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VIENNA, 21 February 2019 – Speakers at the opening plenary session of the 18th Winter Meeting in Vienna stressed today the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s unique ability to promote a multilateral approach to addressing challenges, including by conveying OSCE values to constituencies across the OSCE area.

Wolfgang Sobotka addresses the OSCE PA Winter Meeting in Vienna, 21 February 2019With nearly 300 parliamentarians from some 60 countries in attendance, President of the Austrian National Council Wolfgang Sobotka noted in his opening address that 30 years since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the OSCE is still working to create conditions to successfully overcome divides between East and West. He stressed that the Parliamentary Assembly complements the work of governments in the OSCE.

“The annual Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna provides a unique platform for dialogue and building trust. It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to make use of it,” he said.

OSCE PA President George Tsereteli (MP, Georgia) said that the opportunity provided by the Winter Meeting for direct interaction between parliamentarians and the governmental side of the OSCE is a demonstration of transparency and a strength of the Organization.

He spoke about conflicts in eastern Ukraine and the South Caucasus, as well as street protests that have been taking place recently in France, Serbia, Hungary and Albania. Stressing the need to be prepared for dealing with a range of possible problems that could emerge from situations related to Brexit, climate change, and the collapse of the INF treaty, Tsereteli emphasized the importance of responding proactively and in the spirit of multilateral co-operation.

George Tsereteli addresses the opening plenary in Vienna, 21 February 2019“The scope of these joint challenges demonstrates the need for greater transatlantic and pan-European co-operation,” Tsereteli said. “Multilateralism is a crucially important tool in assisting us to meet our commitments and enable the next generations to inherit a better world.”

The OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, said that as representatives elected from across the OSCE area, parliamentarians are uniquely equipped to bring the voices of the people to the work of the OSCE and to express the OSCE’s messages to diverse communities.

“You are the body best suited to ensuring that the OSCE is responsive to the aspirations of its citizens,” Minister Lajcak said. “You can bring their voices to this room and ensure that the OSCE focus stays on people. But the Organization also needs you to work the other way around. Not only to bring people closer to the OSCE, but also to bring the OSCE closer to its people – to convey our message and work, to explain why it matters.”

OSCE Secretary General Thomas Greminger spoke about challenges facing the OSCE region but also highlighted positive developments that have been seen recently, including the successful diplomatic process between Skopje and Athens, which he said has opened new possibilities for increased regional co-operation in South East Europe. He also highlighted progress on the Transdniestrian settlement process, which he hoped would encourage the sides in other conflicts to take steps towards peaceful settlement of disputes.

Thomas Greminger takes notes during the question and answer session in Vienna, 21 February 2019During the question and answer session, OSCE parliamentarians asked the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and Secretary General about topics including the crisis in and around Ukraine, gender issues, youth and security initiatives, election observation, anti-Semitism and intolerance, and civil society inclusion in OSCE work.

Earlier, the OSCE PA’s Standing Committee of heads of delegations met to hear reports from President Tsereteli, Secretary General Roberto Montella and Treasurer Doris Barnett, and to discuss current international issues. There was a full and frank exchange over the recent collapse of the INF treaty, including by the heads of the Russian and U.S. delegations.

Chaired by Nahima Lanjri (MP, Belgium) the OSCE PA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Migration also met today and discussed good practices in migrant integration and the role that parliamentarians can play in the implementation of the global compacts on migration and refugees.

The Winter Meeting continues today with meetings of the general committees on human rights and economic and environmental affairs.