Chris Heaton-Harris – 2022 Statement on Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe Meeting

The statement made by Chris Heaton-Harris, the Minister for Europe, in the House of Commons on 27 January 2022.

My noble Friend the Minister for South and Central Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) has made the following written ministerial statement:

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) faced a challenging year in 2021, with geopolitical tensions leading to a failure to reach consensus on a range of important issues. Sweden, as 2021 chair-in-office, steered the organisation through this period with a focus on addressing protracted conflicts, strengthening democracy and enhancing gender equality. The UK worked closely with Sweden, including as chair of the OSCE’s Security Committee, which we have now concluded after two successful years.

On 2 and 3 December, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde hosted the 28th Ministerial Council meeting of the OSCE in Stockholm. The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), represented the United Kingdom. The Ministerial Council is the key decision-making body of the OSCE and was attended by Ministers and senior officials from across its 57 participating states, including US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The Council agreed a decision on increasing co-operation to address the challenges of climate change. Due to the positions of certain participating states, there was difficulty in reaching agreement on a number of other valuable decisions, reflecting wider difficulties in reaching consensus. In 2021, the OSCE’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Europe’s largest annual human rights and democracy conference, did not take place because we were unable to reach agreement on the agenda.

The Foreign Secretary’s intervention at the Ministerial Council underlined the need for all participating states to respect OSCE commitments. The Foreign Secretary raised concern over the impact of ongoing conflicts on regional stability and the threats facing freedom and democracy across the region, placing a particular emphasis on the importance of the OSCE’s work in election observation.

The Foreign Secretary’s statement also emphasised our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, calling on Russia to use OSCE tools to build trust and live up to their commitments on military transparency. The UK and allies made clear to Russia that its military build-up on the border of Ukraine and in illegally annexed Crimea is unacceptable. We reiterated these points in our closing statement and also regretted Russia’s decision not to renew the mandate of the Border Observation Mission along the Ukraine-Russia state border.

During the ministerial working dinner, the Foreign Secretary led a discussion on conflict resolution focusing on the importance of finding the political will to implement existing tools. She also co-hosted a side event on the human rights situation in Belarus, alongside Denmark and Germany, with 36 co-sponsors. Her Majesty’s ambassador to the OSCE, Neil Bush, represented the UK in a discussion focused on the potential OSCE role in Afghanistan particularly in supporting regional stability.

Poland have taken on the OSCE Chair for 2022 and will face another challenging year, at a particularly tense moment for the region. They plan to prioritise conflict prevention and resolution, with a focus on protection of civilians, and will champion building back better through effective multilateralism.

At the first OSCE Permanent Council in 2022, the UK offered Polish Foreign Minister Rau our full support. Our statement underlined our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s aggressive acts and urged participating states to robustly defend the principles and commitments we signed up to. We also emphasised the importance of the cross-dimensional approach to security, which includes support for democracy and human rights, and called for adequate financing of the OSCE’s autonomous institutions and field missions in the unified budget. As a consensus-based organisation, where all countries in the Euro-Atlantic area are represented and have an equal voice, the OSCE has a unique and valuable role in resolving tensions and avoiding escalation.

In 2022, the UK remains committed to supporting the work of the OSCE. We will focus on conflict prevention and resolution, ensuring in particular that we use the OSCE platform to hold Russia to account for its ongoing aggression in Ukraine. We will continue to work closely with the OSCE chair-in-office, Secretary General Helga Schmid, and other participating states to build an effective organisation which maintains comprehensive security in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian area.