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OSCE Informal Ministerial Council

Volume 615: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2016

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) attended an informal meeting of Foreign Ministers of participating states of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), held in Potsdam, Germany on 1 September 2016 at the invitation of German Foreign Minister and OSCE chair-in-office, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Nearly all 57 OSCE states were represented, around 40 of these by their Foreign Ministers.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier called the meeting to discuss both current security challenges in the region and the OSCE’s future role and agenda. A number of common themes emerged over the course of the meeting. Many Foreign Ministers, like the Foreign Secretary, highlighted resolution of the crisis in Ukraine, and restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty as the most pressing priority for the OSCE. Strong support for the work of the OSCE’s special monitoring mission (SMM) was evident, with the chair-in-office leading many speakers in condemning the obstruction of SMM operations and intimidation of monitors.

As well as conflict prevention and resolution, other themes that emerged as high priorities for many OSCE participating states were protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and reducing the risk of military accidents and incidents. A strong desire was evident on the part of most states to restore respect for OSCE principles and commitments, many referring to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and military intervention in the Donbas in this context.

On the eve of the Potsdam meeting, Foreign Minister Steinmeier published proposals relating to conventional arms control in Europe. Updating existing confidence and security building measures in this field is a UK priority and, we believe, is needed urgently to reduce the risk of military accidents and incidents. We will continue to work closely with Germany and other partners to push for such modernisation as well as for respect for the spirit and letter of these instruments. Implementation of all commitments is a prerequisite for building trust and restoring confidence between the participating states of the OSCE.

In the margins of the Potsdam meeting the Foreign Secretary had many bilateral meetings and conversations. These included exchanges with his Ukrainian and Polish counterparts, and with OSCE secretary-general, Lamberto Zannier. He expressed strong UK support for the work of the OSCE’s autonomous institutions when he met Michael Link, director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Dunja Mijatovic, the representative on freedom of the media. In his various meetings the Foreign Secretary commended the Baroness Falkner of Margravine, the UK candidate to head the OSCE’s third autonomous institution, the High Commission on National Minorities.

In this first encounter as Foreign Secretary with the OSCE, the Foreign Secretary noted the potential, as yet not fully tapped, of the organisation’s uniquely comprehensive approach to security and a participation that reaches from Canada to central Asia. The discussions in Potsdam helped clarify priorities for the coming weeks, months and years. We now need to focus our efforts on tackling them together with robust determination.