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OSCE/Sarah Crozier

Exclusive: OSCE Permanent Council paves the way for Malta to assume the OSCE chair in 2024

Stephanie Liechtenstein
News27 November 2023

The OSCE Permanent Council adopted a unanimous decision today, recommending to the foreign ministers of the 57 OSCE participating states to formally approve Malta as OSCE chair in 2024.

The breakthrough emerged today in Vienna during a meeting of the OSCE Preparatory Committee, an informal OSCE body where OSCE diplomats deliberate and prepare decisions for formal adoption, according to several OSCE diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The foreign ministers of the 57 OSCE participating states will convene in Skopje, North Macedonia, for their annual meeting on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, during which they are expected to formally follow the recommendation in today’s OSCE Permanent Council decision and approve Malta as 2024 OSCE chair, OSCE diplomats say.

Today’s last-minute decision comes after the current chair of North Macedonia conducted intense negotiations behind closed doors to find a solution and avoid an unprecedented leadership vacuum in the organization.

North Macedonia’s tenure as OSCE Chair is due to come to an end on Dec. 31.

The lengthy impasse on the chairmanship for 2024 was 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.

Various alternatives have been negotiated in the meantime, such as an extension of the current chair of North Macedonia beyond 2023 or for Austria to assume the 2024 chair. Earlier this month, Malta was informally approached and asked if it was available for the role.

Today’s Permanent Council decision eases the pressure that had been building up for weeks.

But having a few weeks to prepare for leading the world’s biggest regional security organization will be a tough task for any country — especially a small country like Malta that also has a seat on the U.N. Security Council during the 2023-2024 term, a function that requires significant resources.

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 or on the extension of the mandates of the top four OSCE leadership positions.

North Macedonia tabled a second draft decision today at the OSCE Preparatory Committee meeting on extending the mandates of the four top leadership positions in the OSCE, including OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid, for one more year. That draft failed to achieve consensus due to opposition from Russia and Belarus, several OSCE diplomats say.

The mandates of OSCE Secretary General Helga Schmid, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Kairat Abdrakhmanov, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro and Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Matteo Mecacci are due to expire on Dec. 3.

All four senior officials were originally appointed at the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Tirana in December 2020 for an initial first mandate of three years. Usually, the extension of senior positions for a second three-year term is a mere formality but in recent years finding consensus on personnel issues has become extremely difficult.

North Macedonia was hoping to find a compromise by suggesting a mandate extension of just one year. Negotiations on this issue are continuing.

 

This is a developing story that may be updated. 

It was first published on Nov. 27, 2023 at 12:24 pm CET.

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