Development of the OSCE

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.

Importance 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, illicit drugs, human trafficking and the proliferation of weapons of mass-destruction.

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.

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.

Currently the OSCE employs around 2600 employees and runs 15 field missions in Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans and Central Asia. In recent years it has also increased its cooperation with Partners for Co-operation in the Asian and Mediterranean regions.

OSCE Instruments

OSCE Secretariat Picture: OSCE/M. Evstafiev

OSCE Secretariat Picture: OSCE/M. Evstafiev

The OSCE chair is assumed at yearly intervals by one member state which then plays an important 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. In 2014 Switzerland (2014) is the acting CiO, in close cooperation with Serbia, which will be CiO in 2015. In 2000 Austria chaired the OSCE.

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 2008 by Janez Lenarcic (from Slovenia), 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) 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 Long Term Missions. The OSCE has established 15 such field activities, involving approximately 2000 international and local staff members Eastern Europe, the Western Balkans and Central Asia. 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 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.