The EU, the OSCE and the European Security Architecture:
Network or Labyrinth?


Paper for Presentation at the Helsinki Monitor Conference,

OSCE’s Future after 30 Years,
Vienna, 9 September 2005


Sven Biscop

The shake-up of the European security architecture produced by the end of the Cold War has not led to a clear-cut division of labour between the different actors involved. While one organization, the Western European Union (WEU), has all but disappeared, the expansion of the EU and NATO in terms of both competences and membership and the institutionalization of the OSCE have resulted in an intricate web of functionally and geographically overlapping institutions.

The EU especially has grown from a largely economic and internally-oriented project to a fully-fledged international actor guided by its own European Security Strategy.[1] As both the EU and NATO claim a global role in the field of peace support operations (or Petersberg Tasks and non-Article 5 operations respectively) a highly publicized competition has resulted, often leading to emotional outbursts and near-theological debates between high-level figures on both sides of the Atlantic. Only collective defence remains the exclusive remit of NATO, and even that area is referred to in the EU’s draft Constitutional Treaty, under the heading of ‘mutual defence’.

One result of this main drama is that the OSCE has been pushed off the stage. Neither in the public debate nor in the Brussels policy-making scene is the OSCE a major topic. Rather than seeking to profile itself vis-à-vis the OSCE, the EU often simply seems to ignore it, developing its own policies and capabilities and deploying missions in areas where the OSCE has been active for a long time. The EU is thus seen e.g. as the leading actor determining the political future of the Balkans, while the large OSCE presence in the field is often overlooked. In the European Security Strategy, the OSCE is mentioned only very briefly, on a par with the Council of Europe: ‘For the European Union, the strength and effectiveness of the OSCE and the Council of Europe has a particular significance’.

Obviously, the development of a comprehensive foreign policy, including all dimensions from aid and trade to diplomacy and the military, is an inherent part of the process of European integration. In that light it is equally obvious that if anywhere it is on the European continent – in its ‘neighbourhood’ – that the EU has a major role to play. It is probably also true that the OSCE is active in certain fields where other actors can now act more effectively and efficiently. Yet the question is whether by ignoring the OSCE, the EU does not overlook that in a number of fields the OSCE has invaluable expertise and major added value that could also be helpful to furthering the EU’s own objectives. This is not to say that today there is no coordination between the EU and the OSCE: the troikas of both organizations meet twice annually, there are staff-to-staff contacts and there is concrete cooperation on specific projects in many countries. What is missing though, in spite of the high-level contacts between the troikas, is effective coordination at the strategic level, i.e. on the long-term objectives to be achieved and the main instruments to be applied to those ends.


Towards a Strategic Partnership

This holds especially true for the EU’s ambitions towards its near-abroad, notably the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), its new framework for dealing with its neighbouring States. [2] On the European continent, the ENP covers Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova as well as the Southern Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan), explicitly mentioned in the European Security Strategy as a region in which the EU ‘should now take a stronger and more active interest’. Special representatives have been appointed for Moldova and the Southern Caucasus, and also, on 18 July 2005, for Central Asia, an area that is not covered by the ENP.

The ENP is a valuable attempt to implement the comprehensive approach to security that underlies the European Security Strategy, which can be understood as aiming to integrate the military, economic, political and social dimensions of the EU’s external policies. [3] It operates on the basis of ‘positive conditionality’: with each target State, the EU negotiates a consensual bilateral Action Plan, in which political and economic reforms are to be linked to increased free movement of persons, goods, capital and services (‘the four freedoms’). Like the OSCE, the ENP is thus based on a cooperative approach. As can be learned from the experiences of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership however, which has been operating on the same principle since 1995 with limited results, implementing such an approach is far from evident. First of all, the Action Plans should be sufficiently detailed, outlining a process of specific measures to be taken in a fixed timeframe, identifying benchmarks for reform, and linking these to specific benefits to be accorded. On the one hand, these benefits, the proverbial carrot, should be sufficiently attractive to stimulate the governments of the target States to negotiate Action Plans containing effective reforms – a prerequisite that may demand an important economic and financial effort on the part of the EU. On the other hand, the carrot should be truly conditional on the achievement of the agreed reforms – an effective stick and the political courage to use it are equally important. In States with authoritarian regimes, an added difficulty is maintaining the balance between a critical and constructive dialogue, including the question of how to engage with reformist actors without damaging their domestic position. In a sense, EU strategy towards the countries covered by the ENP as well as Central Asia is only emerging.

Not only are the strategic objectives and approaches of the OSCE strikingly similar – the OSCE was of course one of the first to define a comprehensive and cooperative concept of security – but it is easy to see that on these countries the OSCE can bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the table which the EU has yet to acquire. In many of these countries, the OSCE has a long-established and large-scale presence, while the EU’s presence in the field for the time being is limited. With its norm-setting experience, the OSCE could thus help the EU in designing realistic objectives and benchmarks and in negotiating the consensual Action Plans. Even more importantly, through its missions and delegations, it could then collaborate in a very constructive way with the target States in helping them to meet those objectives. The OSCE could thus also profit of the increased leverage resulting from an EU-provided carrot to stimulate cooperation and reform, to the benefit of both organizations’ objectives. The same is recommended by the Panel of Eminent Persons on Strengthening the Effectiveness of the OSCE, which calls on the OSCE to include the cross-dimensional or comprehensive approach in all its activities and to mobilize international resources and expertise possessed by among others the EU, in order to effectively ‘strengthen the link between economic development, inter-state economic cooperation, good governance and democratization’. [4]

As Wohlfeld and Pavlyuk have pointed out, such constructive cooperation could further meet the criticism by some CIS countries that the OSCE missions focus too exclusively on monitoring human rights and democratic institutions, to the detriment of supporting the governments of the target States, [5] although of course political participation, respect for human rights and the rule of law constitute an important dimension of the ENP Action Plans. At the same time, in the framework of the OSCE the target States are not mere recipients of aid, but sit around the table as equal partners, as do the US and Russia, which makes the OSCE into a unique, but as the Panel of Eminent Persons has pointed out, underused forum for comprehensive and inclusive political dialogue.

Such far-reaching cooperation between the EU and the OSCE demands more than limited staff-to-staff contacts and ad hoc cooperation on specific countries. It requires alignment of their general approaches as well as the structural integration, on a country-by-country basis, of their programmes and actions in all fields covered by the Action Plans. This effectively amounts to a strategic partnership between the two organizations. The appointment of Ján Kubiš, former Secretary-General of the OSCE, as Special Representative for Central Asia provides an excellent opportunity for building a close partnership.


Building Deployable Capabilities

In the framework of a partnership on the long-term structural policy of conflict prevention and stabilization, the EU and the OSCE could also seek synergies in building the necessary deployable capabilities.

In the framework of its European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) the EU is leading the way internationally in integrating its civil and military capabilities: a joint Situation Centre has been established and a Civil-Military Cell and Operations Centre will be capable of running integrated civil-military missions. Next to the ongoing process of increasing the deployability of Member States’ armed forces, the EU also has a pool of civilian experts available for deployment abroad, in the fields of police, rule of law, civil administration, civil protection, human rights, political affairs, gender, and security sector reform. The first rule of law ESDP mission of 10 civilian experts, Operation Themis, was deployed in Georgia from July 2004 to July 2005 to support the government in its objectives for judicial reform. The OSCE for its part has designed the REACT mechanism (Rapid Expert Assistance and Cooperation Teams) to create a pool of civilian experts for rapid deployment. There thus is an obvious scope for cooperation in training civilian experts. Coordination is all the more necessary as both organizations struggle with the effective availability of civilian experts, most of whom are employed full-time in domestic functions from which they can not always easily be withdrawn at short notice. In that light, it has been proposed to create a nucleus of EU-employed experts, so as to always have a minimal capability available; that nucleus could also be involved in the training of national experts.

When actual civil missions are to be launched, the EU Member States could perhaps coordinate their contribution of national experts to OSCE missions via the EU pool, with the EU acting as a clearing house. Or the EU as such could act as ‘sub-contractor’ to the OSCE and launch complete missions under EU-command at the request of the OSCE or an individual government, as in Georgia. Although theoretically possible, the OSCE does no longer seem to envisage itself launching operations with a substantial military component. Again, the EU could act as sub-contractor and implement military operations under EU-command, either autonomously or with the use of NATO assets under the Berlin+ Agreements, including in both options the possibility of participation by non-EU Member States according to the standing ESDP arrangements to that end. Of course, for operations in which the US would be involved, NATO as such would be the forum for implementation.


A Single EU Voice in the OSCE

If the EU is to conclude a strategic partnership with the OSCE, the 25 must speak with a single voice in all OSCE fora. Although non-EU States sometimes criticize the often arduous process of finding a consensus between the 25 which then might leave little room for manoeuvre in negotiations with the other OSCE Participating States, [6] it is but logical that in the framework of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) EU Member States should speak with a single voice. Member States should be able to invite the EU High Representative for the CFSP or his representative in their delegation to speak on their behalf. Seeking unanimity for its own sake however is indeed a superfluous exercise – it must serve a purpose, which the strategic partnership can provide, both to Member States’ missions in Vienna and to their representatives in the Council’s OSCE Working Group in Brussels. A permanent EU mission to the OSCE and vice versa could crown the establishment of such a partnership, to the mutual benefit of both organizations. In the spirit of the EU vision of ‘effective multilateralism’, the OSCE surely must be a partner of choice.


Prof. Dr. Sven Biscop is a senior research fellow in the Royal Institute for International Relations (IRRI-KIIB) in Brussels and professor of European security at Ghent University in Belgium.



[1] A Secure Europe in a Better World. European Security Strategy, Document proposed by Javier Solana and adopted by the Heads of State and Government at the European Council in Brussels on 12 December 2003.

[2] With the exception of those that are candidates for accession or that are covered by the Stabilization and Association Process for the Balkans.

[3] Sven Biscop, The European Security Strategy – A Global Agenda for Positive Power, Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing, 2005.

[4] Common Purpose – Towards a More Effective OSCE. Final Report and Recommendations of the Panel of Eminent Persons on Strengthening the Effectiveness of the OSCE. 27 June 2005.

[5] Monika Wohlfeld & Oleksandr Pavlyuk, ‘The European Neighbourhood Policy and the OSCE’, Challenge Europe Online Journal, 2004, No. 12.

[6] Report. Colloquium on the Future of the OSCE. A Joint Project of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Swiss Institute for World Affairs. Washington, 5-6 June 2005, p.6.