Europe.
The Chair is also responsible for brokering agreement on the budget, making key appointments, chairing the weekly Permanent Council and even hosting meetings.
This role is even more important now amid the current geopolitical turbulences and an effective paralysis of OSCE activities, with no agreement on the budget of the organization, among other challenges.
It is therefore absolutely essential that the post of OSCE Chair remain filled, OSCE diplomats say.
* This article has been corrected to indicate that Malta is a neutral country instead of a nonaligned country.