COPENHAGEN, 7 July 2020 – Some 40 members of parliament participated in a virtual meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Standing Committee today, hearing reports from the PA President, Treasurer, Secretary General, and holding debates on international issues in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Comprised of heads of national delegations and the elected members of the Bureau, the Standing Committee meets three times a year to guide the work of the Assembly and would have met in Vancouver this week had the 2020 Annual Session not been cancelled due to the pandemic.
OSCE PA President George Tsereteli (Georgia) opened the online forum by thanking delegations for their continued active engagement during these extraordinary times. He highlighted a report that is expected to be published in the coming days by the International Secretariat, which summarizes general conclusions and recommendations stemming from the Parliamentary Web Dialogues organized by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly since March.
“As we have experienced throughout this crisis, there is a dire need for more international concertation. We need more dialogue between our countries. We need to reinforce our multilateral system,” Tsereteli said. “One of my priorities as President of the PA has also been to better position us in the international arena by expanding partnerships with other multilateral organizations.”
The President noted that recent crisis situations have demonstrated the unmatched value of the OSCE, including its versatility and ability to respond rapidly and efficiently. He urged governments to ensure that the pandemic is not used as an opportunity to undermine the OSCE and that the Organization’s executive structures can ensure leadership continuity during challenging times.
Hedy Fry, the Head of the Canadian OSCE PA Delegation and Special Representative on Gender Issues, noted Canada’s regret that it was not able to host the Annual Session this year. “As the OSCE PA convenes via videoconferencing today, we are reminded that we should have been gathering in Vancouver, Canada for the 2020 Annual Session from July 2 to 7,” Fry said. “The COVID-19 global pandemic has redefined how we, as parliamentarians, interact and communicate. Yet in a way, we have become more connected and our voices more relevant. As we continue to face new challenges and find new opportunities to fulfill the PA’s mission, I truly hope we, Canada, will be able to host a future Annual Session here in Vancouver.”
Treasurer Peter Juel-Jensen (Denmark) presented his report and thanked the Standing Committee for having unanimously approved the budget for the next financial year.
Secretary General Roberto Montella highlighted the various methods the PA has used to keep dialogue alive during the lockdown, including the Parliamentary Web Dialogues dealing with thematic issues related to COVID-19 and the informal regional meetings held with OSCE PA delegations. He noted the importance of building confidence and trust, as well as developing long-term strategic thinking for solutions to international problems. The Secretary General also outlined upcoming plans for the Assembly, including election observation missions in the autumn, depending on the public health conditions.
Topics that came up in the general debate included the crisis in and around Ukraine, racism and police brutality, migration, environmental sustainability and climate change, discrimination and LGBT rights, resiliency and social cohesion, the continuation of parliamentary activity during the lockdown, and human trafficking. COVID-19 has highlighted many underlying challenges that must be addressed, it was emphasized.
The issue of OSCE PA members participating in non-internationally recognized election observation missions also came up, with concern expressed that these so-called “fake observers” may undermine the credibility of legitimate election observation activities.
A presentation by Vice-President Peter Bowness focused on the Rules of Procedure reform process. The Rules Committee should take a comprehensive review of all the Assembly’s rules, he noted. One area needed for reform is to ensure that the Assembly is well prepared for emergency situations, as well as defining the concept of a quorum and considering streamlining other areas of the PA’s work, Lord Bowness stated.
OSCE PA Deputy Secretary General and Special Representative Amb. Andreas Nothelle provided an update on the situation at OSCE headquarters in Vienna, noting that the atmosphere for dialogue has deteriorated. He pointed out, however, that the PA’s recent activities have been appreciated in Vienna.
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is comprised of 323 parliamentarians from 57 countries spanning Europe, Central Asia and North America. The Assembly provides a forum for parliamentary diplomacy, monitors elections, and strengthens international co-operation to uphold commitments on political, security, economic, environmental and human rights issues.
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