Austria takes over the OSCE Chairmanship

Austria takes over the OSCE Chairmanship

by Stefan Haderer, cultural anthropologist and political scientist

Austria has the OSCE Chairmanship this year – how realistic is a more active foreign policy in this context?

Young, polarizing and controversial. Rarely has an Austrian Foreign Minister provided so many headlines at home and abroad. Sebastian Kurz, who took over the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on 1 January 2017, wants to say goodbye to the “block-thinking” between the West and the East. This means, on the one hand, that the anti-Russia policy pursued by the EU in accordance with Washington should be corrected. On the other hand, Kurz’s statement makes clear that he wants to shape Austria’s global political role more actively.
But what are the chances for a foreign policy that should no longer be based on dry bureaucracy, passive language, diplomatic restraint, and nodding? And how realistic are the ambitions of the foreign minister at all?
According to current polls, Kurz is one of the most popular politicians in Austria. His popularity values were soaring above all during the refugee crisis, while one seeks in online comments of users comparatively long for praise and appreciation for the German chancellor Angela Merkel. The words of Kurz are not moralising or appeasing, but clearly chosen and sharp – and perhaps just therefore they become more popular in the Austrian population.
In Brussels, on the other hand, the fronts between two ideological camps are hardened: There are those politicians, such as Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister, Jean Asselborn, who stands behind Angela Merkel and her “Welcome Culture” and who criticizes Kurz for “right-wing nationalist thinking”. This group includes some persons called “transatlanticists” because they make many decisions dependent on those in the White House. Numerous representatives of this camp have, for example, made a strong stand for the change of government in Libya and Syria and for sanctions against Russia – without talking about risks and mistakes and conceding their own weaknesses.
The other camp, which Kurz is probably belonging to, strives for a foreign policy change and wishes a strong independent Europe which the former French President Charles de Gaulle also dreamt of. Repeatedly, Kurz has criticised the EU’s dependence on Turkey. With the closure of the Balkan route the Austrian Foreign Minister was able to convince critics of the other camp. However, hitherto no solutions have been created for the ongoing refugee crisis.
The idea of a bridge building – i.e. an active Austrian mediation policy between the USA and Russia – may sound very tempting. However, their success will not be decided in Vienna, but in Washington, in Moscow and in the main cities of Eastern Europe. It is also directly connected with the compatibility of the two ideological camps in Brussels. And if one, like Kurz, is himself target of critics, then the role of the mediator and bridge-builder will be particularly difficult.     •

Source: “Wiener Zeitung” from 11 January 2017

(Translation Current Concerns)

“To emphasize common ground over division”

[…] Austria, as an active participating State and the host country of the OSCE, has always attached the utmost importance to the Organisation. Austria traditionally sees its role as a bridge‑builder and a place of dialogue. We seek transparency as an honest broker. More than ever in times of great challenges, in which our continent is reverting to the bloc‑based thinking of the past, this is important to us. We therefore agreed to assume the Chairmanship for the second time following our Chairmanship in 2000 in order to make a contribution to restoring stability and security. […]
Our Chairmanship will […] deal particularly with those challenges in the OSCE area that currently pose the greatest threat to the common OSCE area values:

  1. Military conflicts persist and have resulted in thousands of victims, displacement and destruction over the past few years. We want to make a contribution to strengthening co‑operative security and defusing existing conflicts.
  2. We are confronted with major challenges to internal security through increasing threats of terrorism and a growing radicalisation, especially of young people. We shall work towards strengthening security within the participating States, with a particular focus on combating radicalisation and extremism. […]
  3. We are experiencing an increasing loss of trust among the participating States, but also a loss of confidence among citizens in State institutions and international organisations that are meant to safeguard peace and our common values.

[…]
Military conflicts pose a particular challenge and threat to peace in the OSCE area. […]
There can be no military resolution of the existing conflicts in the OSCE area. We need dialogue and political solutions in order to make progress in the various formats. […]
Increased security can only come with increased trust. The OSCE is the forum in which co‑operation on a wide range of topics can lead to increased trust and confidence. The fact is, however, that tension has increased while arms control efforts have waned, and rearmament has occurred. This has been accompanied by confrontational rhetoric, further eroding mutual trust. The OSCE’s instruments offer many opportunities for collaboration to further our common interests, when we emphasise common ground over division. […]
The economic and environmental dimension in particular offers many opportunities for co‑operation. Intensive work will continue on the topic of economic connectivity, with regard to improving economic relations throughout the OSCE area and the concrete impact on the populations affected by conflict. […]
Our world has grown more complex, difficult and insecure. The OSCE is a unique organisation; with its structures and institutions, and in particular with its field operations, it possesses a comprehensive array of instruments. We must make the most of these instruments and deploy them in a targeted manner, so that through increased co‑operation we can re‑establish more trust, more predictability, and more tangible solutions. In order to do this, we need a strong, capable organisation which can effectively, efficiently and quickly fulfil all the tasks assigned to it by the participating States. Austria will endeavour in this regard to advocate not only a strong organisation, but also the emphasising of the common interest over the divisions.
Trust, dialogue, listening to one another, exchange of information – this is what we need in order to work together to resolve the challenges facing all of us. Consensus is only possible when we emphasize the common interest over division. It is our common duty to ensure the rule of law, freedom, peace and security for our societies and our citizens. […]
Austria will live up to its reputation as a bridge-builder and a place of dialogue and will act with transparency as an honest broker during its Chairmanship. Only together can we guarantee the security and stability of our region. Through my trip to Kyiv and Moscow in the coming week, I should like to make yet another contribution in light of our common concerns in 2017.
I look forward to our collaboration and to the joint work under the Austrian Chairmanship. Only the joint engagement of all 57 participating States can lead to progress and contribute to meeting the expectations of our citizens.

Source: Statement (Excerpts) by the OSCE Chairperson in Office and Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Austria His Excellency Sebastian Kurz, at the 1127th (Special) Meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council;
www.bmeia.gv.at/en/the-ministry/press/speeches-and-interviews/2017/01/statement-by-the-osce-chairperson-in-office-and-federal-minister-for-europe-integration-and-foreign-affairs-of-the-republic-of-austria/ from 12 January 2017

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