Speech before the Permanent Council of the OSCE
Speech by Dr. Ursula Plassnik
Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs
before the Permanent Council of the OSCE
on the occasion of the 30th anniversary
of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act
Vienna, July 21, 2005
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In a few days we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act. For this reason it was of special concern to me to talk to you today, not only as a representative of the host country but rather as somebody who has come to appreciate the value of this organisation from personal experience.
Bruno Kreisky, who signed the Final Act on behalf of Austria, said on 1 August 1975: "However great and comprehensive this Act may be, everything will depend on how much of it we can translate into reality". This, Ladies and Gentlemen, was and still is the true challenge facing the OSCE.
The Helsinki Conference was the result of a détente in Europe which had begun with the conclusion of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955. In addition to the significance the State Treaty had for Austria, it was a visible signal that it had again become possible to achieve substantial and lasting results at the negotiating table.
During its foundation stage the CSCE, by virtue of its very existence, developed into a strong tool of democracy which totalitarianism had to cope with. It became the hope of the people in Europe who did not live in the free part of our continent. Many of these hopes have been fulfilled.
The past 30 years have been a history of change, of an unmatched peaceful transformation of societies, but also a history of open and frozen conflicts. In its entirety, the Helsinki Process is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable political and diplomatic success stories of the second half of the last century. But its work has certainly not been completed yet. There is no reason either for complacency or exaggerated self-doubt.
Every generation of politicians faces its own specific tasks. I and my fellow Austrians do not think that the privilege of living in a free and reunited Europe, without Wall and Iron Curtain, is something that can be taken for granted. For me personally, this also results in the responsibility to promote the continuation of the European peace process in one’s everyday work to the best of one’s knowledge and belief - among other things through concrete participation in the promotion of peace, stability and reconciliation in the Balkans. Therefore, this work will also constitute a focus during the Austrian EU Presidency. In a few days I shall meet, together with the Federal Chancellor, the Prime Ministers of the south-east European states in Salzburg - which in the meantime has become a traditional forum for informal exchanges of opinion. Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet Ambassador Jan Kubis, the new special envoy of the EU for Central Asia, for a long talk. It is in this very area where the OSCE with its multifarious possibilities can make valuable contributions.
Within the framework of yesterday’s symposium on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, together with some prominent experts on the CSCE and the OSCE, we were looking back on what has been achieved so far as well as looking ahead to the tasks of the future. We can all draw from this exchange of opinions. Today, I would therefore like to make a few remarks concerning the present and future challenges facing the OSCE.
But first I would like to say a small Viennese "thank you" to all those who have contributed their thoughts, leadership, ideas and suggestions to the CSCE, then the OSCE, over the last 30 years. To those prominent and visible, and to those behind the scenes, the invisible ones, who with their commitment have contributed to the success of these three decades: I would like to express my cordial thanks to the "helping hands", the translators and interpreters, the journalists, the experts, diplomats, members of Parliament and politicians of the OSCE!
You and your colleagues at the other Vienna-based international organisations have preserved and developed the role of the Austrian Federal capital as a place of dialogue and cooperation, but also as a place where our common European principles are defended and built upon. This cooperation continues to lead to important synergies between institutions, e.g. with the Vienna-based UN organisations who work in the field of security or with the EU Human Rights Agency, which is still being developed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am firmly convinced that the OSCE has an exciting and successful future ahead of it, if we mobilise the necessary political energy and clear-sightedness to make appropriate use of the special facilities it offers, if we make them bear fruit in the best interest of all.
The question of who really benefits from the OSCE is older than the Helsinki Process itself. It is a "recurring topic" in all discussions about the past and future of this organisation. At the time of the ideological East-West conflict between communism and the pluralistic democracies, each side was convinced that the CSCE was something like a "Trojan Horse" of the other side. But against the background of these endless speculations, suspicions, disputes and discussions, concrete practical policies were simultaneously shaped for the people, for the people who were suffering under this confrontation of ideological systems. In the "third basket" in the eighties we tried hard to come to an agreement and finally did agree on such prosaic things like family reunifications, working conditions for journalists and the maximum duration for the processing of exit permits.
On account of Austria’s experiences in the coordinate system of the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the European integration, I see the OSCE and its work as a unique combination of comparative advantages, offering
- a clear common catalogue of values - the obligations agreed upon since the Helsinki Final Act - for 2005 marks not only 30 Years of the Helsinki Final Act but also 15 years of the Charter of Paris and the Copenhagen Document on the Human Dimension;
- a comprehensive security concept and the necessary "adhesion2 in its implementation. On account of its lean administration and its focus on field missions and institutions the OSCE is a perfect example of an operative organisation;
- a unique platform for an equal dialogue between European states and the US, Canada, and Russia. The OSCE simply is and remains the most inclusive venue for dialogue in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions;
- a forum that thanks to its very composition can contribute a lot to the solution of some of the most difficult conflicts which we are facing today - such as those in Transnistria or in Nagorny Karabakh;
- worldwide unique expertise and enormous experience in the field of building and strengthening democratic structures and the rule of law;
- a globally recognised methodology for the observation of elections;
- an active parliamentarian component which, in my opinion, could be much better utilised.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Endowed with these characteristics, the OSCE has outstanding advantages over its regional multilateral brother and sister organisations. Of course, like any other institution, it has to face the challenges of its time and must adapt accordingly. I am convinced of the OSCE’s capacity for self-purification and regeneration, and I also stressed this at yesterday’s symposium: With its special features, the OSCE can prove its value in the world of today and make credible offers, in particular with regard to the rising demand of the people for a precious commodity called "security", which consists of so many different components.
The terrible, senseless and inhuman terrorist acts of the past weeks and months have again demonstrated that the certainty of being able to live free from fear constitutes a central element of the quality of life of our citizens as well as the basis for a life in dignity and freedom. Every society and every state as well as every regional and global organisation has to contribute to the fight against terrorism.
It is my belief that we are far from having fully exhausted the potential of the OSCE in the field of security. On the one hand, the problem at stake remains arms control and disarmament management, in particular programmes for the destruction of ammunition stocks an some participating States, or the reduction of small and light weapons.
On the other hand, all of us today share a comprehensive concept of security - which in its global dimension also underlies the Report on Reform of the UN Secretary-General "In Larger Freedom". The OSCE has already signalled its readiness to deal with new problems and issues which can all be summarised under the comprehensive concept of security. In this context let me just mention the examples of combating terrorism - while preserving the acquis on the rule of law and the protection of human rights - the fight against human trafficking or the fight against anti-Semitism and discrimination, which also includes improving the situation of the Roma and Sinti.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the rule of law is one of the commodities most in demand at global level. Without the rule of law, there can be no sustainable economic development, no social stability, no reliable future perspective for the people of a country.
It is in this very area that the OSCE can make unique offers in its sphere of activities - both with regard to democratisation processes and the building and strengthening of structures based on the rule of law. So far the OSCE has proved its operative capacity as well as its capacity to change and adapt to new and changing challenges. Through its work with both governments and the civil society, through its field missions and institutions, through its use of the parliamentarian component, it has a lot of "adhesion", a property which is missing in other organisations. All this is complemented by the expertise, experience and commitment of the organisation’s employees.
These resources ought to be used - for such areas as election observation, for effective conflict prevention and early warning systems, the various stages of crisis management as well as for the lengthy and difficult processes of institution building and modernisation.
In future, the OSCE should also be prepared to share its expertise with others who are interested in it. I think that our experience in the areas just mentioned but also in basic confidence building procedures and mechanisms could be of interest to our partners in the Mediterranean region or in the Middle East. Naturally, not everything can be taken over one hundred percent, but on the other hand not every wheel needs to be reinvented at a global level!
Ladies and Gentlemen,
in order to overcome the many different new challenges we are encountering it is necessary to further strengthen the OSCE and make it still more effective. It is in this very area that the recommendations of the Panel of Eminent Persons convened at the initiative of the Slovenian chairmanship contain much that is supported by Austria:
- the strengthening of the role of the Secretary-General;
- the strengthening of the field missions;
- making the OSCE a legal entity;
- the continued role as a mediator in the unsolved conflicts in the OSCE area;
- the development of the OSCE’s capacities in the field of civil crisis management.;
In addition, Austria is in favour of a further professionalisation of the OSCE General Secretariat and also supports the autonomy of the individual OSCE institutions, the strengthening of its operative capacity for rapid conflict prevention, long-term reforms and institution building. However, an effective OSCE - like us - has to remain fit, lithe and flexible without sclerotic or fatty spots. Moreover, in the 21st century we do not need corsets any more. We have to be on our guard and not give in to the temptation of hiding behind bureaucracy and excessive regulation!
Austria is also open-minded as far as the strengthening of the so-called "cross-sectional matters" are concerned which relate to as many participating States as possible and cover all three dimensions. We support a further opening towards the civil society in all participating States and we are also in favour of opening up the Permanent Council.
A better balance between the different dimensions as demanded by some partners should in no way be allowed to contradict the values underlying the OSCE.
As my fried and colleague, the Slovenian Foreign Minister Rupel, who is unfortunately unable to be here today, put it recently: "Europe and its people need the oxygen of democracy to be able to breathe and grow. Without this oxygen, not only democracy itself but also good neighbourly relations will suffer."
I therefore have high expectations of the high-ranking conference which will be held on 12-13 September in Vienna in preparation for the Ministerial Council which will take place in Ljubljana in December, and I would like to call upon you to do everything possible in order to ensure that this project - our common project - will be a success.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
those who want to be strong tomorrow above all have to be capable of genuine partnership. Only those who are ready to be a partner will enjoy credibility and will be able to enlist others as partners. But this holds true for any organisation - for the member states and their mutual relationship, but also for dealing with the public and our relationships with our respective neighbours.
Geographically, here lies another important strategic potential of the OSCE: the so-called New Neighbours of the EU, e.g. in the Caucasus and in Central Asia, are also neighbours of the Russian Federation and important partners of the US and Canada.
Neither the EU nor other organisations or individual states can manage to solve all open questions in the transition countries alone. Therefore, I advise you to be realistic and warn you against inflated expectations. The complexity of the tasks calls for a courageous and flexible use of the respective strong points. Here, too, it is better to open doors and windows than to erect fences!
Partnership also means that nobody - whether small or big - feels marginalized, that each partner considers the legitimate interests and needs of the other in an open-minded and constructive way. For effective multilateralism will only work if groups do not isolate themselves, but remain open and accessible. It is not only smaller and medium-sized members of the community of states that have to contribute persistently to implementing this knowledge in practice.
It is thus my firm conviction that the answer to the question of who ultimately benefits from the OSCE is that we all benefit from it. Provided that we use its potential with the necessary political will and consideration. If we understand its comparative advantages as tools for a positive commitment.
At the end of the day, the important thing is that the cooperation between the 55 governments must be in the interest of our populations: more than a billion people in the OSCE region have a right to freedom and security, democracy and human rights, economic and social development. We are responsible to them - they are the ones who should benefit from the OSCE. It is for them that the Helsinki Final Act and the obligations entered into so far have to be translated into reality.
For - as Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, put it so aptly - "the only real freedom is freedom from fear".
Thank you for your attention, Ladies and Gentlemen.