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Europe: OSCE Begins Talks On Proposed Reforms

An expert panel is due today in Vienna to release recommendations for reforming the Organization For Security And Cooperation In Europe (OSCE).

Vienna, 30 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) today agreed to begin talks on a wide-ranging reform of the organization to meet criticisms from Russia and some other countries and organizations.

The negotiations are based on a 32-page working document drawn up by six diplomats, including a Russian, a Kazakh, and an American. It calls on OSCE to re-examine some of its practises, including election monitoring, political oversight of operations, the distribution of OSCE finances, and the system for hiring staff.

The working document makes no concrete proposals for change. It is considered only as a guideline for negotiations which will continue through the rest of the year. Progress will be reviewed at a high-level meeting in Vienna in September.

An OSCE spokesman in Vienna, Keith Jinks, says it’s an opportunity for OSCE to review its effectiveness in the 30th year of its existence and when it is facing new challenges.

"It’s an opportunity for it to look at how effective it is in certain areas and to try to add value in those key areas and also to look at how it can respond effectively as possible to the new challenges and in the new environment where we have an enlarged NATO and an enlarged European Union," Jinks said.

Many of the issues discussed in the working document reflect criticisms made by Russia and other CIS states last year about election monitoring and other political issues. Russia forced OSCE to respond by vetoing its budget for this year. Russia has since softened the veto in some areas.

German political analyst Hanna Dietrich told RFE/RL the most important issue under study in the review is OSCE's role in supporting human rights, the rule of law and free elections in countries which Russia is considered to be within its sphere of influence.

"Russia perceives the organisation as acting against its interests," she said. "It wants less emphasis on human rights and a greater focus on military and economic issues."

OSCE officials have said repeatedly that human rights remain paramount despite the importance of increasing security to defeat such threats as international terrorism.

The current chairman of the organisation, Dimitrij Rupel, who is also the Slovenian foreign minister, recently described human rights as "basic standards" and said they "cannot be adjusted on the grounds of improving the security situation in the world."

The OSCE spokesman, Keith Jinks, said today Russia's views have been taken into account by those who drew up the working document.

"It does reflect the criticisms. Certainly it doesn't necessarily accept all the criticisms word-for-word but it does reflect them," Jinks said.

Among Russia's concerns is OSCE's monitoring of elections. The organisation sends monitoring teams to elections in most of its 55 member-states, including those in the United States, Britain, and other Western countries. Russia charges that monitoring in some postcommunist countries is politically biased.

In April, the chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission, Alexander Veshnyakov, rejected the OSCE's custom of issuing a public statement about elections soon after the results are announced. He said OSCE's election observer missions should be politically neutral and should not deliver what he called "political judgements" immediately after elections are held.

Veshnyakov charged that some of OSCE's member-governments tried to use the electoral process to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

Veshnyakov's comments were made after OSCE monitoring teams had criticised elections in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and elsewhere. Many international commentators have said the harsh OSCE criticims of elections in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan led to greater Western support for the political uprisings which followed.

The working document presented in Vienna today says that the political negotiations on reform of OSCE should "devote special attention to election-monitoring standards." It says OSCE should take care that its election criteria ensure objectivity, transparency, and professionalism. It calls for "an approach which guarantees equal treatment of all participating states."

The negotiations on the working document will also consider possible changes in the distribution of OSCE finances. Russia's ambassador to the OSCE, Aleksei Borodavkin, complained earlier this year that last year's budget allocated only 1.47 percent to the fight against terrorism, 3.3 percent to economic and environmental issues and 10 percent for military issues. He said this was not a fair distribution of resources.

The OSCE working document also proposed changes in hiring practises and a wider distribution of posts among the 55 member-countries. Currently most OSCE posts are filled by diplomats seconded by the various governments.

A diplomat with wide experience of the OSCE said that sometimes led to what he called a "mismatch" between the experience of those proposed for a post and the actual demands of the job.

The working document suggests that major posts should be filled by open competition with salaries paid from the OSCE budget instead of home governments. It suggests that this could increase professionalism and open posts up to a broader pool of candidates who could do a better job.