Defusing conflicts, fighting radicalization and violent extremism: Austria’s priorities for 2017 OSCE Chairmanship

OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, highlighted three key challenges facing the Organization and its participating States as Austria took over as the 2017 OSCE Chairmanship: deplorable and complex crises and conflicts in the OSCE area, a fundamental lack of mutual trust and confidence, and an alarming phenomenon of growing radicalization and violent extremism, especially among young people: “We must vigorously engage and address this situation. The OSCE is the right platform to do so,” said Kurz.

“It is my firm belief that a strong OSCE is the basis for a secure Europe – particularly in these agitated times. Austria stands ready to take responsibility and chair the Organization for a second time within two decades,” Kurz added.

Pointing to the OSCE’s experience as a facilitator, mediator and connector for a common space of 1.2 billion people, the Chairperson-in-Office emphasized that the organization can provide all necessary tools for promoting de-escalation and enabling sustainable political solutions to the conflicts in the OSCE area, not least the conflict in and around Ukraine.

Kurz stressed that, to respond effectively to current challenges and threats to our common security, the OSCE’s capabilities must be upgraded and its approaches in all three dimensions of security must be updated. “This concerns both the conflicts in the OSCE area and the threat from transnational radicalization. Open and constructive dialogue, credible confidence-building measures as well as reliable co-operation must be our common ground.”

“We must do whatever it takes to prevent further escalation of armed confrontation, including working through the established formats to peacefully resolve the protracted conflicts in the OSCE region. The safety and security of the affected populations must be a priority. This is achievable only if we all work together and take an inclusive approach,” said Kurz.

The Austrian Chairmanship will support all efforts within the OSCE to overcome divisions within and between participating States. At the same time, Austria will continue the 2016 German Chairmanship’s efforts to enhance informal and alternative channels of communication to improve mutual understanding and trust. “Instead of spending lots of resources on quarrels among ourselves, we should harness our energies to address the various external hazards,” said the Chairperson-in-Office.

Noting that more than 10,000 people from the OSCE area had served as foreign terrorist fighters, Kurz announced that Austria would organize a series of Chairmanship events aimed at fighting terrorism and preventing radicalization, especially among youth. These would include regional workshops as well as an informal meeting of foreign ministers in July 2017. “We must work together to identify and address root causes and triggers for the seduction and radicalization of young people. And we must empower our youth to address this phenomenon in our societies. Tolerance and respect will enhance their resilience against these con men,” Kurz said. He emphasized that the human dimension of security – including human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law – was of prime importance within the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security.

With regard to conventional arms control, Foreign Minister Kurz emphasized that, “the current situation is untenable. We need a meaningful dialogue on arms control and confidence- and security-building measures to address divergent security perceptions and find common ground. This is essential for ensuring military stability, predictability and transparency.”

The Austrian Chairmanship will also seek to address the increasing economic fragmentation in the OSCE space and to increase economic connectivity. “Connectivity can help improve overall relations within the OSCE,” said the Chairperson-in-Office. “Economic and environmental co-operation not only can help prevent conflict, but also can create vital confidence- and security-building mechanisms and promote economic development. Fostering dialogue on connectivity and avenues of integration will benefit everyone.”

“Taking over the OSCE Chairmanship is not an easy task – it is a team effort and it is worth it,” Kurz emphasized. He welcomed the commitment of Austria’s Troika partners, Germany and Italy, to make best use of the Organization to restore durable security on the European continent. “I personally look forward to closely co-operating with the Secretary General and his team in the Secretariat, the women and men serving in our Field Operations and the three Institutions – the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Representative on Freedom of the Media – as well as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and all our other partners, to ensure implementation of our common principles and commitments in the next year,” Kurz concluded. “But one thing is clear: the success of a Chairmanship also depends on a constructive approach by all participating States – including with regard to our presences on the ground. This support is a prerogative on the support of all participating States to defend and protect our steadfast commitment to democracy based on human rights and fundamental freedoms and our vision of prosperity through economic liberty and social justice as well as equal rights to security for all our countries,” he added.

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