This content was published in the period between 21 January 2019 and 8 July 2021

What does the Chair of the OSCE involve?


On 1 January 2021, Sweden will take over the Chair of the OSCE for a period of 12 months. The assignment is a manifestation of Sweden taking responsibility for the OSCE, and also of multilateralism, peace and the upholding of the European security order.

Foto: OSSE/Graham Patterson.

At the OSCE Ministerial Council in Bratislava on 5–6 December 2019, the organisation’s 57 participating States decided that Sweden would take on the Chair of the OSCE in 2021.

“As Chair of the OSCE, Sweden will continue to work to restore respect for the principles upon which the European security order rests. We will give priority to efforts to strengthen democracy, human rights and gender equality in all relevant forums,” said Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde when the decision was taken.

Background on the OSCE

The OSCE brings together 57 participating States in Europe, Central Asia and North America. The organisation’s mission is to strengthen confidence and cooperation between participating States with the aim of preventing conflicts and also working towards conflict resolution when crises arise.

The OSCE is also the guarantor of the European security order, i.e. the right of states to territorial integrity, prohibitions on the use of force and the right of states to make independent foreign policy choices. The OSCE also has a comprehensive approach to security based on the idea that states that respect democracy and human rights also experience greater security within their borders and are at lower risk of entering into conflict with other countries. Monitoring and promoting respect for human rights among participating States is therefore an important part of the OSCE’s activities.

The OSCE’s activities are divided into three dimensions of security:

• Politico-military security issues
• Economic and environmental security issues
• The link between human rights and security

The OSCE originates from the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which was started during the Cold War and made up of a series of meetings in which the participating States worked to reach common commitments on increasing security and maintaining peace in Europe. In 1975, the Helsinki Final Act was adopted, which forms the basis of the European security order, followed by the Paris Charter in 1990. The OSCE was developed into its current form in 1994 when the then ongoing CSCE was expanded to become an international organisation following a decision at a summit in Budapest. Sweden last held the OSCE Chair in 1993.

Decisions are taken through consensus by the Permanent Council, which meets on a weekly basis in Vienna, Austria. The OSCE Ministerial Council, which is made up of the foreign ministers of the participating States, meets once a year for political dialogue and decision-making.

Today, the OSCE is an intergovernmental organisation in which the participating States use political dialogue to demand accountability for breaches of the European security order and human rights commitments within the framework of the comprehensive concept of security. The serious tensions between participating States in terms of ongoing conflicts and views of democracy and human rights have a major impact on possibilities to reach consensus decisions.

What does the OSCE Chair involve?
In 2021, Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde will be Chairperson-in-Office (CiO). The Chair will run for one year, from 1 January to 31 December. As the OSCE is a chair-driven organisation, this means that the Minister for Foreign Affairs will represent the organisation in international contexts and set the direction for negotiations, as well as give the organisation its political guidance (at the mandate of the participating States).

A large part of activities is set by previous decisions that the Chair needs to take account of, which limits the opportunities for political initiatives. The Minister for Foreign Affairs will be supported by the OSCE Chair Secretariat in Stockholm and the OSCE Delegation in Vienna, which deals with the day-to-day negotiations.

The OSCE Chair plays an important role in the organisation’s conflict prevention work and crisis management, and monitors implementation of the field offices’ mandates. The OSCE’s flagship mission, the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, has the key task of monitoring developments in the security situation in the country and reporting breaches of the European security order.

The Chair also appoints a special representative to lead negotiations in the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE), which is discussing a peaceful solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The role of Chair also entails the responsibility of highlighting and working towards solutions to protracted conflicts in the OSCE region. The organisation plays an important role in confidence-building and mediation in the conflicts affecting Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria and South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. The Swedish Chair wants to work for increased focus on resolving these conflicts, with the European security order, women’s participation and the rule of law as the natural starting points.

Preparations for the Chair
Although the Chair does not formally begin until January 2021, the preparatory work has already begun. Since 1 January 2020, Sweden has been part of the Chair Troika together with the outgoing Slovakian Chair and the current Albanian Chair. Since 1 January, as the incoming Chair, Sweden has also been leading work within the framework of the OSCE Contact Group with the Mediterranean Partners for Co-operation. This role involves responsibility for organising a ministerial conference in autumn 2020. This autumn, Sweden will also take over as Chair of the OSCE Budget Committee to lead negotiations on the OSCE’s budget ahead of 2021.

In Stockholm, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has established a Secretariat to coordinate work prior to and during the OSCE Chair. The Secretariat works in close cooperation with Sweden’s OSCE Delegation and involves all parts of the Government Offices affected by the Chair.

In addition to the work of preparing and conducting the Chair within the Government Offices, the Secretariat also coordinates contacts to achieve broad support for the Chair among civil society, thinktanks and the Riksdag for example, and conducts a dialogue with international partners about the Chair. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has invited civil society to give their input to the priorities ahead of the Chair. Civil society also plays an important role in highlighting the OSCE’s principles and joint commitments.

More detailed priorities for Sweden’s Chair will be presented in July 2020. The Swedish Chair programme will be presented at the first meeting of the Permanent Council in January 2021.

There are currently eight people working at Sweden’s OSCE Delegation. Ahead of 2021, the Delegation will be reinforced with additional staff to be able to deal with the workload the Chair entails.

Ministerial Council meeting
At the beginning of December each year, the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting is held, usually in the country that holds the Chair. The Ministerial Council is the OSCE’s central decision-making body, made up of the foreign ministers of the 57 participating States. In connection with the Ministerial Council meeting, a number of side events take place to highlight important issues; the meeting is also an important opportunity for bilateral meetings.

In addition to the comprehensive preparations needed ahead of the meeting, this is also the opportunity to confirm the Chair priorities through decisions negotiated in the organisation’s committees during the year.

Day-to-day work
The organisation’s day-to-day work is run by the Permanent Council in Vienna, which is normally convened once a week. In the Permanent Council, which is one of the OSCE’s two decision-making bodies, the participating States are represented by their OSCE ambassadors.

The Chair of the OSCE is responsible for planning and coordinating these weekly meetings. The role involves setting the agenda, inviting speakers and practical issues, such as providing interpretation to the OSCE’s six official working languages and leading and taking the minutes from each meeting.

The Permanent Council is responsible for four committees, one for each dimension of the comprehensive concept of security and a committee for budget and management issues, as well as various contact groups. They prepare various decisions that are taken by the Permanent Council, the participating States’ foreign ministers or, on the rare occasions when a summit is held, by heads of state and government. The frequency of the committees’ meetings varies from weekly to monthly. In 2021, it will be Sweden’s responsibility to coordinate and lead the work of the committees.

The Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC), the second of the two OSCE decision-making bodies, also meets once a week in Vienna. The FSC Chair rotates every four months. Sweden last held the Chair in autumn 2018. The FSC deals with military issues linked to security and the organisation’s mechanisms and instruments for confidence-building and transparency, aimed at strengthening common security. Regular collaboration and coordination take place between the OSCE Chair and the FSC Chairs during the year.

The OSCE’s institutions
The OSCE’s three autonomous institutions (the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) and the Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM)) are important cornerstones of the organisation’s activities in areas such as democracy and human rights.

Cooperation with these three institutions is very important for the country holding the OSCE Chair. This can involve cooperation on agendas and invitations to speakers for conferences, appointing staff or coordinating extra-budgetary projects (projects that take place within the framework of the various institutions but that are financed through voluntary contributions from participating States and not through the OSCE’s general budget).

The OSCE’s headquarters in Vienna
The OSCE’s headquarters (Secretariat) is led by the Secretary General and based in Vienna. Thomas Greminger from Switzerland is currently Secretary General of the OSCE. The Secretariat assists the Chair in issues concerning administration of the organisation and also has expert knowledge in a number of areas – not least concerning protracted conflicts and cooperation on economic and environmental issues. Its geographical departments – South-eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia – also support the Chair with their expertise.

The OSCE’s field offices
The OSCE has 16 field offices or missions in the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus and Central Asia. The Chair maintains regular contact with the different offices and can provide guidance for activities within the framework of their mandates. This can involve anything from current events in the region to conferences or recruitment. Once a year, representatives from all of the field offices and missions meet in Vienna for reporting and experience exchange. The OSCE Chair is responsible for planning the meeting’s agenda and also leading the meeting.

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is based in Copenhagen and comprises 323 parliamentarians from all participating States. The Parliamentary Assembly works on the basis of the OSCE’s comprehensive concept of security and has divided up its work into three General Committees that reflect the OSCE’s three dimensions: Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. The Assembly draws up resolutions and recommendations aimed at encouraging the political leaders of the participating States to implement their OSCE commitments.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest organisation for regional security and has 57 participating States. All European and Eastern European states plus the United States, Canada and central Asian countries participate in the OSCE on equal terms. ‘From Vancouver to Vladivostok’ is a phrase that is used to describe the organisation’s geographical reach. The OSCE’s activities are based on a broadly defined view of security that includes military arms control, human rights, rule of law, environmental security and democracy. The OSCE is a unique multilateral organisation that takes politically binding decisions through consensus.