Bern, Press releases, 03.12.2015

European security and the Ukraine crisis were the main focuses of the meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Belgrade. Other topics included new challenges such as violent extremism and the issue of migration. Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter called on the OSCE participating states to join forces to ensure a united response to these challenges.

OSCE Foreign Ministers and Heads of Delegations pose for a family photo at the 2015 Ministerial Council in Belgrade. © OSCE
OSCE Foreign Ministers and Heads of Delegations pose for a family photo at the 2015 Ministerial Council in Belgrade ©

At this year's meeting of foreign ministers of the OSCE participating states, Mr Burkhalter emphasised the OSCE's important role in restoring European security. European security was not in a good state, he said, and the Ukraine crisis had yet to be resolved. However, the OSCE was an instrument that could be used to solve problems together and restore broken trust. He said that important progress had been made with regard to the Ukraine conflict through the deployment of the Special Monitoring Mission and a relatively stable ceasefire which has been in place for some time, but stressed that further efforts were needed to end the Ukraine crisis.

At the same time there needed to be a discussion on how to strengthen common security in Europe. Improving the stability of the NATO countries' and Russia's neighbouring regions was a priority. "We must uphold the freedom of States to choose their own security arrangements, just as we must ensure that the security of one State is not strengthened at the expense of the security of another State," he said. He also reiterated the importance of developing economic relations as a way to create new opportunities to overcome the divisions. On this note, he praised the work of the Panel of Eminent Persons, which presented its final report containing proposals to overcome the current crisis in European security today in Belgrade. The panel of 15 experts from the states of the OSCE was created at the end of Switzerland's 2015 chairmanship to support comprehensive and constructive dialogue on security.

Now that the panel had completed its work, Mr Burkhalter went on, it was up to the political sphere to begin and push forward an open diplomatic process. Switzerland was supporting the 2016 and 2017 OSCE chairs Germany and Austria in their work, he added.

And it was only in joint cooperation with all participating states that the OSCE would be able to address new challenges effectively. Addressing violent extremism and dealing with the threat of jihadi terrorism were cases in point in which preventive measures were of great importance.

The OSCE participating states also needed to jointly discuss issues surrounding the refugee crisis and migration, said Mr Burkhalter. The debate needed to involve the countries of origin, transit and destination. The current challenges also made clear the importance of the OSCE's South-Mediterranean (Mediterranean Contact Group) and Asian (Asian Contact Group) partner countries, he said.

The members of the OSCE Troika also met on the margins of the Ministerial Council meeting. Among the topics that Mr Burkhalter (2014 OSCE Chairperson) discussed with Chairperson-in-Office Ivica Dacic (Serbia) and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (OSCE Chairperson for 2016) were the current situation in Ukraine and the support for Germany's OSCE Chairmanship in the coming year. The work of the OSCE chairmanship is supported by the OSCE Troika, composed of the previous and following years' chairs.

Mr Burkhalter used his visit to Belgrade to hold bilateral meetings. He met with US Secretary of State John Kerry, EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz and representatives of civil society, among others.

Switzerland's work in its three years in the OSCE Troika

At the end of 2015, Switzerland will leave the OSCE Troika. Since 2013 Mr Burkhalter has been part of three different compositions of the Troika. In 2013 alongside Ireland (2012 chair) and Ukraine (2013 chair), in 2014 as OSCE Chairperson-in-Office alongside Ukraine and Serbia (2015 chair) and in 2015 alongside Serbia and Germany (2016 chair).

This year the Troika members received two awards on behalf of the OSCE: In February, the OSCE received the Ewald von Kleist Award from the Munich Security Conference for its commitment to peace and security. In September the city of Magdeburg bestowed the Kaiser Otto Award on the organisation.

After his year as chairperson-in-office, Mr Burkhalter also chaired the OSCE Asian Contact Group this year. In this role he chaired the OSCE Asian Conference in Seoul, which focused on aspects of cooperative security.

Switzerland assumed the OSCE chairmanship in 2014 under the banner 'Creating a security community for the benefit of everyone'. The onset of the Ukraine conflict set the tone for 2014. In its report dated 27 May 2015 to the OSCE Chairmanship, the Federal Council concluded that under these difficult circumstances, the opportunities inherent in Switzerland's autonomous, bridge-building foreign policy were visibly brought to the fore. "As the country holding the Chairmanship, over the past year Switzerland engaged in intensive diplomatic negotiations within the OSCE that resulted in compromise solutions, and succeeded in demonstrating the organisation's great relevance while also helping to revitalise it."

From 2016, Switzerland will continue its efforts for security and peace in Europe as a participating state. With Germany, Austria and the Principality of Liechtenstein, Switzerland has also agreed to make OSCE-related topics a feature of all of the meetings of the four German-speaking foreign ministers.

Further information:

Statement by the Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter at the 22nd OSCE Ministerial Council
Switzerland is a member of the OSCE Troika
OSCE Chairmanship 2014

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