The 27th OSCE Ministerial Council
On December 3 and 4, 2020 foreign ministers and high-level government officials from across the OSCE region will meet for the OSCE Ministerial Council. This year, due to the restrictions imposed by the CoViD19 pandemic, the Chairman-in-Office Albania will host the very first virtual Ministerial Council.
Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun will serve as the U.S. head of delegation to the Ministerial Council this year. Deputy Secretary Biegun will join foreign ministers and senior officials of the 57 OSCE participating States, brought together under the leadership of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama as the chair, to discuss the full range of issues in the OSCE’s three dimensions of security (political-military, economic-environmental, and human)
The OSCE Ministerial Council meeting is the highlight of the OSCE’s calendar year, and is often described as the OSCE’s ‘central decision-making and governing body’.
But what actually takes place at a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council and how will this all be transferred into the virtual space?
Foreign Ministers Voice Their Views
In its strictest sense, the OSCE ‘Ministerial Council’ describes any occasion OSCE foreign ministers convene to discuss and decide on OSCE issues. In practice, the Ministerial Council meets once a year in the country acting as the OSCE’s Chair-in-Office, towards the end of that country’s period as Chair. Due to the pandemic, the meeting will not be held in Tirana, Albania, but will convene in an online format, which will be live-streamed.
The main event is a plenary meeting at which the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and the organization’s top officials report to the ministers on the OSCE’s work that year. Following these reports, each minister delivers a statement presenting his or her government’s views on developments within the OSCE and the wider region.
Delegation heads from the OSCE’s Partners for Cooperation also speak at the plenary meeting. So, with upwards of 70 statements, this opening session often lasts well into the second day of the meeting.
Typically, during a Ministerial Council foreign ministers and senior government officials also use the opportunity to meet bilaterally and in groups, as well as engage in the behind the scenes negotiations by delegates from OSCE countries on the wording of Ministerial Decisions and Declaration, which sometimes can last till the very last minute. There will also be some thematic ‘side events’ that are conducted on the margins of the meeting. These will be held virtually.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
OSCE decisions and declarations can be said to serve two functions. They:
- Mandate the OSCE structures to take on new work, and/or they
- Set standards to which all OSCE governments agree to adhere.
But reaching these agreements is not easy. The OSCE is a consensus-based organization, meaning decisions and declarations can only be adopted if all 57 participating States agree to every word. Negotiations begin weeks before the Ministerial Council convenes and, despite this, not all draft texts reach consensus before the gavel strikes to signal the end of the meeting.
However, when OSCE countries do reach agreement, we do so with unanimity — making these commitments politically-binding and leaving no excuse for any OSCE government to not stick to its word.
It is the decisions and declarations made at the OSCE Ministerial Council that, along with the body of OSCE agreements reaching back to the organization’s inception, shape the OSCE’s work, make the sum of our OSCE commitments, and, as such, are the basis of our concept of comprehensive security.
Visit the OSCE website at https://www.osce.org/event/mc_2020 to see decisions and declarations from this year’s OSCE Ministerial Council.
Read the full Media Note about the participation of Deputy Secretary Biegun to the OSCE Ministerial Council here.
Here are the national and joint statements made during the Ministerial Council 2020:
- Opening Remarks by Deputy Secretary Biegun to the OSCE Ministerial Council Plenary Session
- OSCE Ministerial – Belarus Side Event Closing Remarks