Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg (ÖVP) does not think that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will enter a deadlock after the leadership crisis that was averted at the last moment. “The OSCE is in the heart-lung machine,” Schallenberg told Austrian journalists in Skopje on Wednesday. He wants “greater commitment” to the OSCE. He also wants to demonstrate this himself through an “intensified support package” for Malta’s new OSCE presidency.
Following a months-long Russian blockade of official presidential candidate Estonia, OSCE ambassadors quickly agreed on Monday that Malta, the smallest EU country, will become the presidential country in 2024. This averted the danger of the collapse of the only regional forum in which the states of North America, Europe and the Soviet Union were represented.
Schallenberg said the Malta agreement was “a very nice and elegant solution that shows that no state wants to drive the OSCE to the wall.” However, since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the organization has been busy trying to “keep itself afloat”. The OSCE needs to work more efficiently because “80 percent” of the work goes into keeping the organization afloat.
Schallenberg announced that Austria is willing to help Malta, which emerged as a potential OSCE chairmanship country at the beginning of November, with office space and the assignment of two to three diplomats at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna. He had already discussed this issue with Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela during his visit to Vienna on Monday. Schallenberg emphasized that donations to the OSCE are “energy and money well spent.”
Schallenberg welcomed the decision of the North Macedonian OSCE Presidency to allow Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to attend the organization’s annual meeting in Skopje on Wednesday and Thursday. Schallenberg recalled that last year he was the only Western foreign minister to criticize Lavrov’s lack of invitation to the Polish presidency. “We, the West, should not be afraid to sit down with the Russians. I believe that the tendency to delve into our own echo chambers in foreign policy is life-threatening.” The diplomacy he represents is carried out in the OSCE. “This is classic multilateralism at its best,” he stressed.
Due to Lavrov’s participation, the foreign ministers of Ukraine and the Baltic countries canceled their participation in the meeting in Skopje. In the case of Ukraine, Schallenberg said he could “emotionally understand” this step because people are being killed every day by aggressive Russia. He also emphasized that the OSCE was “irreplaceable” in the post-Ukraine war period. At the same time, he emphasized, “It is our lifeline to Central Asia and the Caucasus.” “We need more OSCE in the future, not less.”
Regarding a report in the daily newspaper “Die Presse” (Tuesday edition) that Austria is not considered as the country for the OSCE presidency due to the possibility of the participation of the FPÖ government, Schallenberg said: “Partners are considering the election calendar and the element of uncertainty and shadow cast by the Kickl-FPÖ.” “It has been revealed once again that this happened. All of Austria will pay the price for this.” At the same time, the Foreign Minister reiterated that Austria had never run for president. Schallenberg’s statements also contradict those of Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP), who said on Monday that there was no “intervention” against Austria in response to a question about possible reservations towards Austria. The presidency was never open to debate.
Schallenberg wanted to attend the informal dinner of OSCE foreign ministers on Wednesday evening. The annual meeting officially begins Thursday morning with speeches by chief diplomats. In the background, OSCE ambassadors wanted to work on a solution to pressing personnel issues: The terms of office of the OSCE’s four most senior posts, including Secretary General Helga Schmid, end on Sunday. Schallenberg was confident that a solution would be found here too. “I think it will work,” he said. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the next country to assume the presidency has also been finalized. Finland is planned to assume the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2025. Schallenberg is particularly concerned about the OSCE budget issue, which has not been resolved for two years. The 2022 budget is currently ongoing, which is a big problem given the rise in prices and threatens the 13 OSCE missions that are doing important work, especially in the Western Balkans.