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(OSCE/OSCE Parliamentary Assembly)
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen vast differences in leadership styles, as well as capabilities, of national authorities to meet the challenge. Some countries rose to the occasion with a unified response based on sound scientific and economic principles, taking bold public health measures while also striving to ensure that the impact of lockdowns on society would be kept to a minimum.

Unfortunately, we have also seen governments drop the ball, failing to do what was needed either from a public health perspective or an economic perspective to get it under control. Others have even exploited the crisis to sideline the political opposition and consolidate power.

In a world as interconnected as ours, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Only when all countries meet the challenge together can we safely reopen our borders and revive our economies. We cannot effectively mitigate the multifaceted impacts of the crisis unless we co-operate with a clear understanding of the challenges, follow the advice of experts, and implement best practices to assuage the negative effects.

new report issued by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), where I serve as President, explores these subjects and more, offering recommendations on how we can emerge from this crisis stronger than before. It features the observations of dozens of experts and parliamentarians who contributed to a series of online events the OSCE PA has held since March, pointing out that with governments preoccupied with COVID-19 challenges, we must not allow other important issues to slip from the international agenda.

Besides presenting us with a host of new challenges, the pandemic has underlined the urgency of addressing deep-seated problems that have been neglected for too long. The pandemic is affecting conflicts, counter-terrorism, gender issues, environmental sustainability, migration, human rights, and democratic development. It is impacting the holding of elections and has made international election observation unfeasible, in some cases paving the way for “fake observers” to fill the void.

In order to ensure long-term stability and security, it is essential that we pay as much attention to these issues as we do the immediate needs for containing the virus.

We must not forget that once we make it through the public health crisis, we will be faced with severe economic challenges, as well as long-standing environmental concerns – not the least of which being climate change. The disruptions we have experienced in recent months may pale in comparison to what lays in store for us if we fail to ensure a green economic recovery and a co-ordinated transatlantic response that strengthens ties with partners.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty and instability caused by the pandemic is likely to trigger dangerous dynamics and fuel violent extremism. We need to keep an eye on how extremist groups are exploiting COVID-19, and consolidate our counter-terrorism strategies. Further, combating disinformation must be a common effort of competent authorities, civil society, social media platforms, and international organizations.

The pandemic also highlights the precarious situation of people living in conflict zones, as well as refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. While these vulnerable people face heightened exposure to the disease, the lockdown has inhibited diplomacy, conflict resolution efforts and delivery of humanitarian aid.

Despite calls for a global ceasefire during the pandemic, unfortunately some conflicts have heated up. Rather than intensified confidence-building, we have seen growing divisions and worsening conditions for conflicts, for example in the South Caucasus. This is creating a much more severe condition for ordinary people, who all too often are the ones who suffer most in war.

Thus, it is essential that diplomats and international organizations use their full range of tools to build trust and strengthen interpersonal relations, including through use of technology. In these efforts, parliamentary oversight and transparent legislative procedures are particularly important, and I am proud to say that during the pandemic, the OSCE PA has facilitated close co-ordination with parliaments and governments at the national and the international levels to promote democratic, effective, and coherent public policy responses.

Governmental and parliamentary actions during this period will have long-term consequences for public trust in institutions. For governments that botch the response, it may prove difficult to ever regain the people’s confidence, possibly undermining democratic institutions and fueling trends of extremism and nationalism. For this reason, it is essential that we pursue comprehensive solutions based on a common approach, rooted in effective multilateralism.

In my country, we have a saying: a good speaker needs a good listener. Relevant messages should be heard. When we are offering recommendations based on months of work and our series of parliamentary web dialogues featuring expert contributions and the sharing of best practices, we hope that a receptive audience will listen and take steps to implement these recommendations.

George Tsereteli is a Member of Parliament from Georgia and President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. He is the author of the just-published report, “OSCE PA vs. COVID-19: Reflections, policy contributions and recommendations presented by OSCE PA President George Tsereteli,” which is now available in Russian.

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