The Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest regional security organisation with 57 participating states and is based in Vienna. On the basis of a comprehensive catalogue of political commitments, the OSCE is working towards cooperative security and conflict prevention and employs a range of specific institution, instruments and field missions. 

Development of the OSCE

Flags with OSCE/OSZE logo

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) originates in 1975 with the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). Its main documents are the Helsinki Final Act (1975), the Charter of Paris for a New Europe (1990), the Istanbul Charter for European Security (1999) and the Astana Commemorative Declaration (2010). The OSCE is a cooperative security organisation which does not apply coercive measures, but must seek the host country's agreement before becoming active in the event of a crisis or conflict.

Since 1995 the OSCE secretariat is located in Vienna. Currently Lamberto Zannier (Italy) is serving as its secretary-general. Since 1997 the Office of the OSCE-Representative on the Freedom of the Media is also located in Vienna. Besides the Permanent Council and the Forum for Security Cooperation, the secretariat is also hosting the organizations of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and the Open Skies Treaty. 

57 Participating States

With its wide membership of 57 participating States the OSCE covers the region “from Vancouver to Vladivostok”, including all European countries and the USA, Canada, and the Central Asian States, including Mongolia. Further countries from Asia and the Mediterranean are included as partners.

The participating states and their partners lead a continuous dialog in Vienna in the Permanent Council and its committees. Besides the Forum for Security Cooperation, other permanent fora of the OSCE are meeting regularly according to the Treaty on Conventional Armed  Forces in Europe, the Open Skies Treaty and a number of implementation conferences on specific commitments. 

Austrian Chairmanship 2017

The OSCE chair is assumed at yearly intervals by one member state which then plays a central role in managing the Organization’s work and in its external representation. The foreign minister of the country holding the chair holds the office of Chairman-in-Office (CiO). The fact that decision-making within the OSCE requires a consensus among all 57 participating states represents a particular diplomatic challenge.

At the Ministerial Council in Basel in 2014, Austria was tasked by the participating states to take over the chairmanship in 2017. Austria thereby succeeds German chair in 2016 and after the chairmanship of 2000 takes up this responsible and important function the second time. The chairmanship of the OSCE has various responsibilities and is a central political player. In this role as a mediator, Austria can build upon the experiences and priorities of its foreign policy for strengthening the security in Europe. The resolution of conflicts, the prevention and combatting of transnational threats for domestic security and the restoration of trust in a common space for 1.2 billion people are amongst the challenges and priorities of the Austrian chairmanship. The Permanent Representation of Austria to the OSCE under the leadership of Ambassador Clemens Koja and the Department for the OSCE of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the leadership of Ambassador Florian Raunig will conduct the work of the chairmanship. 

Activities of the OSCE

In the past decade, the OSCE has become a major instrument for early warning, conflict prevention, non-military crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation. Moreover, the OSCE constitutes an important forum for arms control and disarmament in the field of conventional arms. The OSCE also works intensively on transnational threats, such as terrorism, radicalisation, illicit drugs, human trafficking, the proliferation of weapons of mass-destruction and the challenges of cyber security, as well as on questions of human rights and non-discrimination and the cooperation on economical and environmental issues.

By establishing confidence building measures (CBMs) the OSCE contributes to stability and security. Building upon the concept of comprehensive security the OSCE works in the politico-military, the economic and environmental, and the human dimension with many activities in the field. The OSCE, as an active organisation – especially in the field - , strives to work towards comprehensive solutions for political challenges in co-operation with the participating states.

The conflict in and around Ukraine has shaken the political trust in the principles of the European security system to its foundations, but the OSCE has also demonstrated its added value for crisis management and the search for political solutions. In particular the establishment of a Monitoring Mission with up to 1000 monitors and of a format for negotiations (the trilateral contact group, including Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the OSCE) helped to stabilise the conflict. The trilateral contact group is currently chaired by the Austrian diplomat and OSCE Special Representative, Ambassador Martin Sajdik.

OSCE-activities span the entire conflict cycle, including early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management, conflict resolution and post-conflict rehabilitation. The OSCE is supporting States in their transformation processes by offering sustainable help in building and strengthening their capacities. Activities with Partners for Co-operation from the Asian and Mediterranean regions have been intensified in the last years. Austria currently chairs the Mediterranean contact group. In this regard, the Mediterranean conference will place in Vienna in October 2016

OSCE Instruments

OSCE Secretariat headquarters in Vienna's historic Palais Palffy-Erdody
Picture: OSCE/M. EvstafievOSCE Secretariat

Currently the OSCE employs around 3.500 persons, the majority of which is working in the field missions in Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans and Central Asia. The organisation has a total budget of around 140. Mio. EUR.

The OSCE Secretariat, under the direction of the Secretary General, is the organisational backbone and provides support for the Chair's activities. It is based in Vienna, assisted by an office in Prague.

Besides, the OSCE is equipped with a number of instruments for the fulfilment of its tasks. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), headed since 2014 by Michael Link (from Germany), is located in Warsaw and seeks to promote democratic elections, particularly by election monitoring, and provides practical support aimed at strengthening democratic institutions under the rule of law and fostering civil society structures.

The Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities (since 2013 Astrid Thors from Finland) is located in The Hague and seeks to identify and resolve ethnic tensions at the earliest possible stage. The office of OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, based in Vienna and since 2010 held by Dunja Mijatovic (from Bosnia-Herzegovina) was established to monitor compliance with this important fundamental right.

A central instrument for conflict prevention, civil crisis management and consolidation of peace are the Field Missions. The OSCE has established 17 such field activities, involving approximately 3000 international and local staff members Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans and Central Asia. The most recent mission is the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which contributes to the stabilization of the situation through the presence of up to 1000 monitors from 46 countries and its neutral and comprehensive reports.

As a further instrument in conflict resolution, the CiO may appoint Personal Representatives who use their political weight to assist in conflict management in the event of an imminent crisis.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE is the parliamentary dimension of the OSCE. The primary task of the 323-member Assembly is to facilitate inter-parliamentary dialogue, an important aspect of the overall effort to meet the challenges of democracy throughout the OSCE area. The Austrian Member of Parliament Christine Muttonen has been elected the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE in July 2016.

The majority of the international experts active in OSCE field missions are seconded to the OSCE by participating states. Information on current job vacancies in OSCE field missions and details of the application procedure can be accessed online.