The OSCE Ministerial Council
On December 7 and 8, foreign ministers from across the OSCE region will meet in Vienna, Austria for what’s known as the OSCE Ministerial Council.
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?
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.
But the Ministerial Council is also more than a series of statements. Foreign ministers and senior government officials also use the opportunity to meet bilaterally and in groups, thematic ‘side events’ take place on the margins, and, behind the scenes, the Ministerial Council is alive with activity as delegates from OSCE countries negotiate the wording of Ministerial Decisions and Declarations.
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.