By no means “business as usual”: Switzerland’s 2014 OSCE Chairmanship

Table of the Chairmanship in the Ministerial Council

“Family Photo”

In 2014 Switzerland became the first ever participating State of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to chair the Vienna-based organisation for a second time, following its first chairmanship in 1996. It had prepared for the many challenges with which the chairmanship is usually confronted. But as Didier Burkhalter – the 2014 Chairperson-in-Office and Switzerland’s foreign minister, who also happened to be president of the Confederation that year – said at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Basel at the start of December, 2014 had by no means been “business as usual”. It became clear early on in the year that the Ukraine crisis would be the dominant theme of this Chairmanship and the chair would have to make every effort to preserve the strands of dialogue between all actors involved in the serious situation. 

Switzerland focused on dialogue, insisting on the OSCE’s added value: it is the only regional security organisation in which the western countries and the Russian Federation sit at the same table on equal terms and talk eye to eye. It was possible in this way to make use of two instruments from the OSCE’s ‘toolbox’ to particular effect in the de-escalation of the crisis. First, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) was created on 21 March 2014 following a consensus decision in the Permanent Council by all 57 OSCE participating States. Since then, the mission has made a major contribution to the management of the crisis as the ‘eyes and ears of the international community’, providing accurate independent reports daily from ten regions in Ukraine including the disputed areas Luhansk and Donetsk (http://www.osce.org/ukraine-smm). Second, the OSCE Chairmanship is contributing to the efforts of the Trilateral Contact Group, in which its Special Representative, Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, is working alongside high-level representatives from Ukraine and Russia. The group quickly established itself as the only operational body for discussing issues regarding a ceasefire, peace plans, the exchange of prisoners and humanitarian matters. In September 2014, the Contact Group succeeded in coming to an arrangement with representatives of separatist groups in what became known as the Minsk Protocol and Minsk Memorandum, which formed the basis and point of reference for a process aiming at a political solution to the crisis.

Although the work of its Chairmanship was very much determined by the conflict in and around Ukraine and the intensive efforts to maintain dialogue between all actors, Switzerland was also able to further its core priorities. It made progress with regard to reconciliation and closer regional cooperation in the Western Balkans and promoting dialogue and confidence-building in the South Caucasus, for example. Switzerland also supported efforts in what it considers to be central policy areas, including combating human trafficking and terrorism, protection of human rights defenders, the prevention of torture, the management of natural disasters, and combating antisemitism. The Swiss Chairmanship organised international conferences on these topics and worked to stimulate and shape discussions on the further development of measures.  At the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Basel, despite political tensions due to the Ukraine crisis, the Swiss Chairmanship managed to secure successful outcomes to negotiations in many of its priority areas (http://www.osce.org/node/124148). 

Switzerland is continuing its work in the OSCE as an active member of the 2015 Troika, comprised of Switzerland as the outgoing chair, and the current and future chairs, Serbia (2015) and Germany (2016). In this framework, Swiss President and OSCE Chairperson-in-office Didier Burkhalter launched a panel of 15 eminent persons at the Ministerial Council meeting in Basel in close cooperation with Serbia and Germany, to draw conclusions from the Ukraine crisis and support constructive and inclusive dialogue among the OSCE participating States on security across the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions. Switzerland will continue to actively support this process (http://www.osce.org/cio/133986).

Visit the 2014 Swiss Chairmanship web dossier for more information: https://www.eda.admin.ch/eda/en/home/aktuell/dossiers/osze-vorsitz-2014.html

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