Helsinki +40: Implications for the Transatlantic Relationship
The German Marshall Fund hosted the second leg of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Helsinki +40 seminar series in Washington, DC, on November 18 and 19. Six current and former Assembly presidents, members of the U.S. Congress, diplomats, experts and academics tackled the questions of how the OSCE can most effectively promote good transatlantic relations and respond to new challenges, particularly in light of the crisis in Ukraine.
The need for an East-West bridge that inspired the creation of the OSCE remains acute today, but the capacities of OSCE institutions, particularly its parliamentary dimension, must be strengthened, and there must be renewed focus on adherence to the organization’s core principles, the participants said.
GMF President Karen Donfried noted that the international community’s reliance on the OSCE to respond to the crisis in Ukraine had proven the organization’s continued value, but that reform is needed to maximize its potential.
In opening the seminar, OSCE PA President Ilkka Kanerva (MP, Finland) laid out the challenges that Helsinki +40 Project expects to address:
“What should be done to overcome the dividing lines and sclerosis that have emerged stronger than ever in the organization over the past 20 years? How to make the participating States live up to their commitments and account for the transgression of the OSCE’s founding principles? And, in general, what mechanisms need to be developed to make the OSCE’s soft power a little harder and to prevent that the organization’s 40th anniversary from becoming a ‘final act’ for the Helsinki Final Act?” he asked.
In the afternoon session held on Capitol Hill, U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin suggested that the OSCE should actively encourage and even institutionalize a self-evaluation procedure, whereby participating nations assess their own actions against commitments undertaken in the OSCE, strengthening the Organization’s spirit of mutual responsibility in the process.
U.S. Congressman Christopher Smith, who also serves as head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA, called for the OSCE to make increased investments in training for its personnel and devote more resources to initiatives that combat anti-Semitism and human-trafficking, among others.
Former OSCE PA President and U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings and several other participants argued that empowering the organization to better respond to crises such as the one in Ukraine requires reconsideration of the consensus-based decision-making that governs much of what the OSCE can do. They noted that the upcoming OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Switzerland provides an opportunity to reconsider the consensus rule, at least for budgetary and personnel issues as a start.
Martin Sletzinger, a senior scholar at the Wilson Center, and Klas Bergman, a journalist and former spokesperson for the OSCE PA, presented policy briefs for the seminar, tracing the lasting impact of the Helsinki Final Act and emphasizing the importance of a public dimension to the OSCE’s work, in particular through its Parliamentary Assembly.
Ambassador Javier Ruperez, a former OSCE PA president and participant in the drafting of the Helsinki Final Act, also presented a paper at the seminar. He argued that public accountability for violations of the Act’s principles would be key if the organization is to weather the Ukraine crisis with its credibility intact.
Helsinki +40 Project Chair Joao Soares (MP, Portugal) recommended an expanded role for the PA within the OSCE as a means to increase credibility by giving elected representatives greater input in decision-making. He also emphasized that all OSCE participating nations – not just Russia in the context of the Ukraine crisis – must be held to the standards they have vowed to uphold.
Other suggestions offered during the seminar included strengthening the organization’s accountability and transparency by opening Permanent Council meetings to the press and providing for a parliamentary role in approving the OSCE budget and appointments of senior officials.
Following the seminar, Kanerva, Soares, and Ivan Vejvoda, the senior vice president for programs at the GMF, led a town-hall event on the OSCE with students at Washington’s Georgetown University on November 19.