Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 228

The OSCE’s year-end ministerial conference on December 5-6 witnessed the unraveling of the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The unraveling was so far-reaching that not even the usual façade of unity could be preserved at this conference. Unity of purpose was, to be sure, maintained on democracy issues, which the EU regards as a major component of its desired CFSP. But, on the hard issues of conventional arms control and regional security in its neighborhood, the EU and its major member countries spoke with divergent voices or fell silent. If a lowest-common-denominator consensus was sought, it clearly was not reached.

Britain, current holder of the EU’s Presidency, was represented merely by a sub-cabinet official with marginal foreign-policy responsibility, the State Minister for Human Rights Ian Pearson. The low level of representation seems inexplicable, considering the high level of this event and Britain’s role to speak on the EU’s collective behalf.

In that capacity, Pearson called on Russia to fulfill its 1999 Istanbul Commitments on troop withdrawal from Georgia and Moldova. The EU welcomes the start on the withdrawal from Georgia this year, he said, but it “regret[s] the continuing lack of progress on withdrawal from Moldova” and urges Russia to withdraw its forces “as soon as possible.” This latter qualifier is an unfortunate carryover from the OSCE’s 2003 Maastricht conference, allowing Moscow to determine what is possible and when. It gives Moscow the opportunity to claim — as it does, at this conference included — that the “necessary conditions are not present” and troop withdrawal is “not possible” until the Transnistria conflict is resolved on terms that suit Moscow and Tiraspol.

On the frozen conflicts generally, the Pearson-delivered EU statement merely “urge[d] all parties involved to search for ways to bring an end these conflicts.” Such a formulation signaled that the EU has no policy on that issue, much less a common policy to guide its regional representatives. Meanwhile, only its representative for Moldova is involved in conflict-settlement negotiations, and only as an observer; the EU’s representative for the South Caucasus is not mandated to deal with the conflicts there; and the French co-mediator in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict represents France in a national capacity, not the EU.

The Pearson-delivered EU statement omitted any mention of the linkage between fulfillment of the Istanbul Commitments by Russia and ratification of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) by the other state-parties. This conditionality is the only significant incentive available to Euro-Atlantic allies and partners for eliciting Russian fulfillment. Russia bristles at the mention of this linkage by the United States and other countries. Some West European governments are inclined to erode or elude that linkage, and they apparently influenced the content of the EU British Presidency’s statement.

At the same time, the statement took a firm line on Russian-proposed “reform” of the OSCE. It ignored or deflected Moscow’s demands to “reinforce” the OSCE’s role as a security organization, expand the Permanent Council’s and Secretary-General’s functions (over which Russia wields the veto), “geographically rebalance” OSCE pro-democracy activities westward (away from the post-Soviet area), and increase Russian/CIS representation in field offices as well as election-monitoring missions of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

The Presidency’s statement may have reflected a commonly agreed wording, but clearly not common national positions. When major EU countries and representatives spoke in a national or institutional capacity, some of them either differed from the EU’s collective statement on key issues, or ignored such issues.

The EU’s External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, urged the conference, “Reform should reinforce the OSCE as a key promoter of comprehensive security in Europe” and make a “stronger role of the Secretary-General.”

Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for a “better geographic balance” at the OSCE. Steinmeier’s speech was singular in that it pleaded throughout for retention of the consensus rule (at one point terming that rule “the OSCE’s elixir of life”). Such pleading could be seen as preemptive defense against suggestions to weaken Russia’s hold on the OSCE by moving from the veto-based system to a consensus-minus-one system or some other procedural ways around Russia’s veto. Such suggestions have circulated informally, though not at this conference, and never at the official level; yet Germany’s new minister hastened to shoot them down.

On the eve of the conference, Germany proposed a new paragraph calling for “strengthening the CFE Treaty” (an oblique reference to ratification) to be added to the year-end political declaration. The proposed text made no mention of the Istanbul Commitments and was pointedly separated from the draft declaration’s paragraph that referenced Istanbul. As Russia had already vetoed the latter paragraph, the German-proposed paragraph could only contribute to severing the linkage between those two agreements. The GUAM countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) among others resisted the proposal, and Steinmeier restored the linkage in his speech to the conference. For his part, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Philippe Douste-Blazy never mentioned Russian troops or Istanbul Commitments in his speech and vaguely hoped for “equitable solutions” to the frozen conflicts.

The most pessimistic omens for 2006 came from Austria and Belgium, the incoming presiding countries of the EU and OSCE, respectively. Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ursula Plassnik “warmly welcome [d] a larger number of Russian observers” to elections; spoke of a symmetric “dialogue by European countries” with the United States and with Russia; and made no mention of frozen conflicts and Russian troops in her speech. For his part, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel de Gucht seemed in his speech to consign those issues to a peripheral place, both in relation to Europe and on the OSCE’s 2006 agenda: “The frozen conflicts jeopardize, if not the European equilibrium, at least the sub-regional equilibrium. … The solutions must involve an agreement among the parties themselves as well as political will by the principal actors.” In sum, it is still up to Russia and its local “parties,” according to this vision.

(Documents of the OSCE’s Ljubljana year-end conference, December 3-6; see EDM, November 22, 23, December 1, 2, 6, 7)