Written evidence submitted by Lord Bowness  (MUO0014)


I have been a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly since 2007 and led the UK Delegation 2014-2017. I have been a Vice President of the OSCE PA since 2015 and I chair the Rules and working Practices Sub Committee

I have attempted to address the questions in the Call for Evidence from my perspective as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly

The 1st of August 2020 was the 45th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act. The origins of OSCE go back to 1973 and the formation of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe bringing together the United States the Western Allies and the   Soviet Union which led to the Helsinki Final Act. After the fall of the Soviet Union the Conference acquired its owns own secretariat and institutions. It was renamed OSCE in 1994 .In 1990 in the Charter of Paris the Heads of Government called for the creation of a Parliamentary Assembly to provide a collective expression of views on security and development. The Parliamentary Assembly held its first formal session in 1992


It was at a time of hopes for a new international order in Europe and the acceptance of certain standards not just between states but in the treatment of people by their state. It was intended to herald European peace guaranteed by a multilateral system of shared values and commitments. The organization was to proceed by consensus

Just how far we have come from those heady days can be seen by the crisis in which OSCE finds itself today For several years and especially since the occupation of Crimea and separatist movements in East Ukraine supported  by the Russian Federation the work of the OSCE has become more difficult. The desire to obstruct has also manifested itself in the Parliamentary Assembly although not to such effect since the consensus rule applies only in limited areas.

In July 2020 a number of states objected to the renewal of the mandates of the four executive structures namely the Secretary General, the Director of Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)’ The Representative for Freedom of the Media, and the High Representative for National Minorites.

The current Chair in Office Albania sought an extension of the mandates until the process of finding suitable candidates to fill the vacancies is. This was also rejected. Applications from candidates to fill the vacancies have to be received by September. There is no guarantee that consensus will be reached in which case the organization will have to continue leaderless


The need for consensus may have been a strength when all states were committed to the effective functioning of the organization and the maintenance if its ideals. Now that is no longer the case it is a great and possibly fatal weakness


There are provisions for decision by consensus minus one. The Ministerial Council or officials are able to act if necessary, in the absence of consent by a state in clear gross violations of the relevant OSCE commitments. To my knowledge it has only been used on one occasion at the time of the breakup of Yugoslavia and Consensus minus two has never been used.


There is also a silent procedure which enables decisions to be taken if no objections are received. It has been used to extend the mandate of officials




The cover of the OSCE 2019 annual Report describes itself as   largest Regional Security Organization working to ensure peace and stability for more than a billion people between Vancouver and Vladivostok


It works through a number of structures


The Permanent Council meets every week in Vienna.


The Forum for Security and Cooperation deals with the political military aspects of security


There is a Conflict Prevention Centre and a Transnational which is assisting the State Border guard Service in Ukraine


A Special Representative for the Combatting of trafficking assists states in their measures to prevent and prosecute offenders


ODIHR exists to promote democracy in the Participating states many of which are emerging democracies rule of law and respect for human rights and provides long term monitors for elections throughout the region


The representative for Freedom of the Media seeks to ensure freedom of the media and expression



There are a number of Field missions or Presences.In the Western Balkans (Albania Bosnia Hertzogovina Kosovo Serbia and North Macedonia)


Europe efforts made to resolve the breakaway Province of Transnistria from Moldova

Ukraine has the Special Monitoring Mission and the Border crossing check points in east Ukraine


OSCE has a presence in Asia Turkmenistan where together with Germany and Japan the UK has played a special part in helping to strengthen the Border Service and,Kyrgyistan and Uzbekistan


As I have seen for myself in the Kosovo mission the organization engages in a wide variety of work. The work will differ from Mission to Mission but includes helping states to ensure the democratic process is fair, that police are trained to respect human rights and the law that the judiciary is independent that countries can provide the necessary border control to  cope with trafficking and illegal immigration and prevention of terrorism.


The OSCE also has a number of Asian and Mediterranean Partners in Cooperation

The budget of OSCE is at 2019 E138 million and the UK share of 10% €14 million.


We also made an al contribution in 2019 of €650 and further support the organization with some secondees.


In view of the activities which OSCE tries to carryout in areas where the UK has an interest it is in my opinion not an extravagant sum.



I have not been aware of any FCO efforts to reform the organization but that is not to say there have been none. The UK team in Vienna under different Permanent Representatives have made efforts to ensure that it effective as possible within the limitations posed by consensus


I am not certain how high a priority is given by HMG and previous governments to OSCE. Certainly, it does nothing to raise the profile of the organization even in Parliament within never mind the wider world.


The Annual Ministerial is in December at the end of the Chair in Office term, this year due to be in Tirana. Not much progress is made at these meetings and the communique is usually drafted to meet the lowest common denominator. Great efforts are made by our UK representatives to include some item of substance. Never the less the attendance can be impressive including the US Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister. Bilateral meetings in the margins are probably of greater value than the some 67 odd prepared statements delivered by each participating state and others.

Successive Governments have not bothered to make a statement to Parliament    following the Ministerial although now after some pressure the FCO agreed to issue a WMS after each Ministerial. With such a low profile within Parliament advocates of OSCE are not too many.


Unfortunately, the OSCE nor the Parliamentary Assembly attracts much if any media attention. However with weekly meetings of the Permanent Council in Vienna there must be something to bring to Parliaments attention even if it is that no action has been possible because of obstruction from whatever source




The answer has to be yes but how is a problem given that any changes need   consensus and consensus is the problem. Without reform it is likely the organization will decline despite the immensely valuable work done on in the field .


Russia has from time to time raised the question of a new security structure in Europe. The problem is finding a structure acceptable to all and there is always the danger that the benefits, sometimes difficult to see, of having everyone inside the present organization, however, would be lost.


While the USA remains committed there is a chance for the organization.  OSCE has a high profile in Congress through the Helsinki Commission. This involves highly committed members from the House and the Senate. They are regular attenders at OSCE PA meetings and often take the opportunity to visit states within the region. The Commission considers all aspects of US policy towards the OSCE and has access to the President and Secretary of State.


It is a political commitment to OSCE which is unknown in the UK. To achieve any reform the UK would need to work with the US and the EU. Despite its shortcomings I believe it to be worth saving if only because if it did not exist we would find that something similar was needed




August 2020