Switzerland and Serbia present joint workplan in the run-up to their consecutive Chairmanships in 2014 and 2015
On 2 July, the foreign ministers of Switzerland and Serbia, Didier Burkhalter and Ivan Mrkić, presented the joint workplan of their consecutive Chairmanships of the OSCE in 2014 and 2015 at a special meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna. While each country retains responsibility for its own Chairmanship, the two countries want to coordinate activities as much as possible in order to provide for more continuity and to achieve more tangible results. The fact that two countries with consecutive Chairmanships present a joint workplan (considered a “living document” that can be updated if necessary) six months in advance is a novelty. As such, it is a positive development as in the past Chairmanship priorities used to vary considerably from one year to the next, thus leading to somewhat unfocused OSCE agendas, short-term planning and a lack of continuity. The joint Swiss-Serbian workplan is the result of a decision adopted at the Dublin OSCE Ministerial Council in 2012, where participating States decided on the consecutive Chairmanships for 2014 and 2015 (MC.DEC/1/12) and launched the so-called Helsinki+40 process.
Under the overall leitmotif of “creating a security community for the benefit of everyone,” Switzerland will focus on reconciliation in the Western Balkans, dialogue and confidence-building in the Southern Caucasus, modernization of the Vienna Document and strengthening security sector governance. In addition, Switzerland wants to “advance the implementation of all commitments in the human dimension” and also strengthen the involvement of civil society. Foreign minister Burkhalter reminded participating States of their “duty to live up to this pledge.” Furthermore, Switzerland wants to work on more reliable management of natural disasters and combating transnational threats such as terrorism. Switzerland is particularly interested in strengthening the OSCE’s mediation capacities. In this regard, foreign minister Burkhalter welcomed the recruitment of a Swiss mediation expert in the OSCE’s Conflict Prevention Center.
Foreign minister Mrkić echoed the importance of achieving reconciliation in the Western Balkans. Belgrade has recently concluded a Brussels-brokered agreement with Pristina (see previous blog on this topic) and has received a green light for the opening of official EU accession talks in January 2014. For this purpose, a Special OSCE Representative for the Western Balkans from Switzerland will be appointed for the duration of two years between 2014 and 2015. In addition, foreign minister Mrkić put special emphasis on achieving tangible results within the Helsinki+40 process. In this context, he welcomed contributions from think tanks and academia through the Track II process (a specific kind of informal process, in which academics, media representatives, former diplomats and other experts contribute fresh ideas to the formal, political discussions within the OSCE).
While the EU (with Macedonia, Montenegro, Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Andorra and San Marino in alignment) expressed general support for the joint Swiss-Serbian workplan, replies by the Russian Federation and also Belarus again brought to light the major differences and the persisting trust deficits in the OSCE. Belarus expressed support for priorities in the politico-military dimension but with regard to the human dimension suggested that future Chairmanships should “focus on subjects with a common denominator.” Similarly, the Russian Federation outlined the areas within the human dimension that it considered important, such as combating racism, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism, protecting the rights of children and ensuring non-interference in private life, among others. Of course the human dimension cannot be seen as a box of chocolates from which one can pick and choose. On the contrary, the human dimension is a comprehensive set of fundamental freedoms, human rights and democratic principles which the OSCE stands for and which participating States have all signed up to. Focus on a “unifying agenda” is important; however, this should not happen at the expense of fundamental values and principles.
Both Serbia and Switzerland will be faced with the difficult task of overcoming the differences in the human dimension, but also with regard to election observation, involvement of civil society and the protracted conflicts. These issues have to be addressed in order to achieve tangible results by the end of 2015. The present Ukrainian OSCE Chairmanship has already started the process by setting up a Helsinki+40 working group that will be continued until the end of 2015. The contribution by think tanks and academia through the Track II process (see Security Days initiative) is important in this context as it can contribute fresh ideas. However, in the end it is the responsibility of the participating States, with the support of the Chairmanships, to find the necessary political will to implement ideas and overcome differences.