Event report - "Priorities of the Slovak OSCE Chairmanship 2019”

February 18, 2019

As part of its Ambassadorial Lecture Series, the CEU Center for European Neighborhood Center (CENS) hosted an event entitled, “Priorities of the Slovak OSCE Chairmanship 2019.” The event featured H.E. Mr. Pavol Hamžík, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic to Hungary, who discussed the priorities of the chairmanship, as well as the challenges facing the OSCE today.

Director of CENS Péter Balázs opened the event and stressed the importance of relationships between direct neighbors, such as Slovakia and Hungary.

Mr. Hamžík first spoke about his experience with OSCE issues, chiefly as the first head of the Slovak delegation to the CSC in 1993. He discussed the difficulties faced by the delegation at this time, being a new state at the start of transition, and also the difficulties facing the CSC as it addressed the conflicts in Yugoslavia. He explained that the CSC played an essential role in responding to the Yugoslav crisis before the involvement of EU and NATO, and that his delegation helped send the first CSC mission to Kosovo and then to Skopje.

Mr. Hamžík noted that the OSCE faces similar difficulties. Today, the organization is comprised of 57 member states and 11 other partners, and deals with a range of issues, including security, counterterrorism, post conflict transition, human rights, and more. Slovakia took over the chair from Italy this year, and will work closely with Albania, who will be taking over the chairmanship in 2020. The chairmanship is faced with a range of complex problems: persisting conflicts and new security challenges, waning confidence in multilateralism, nationalist rhetoric, intolerance, and the undermining of fundamental OSCE principles throughout Europe.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hamžík highlighted three main priorities for the Slovak chairmanship in 2019: preventing and mitigating conflict and assisting those affected, providing a future for people throughout Europe, and strengthening effective multilateralism.

Under the first priority, he emphasized the organization’s focus on Ukraine and other frozen conflict areas, as well as the Western Balkans as a post-conflict region. He mentioned Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its most recent operation on the Kerch Strait as unacceptable actions that not only threaten common security, but undermine OSCE principles and make life difficult for citizens in these areas. In regards to the Western Balkans, he stressed the likelihood of increasingly tense relations between the countries, in particular between Pristina and Belgrade, within Bosnia and Herzegovina, and within Macedonia in the aftermath of its name deal with Greece. Mr. Hamžík assured that with the help of OSCE field missions, local and national authorities, and a range of other institutions, the chairmanship will continue to provide expertise for diplomatic solutions in these key regions.

In regards to the second priority, Mr. Hamžík spoke about the potential opportunities, but also potential challenges, posed by globalization and technological innovation. The stated goal of the chairmanship is to bring the OSCE closer to the people, and in particular to give voice to young innovators so it can better respond to large-scale global changes and global problems, from environmental concerns, to inequality, to minority issues.

Finally, in order to strengthen effective multilateralism, the OSCE will use existing dialogue channels between state and non-state actors, including the US, the EU, and the OECD, whose ministerial council Slovakia is also presiding over this year. The goal is to synthesis responses by major actors, and to this end, Slovakia will host over 50 events in the coming months, covering a wide range of OSCE topics.

Mr. Hamžík’s remarks were followed by a question-and-answer session. Mr. Hamžík was first asked which of Slovakia’s memberships, such as in the EU, NATO, OSCE, etc. were the most important to the country. Mr. Hamžík responded that EU membership has been the most important to Slovakia, because it provided the basis for its transition in nearly every area. He emphasized that despite debates today, the EU has only strengthened sovereignty for Slovakia and other Eastern European countries. Moreover, he cited several examples of how Slovakia has been able to contribute to and influence the EU in return. In addition, he discussed the importance of the Visegrád Group, emphasizing that shared history and overlapping strategic interests have been instrumental to Slovakia’s transition as well, in particular by helping Slovakia coordinate entrance into the EU and NATO. However, he also stressed that membership in any of these organizations is not an end itself, but serves the overall goal of stability and peace.

The second question posed by the audience was about OSCE’s role in the US-led security conference on the Middle East being held in Warsaw at the time of the event. Mr. Hamžík briefly remarked that the OSCE will continue to support the EU’s policy towards conflicts in the Middle East.

The following question addressed the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. The audience member asked whether the OSCE foresees any new difficulties or changes in the relationship between Ukraine and Russia vis-a-vis the conflict. Mr. Hamžík discussed his extensive experience in Ukraine as an ambassador, and said that while the conflict is complex, it is clear who the aggressor is in the situation - Russia. He stressed that sanctions against Russia have been influential and therefore should continue. He said that the OSCE does not anticipate any major changes in the situation but will continue to improve conditions for those living in the conflict zone and try to foster dialogue between Ukraine and Russia. The OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission has been successful according to Mr. Hamžík, and will continue to be present in the region. Overall, the OSCE will continue to follow the UN Security Council’s lead on the conflict. He added that upcoming elections in Ukraine may affect the potential for productive dialogue with Russia.

Mr. Balázs then asked Mr. Hamžík about the relationship between the Slovak people and the EU, since the country had by far the lowest turnout for the European Parliament elections in 2014. Mr. Hamžík explained that this low turnout was because the list of candidates presented to Slovaks was not appealing to the general public, and not because Slovaks do not support the principles of the European Parliament. He remarked that in May the turnout will be nearly double, according to leading estimates.

Mr. Hamžík offered some thoughts on the Slovak-Hungarian relationship as well. He described the centuries of close relations between the two countries, marked by more positive periods than negative ones. He emphasized that most importantly, the two countries are currently equal partners and are able to discuss open questions bilaterally, a process only helped by internationalization. He emphasized the importance of the economic relationship between the two.

Finally, Mr. Balázs closed with a few short remarks. He noted that the centennial of the end of WWI and the creation of nations that followed has been a real test for national politics in Europe, and it remains to be seen whether Europe will revert to its old nationalistic ways or take a new direction. He again stressed the importance of direct neighborslike Slovakia and Hungary, and underscored Mr. Hamžík’s point that the EU has only bolstered the sovereignty of these member states.