“Listening and talking to one another”: this, according to Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, is the basic prerequisite for ensuring that the OSCE can fulfil its conflict prevention and management function. Only by this means can existing conflicts be resolved – conflicts whose primary impact is local but which also pose huge challenges for European security as a whole. “We must systematically demonstrate the common political will to use all opportunities at the OSCE’s disposal,” he said in his speech at the informal meeting of OSCE ministers in Potsdam.
Mr Burkhalter, who himself chaired the OSCE in 2014, suggested that existing conflict management instruments should be expanded. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, for example, which has been gathering information in conflict-hit parts of Ukraine since 2014, continues to require clear political backing. If the mission is to perform its vital confidence-building role, it must also be given the necessary resources and the safety and freedom of movement of its members must be guaranteed, Mr Burkhalter said.
What concrete action the OSCE can take must be determined by broad-based political dialogue. “The OSCE must maintain its pragmatic approach while also being able to work more professionally,” Mr Burkhalter said, noting that this affected both the OSCE’s legal status and its remit on crisis prevention and rapid response. Such a widening of the OSCE’s scope for action must also take account of the experiences of the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, he said.
However, individual crises and conflicts can only be successfully managed if the differences between Russia and the West on the subject of European security are resolved. Mr Burkhalter pointed to the final report of the Panel of Eminent Persons on European Security as a Common Project, initiated under the Swiss OSCE Chairmanship, as a good starting point for the necessary discussion on this issue. As well as measures to promote economic connectivity, he also called for renewed action on arms control, welcoming Germany’s recent initiative in this area. Mr Burkhalter urged the OSCE’s participating States to use the organisation as a common platform for addressing fundamental European security issues, noting that “thanks to the involvement of all partners and its cooperative security approach, the OSCE provides the right framework for restoring the necessary climate of trust”.
The informal talks in Potsdam are also a chance to prepare for the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Hamburg in early December, when the foreign ministers of participating States will chart the course of the organisation’s future work. Ahead of that meeting, Mr Burkhalter also used his various informal discussions in Potsdam today to garner support for Switzerland’s priorities. Switzerland’s aim in Hamburg is to ensure that the informal ministerial-level dialogue on European security is continued. It is working to ensure that the participating States make a strong commitment to the OSCE’s efforts to resolve the Ukraine conflict. Mr Burkhalter also stressed that the issue of economic connectivity must be anchored more firmly in the OSCE in order to promote confidence-building through economic cooperation. Furthermore, the OSCE’s approach to tackling terrorism must be more geared towards prevention and give special consideration to the situation of young people. Lastly, in the discussions he held Mr Burkhalter also highlighted the OSCE’s added value at the interface between security questions and migration. Mr Burkhalter argued that in addressing refugee and migrant flows, the OSCE’s competencies should specifically be brought to bear in areas such as the protection of migrants, fighting organised crime and the responsible design of border controls.
The head of the FDFA also used his time in Potsdam for various bilateral talks.
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