The 28th OSCE Ministerial Council | #OSCEMC2021

Stocholm, Sweden (Björn Olin/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se)

The 28th OSCE Ministerial Council | #OSCEMC2021

Each year in the first week of December foreign ministers and high-level government officials meet for the OSCE Ministerial Council, the central decision-making and governing body of the Organization.

Sweden, who took over the OSCE Chairpersonship in 2021, will host the 28th Ministerial Council in Stockholm on December 2-3. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will serve as the U.S. head of delegation to the OSCE Ministerial Council. Secretary Blinken will join foreign ministers and senior officials of the 57 OSCE participating States, brought together under the leadership of Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde as the chair, to discuss the full range of issues in the OSCE’s three dimensions of security (political-military, economic-environmental, and human). Read the full Media Note about the participation of Secretary of State Blinken to the OSCE Ministerial Council here.

But what actually takes place at a meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council?

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. 

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.  This year, due to the restrictions imposed by the Covid19 pandemic, all negotiations are taking place in Vienna in the run-up to Stockholm, but there will be some thematic ‘side events’ that are conducted on the margins of the Ministerial meeting. 

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.

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