Malta has been confirmed as presiding nation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world's largest international security organization, for 2024, while senior OSCE officials due to step down have seen their terms extended. Estonia had originally been earmarked to take on the role for 2024.
The announcement was made following 30th Ministerial Council in Skopje, North Macedonia, Friday, and followed a tense week in which Malta was brought in as an eleventh-hour compromise candidate after Estonia's ascension to the post, planned for 2024, was consistently vetoed by OSCE members Russia and Belarus.
One of OSCE's 57 member states is picked to hold the one-year presiding role at the end of each year; the organization, facing questions over its credibility, needed to have this finalized by the end of this week.
North Macedonia as outgoing lead nation made the formal announcement at a meeting in its capital Friday, after Malta had been confirmed earlier in the week at a meeting in Vienna, where OSCE is headquartered.
Estonia did not oppose Malta taking its place and expressed confidence in that country's ability to perform the role, but did not withdraw its candidacy in the face of the Russian veto, either.
Unanimity is required from all 57 nations on which country will hold the presiding role. Russia stated that it wanted a non-NATO member state to do so.
Malta is a member of the EU, but not NATO.
Outgoing OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Minister of Foreign Affairs of North Macedonia Bujar Osmani, said: "Our ability to come together now and forge consensus among all 57 participating states reveals, once more, the importance and efficacy of building agreement through negotiation and compromise on behalf of our common goals and objectives."
"Despite our differences and disagreements, we have shown the strategic vision required to continue our constructive efforts toward implementing and applying the OSCE's competitive advantages through the work of its executive structures to the benefit of all our people," Minister Osmani went on.
Malta will begin its term as OSCE chair nation on January 1, 2024.
In his remarks, the Maltese Minister of Foreign Affairs and incoming Chairman-in-Office Ian Borg emphasized his country's willingness to assume the mantle of leadership.
"The unanimous vote by all 57 countries is a testament to our joint commitment to continue strengthening our organization and, despite all the challenges we are currently facing, ensure that this organization remains robust. The OSCE was created upon shared principles and values. It is an inclusive platform for effective dialogue and we will make sure to keep strengthening it," he went on.
The foreign minister of a presiding country takes on the chairperson-in-office role for the year; this would have been Margus Tsahkna, had Estonia been approved.
In addition to its non-NATO status, Malta has been praised over its mediating role in both the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Gaza war.
Additionally and with time running short, the OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid saw her term extended to September 2024. She and three other top officials had been due to step down at the end of this year, and their replacements had been the other issue which still had not been resolved earlier this week.
Representative on Freedom of the Media Ribeiro and High Commissioner on National Minorities Kairat Abdrakhmanov also saw their terms extended to September 3 next year; Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Matteo Mecacci was also appointed Friday.
Secretary General Schmid said: "Over the past three years I have seen how very much this organization has to offer.
"All that we do – whether working to tackle corruption and organized crime or monitoring elections, enhancing the safety of women journalists or training border guards on human rights standards – is in support of people across our region and beyond. The OSCE has been and remains a quietly powerful force for change."
"In the current circumstances, finding common ground on any topic is a challenge. The decisions made by participating States here in Skopje will enable this work by and for the people of the OSCE region to continue to support stability, security, and human rights."
Outgoing chair Osmani also stressed that the organization "can do even more to prevent conflicts and mitigate the fallout of armed conflict," adding that "we need this Organization to foster multi-lateralism and facilitate cooperation, so people can live freely and enjoy normal lives."
Estonia declined to attend the Skopje meeting over the attendance of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and was joined by Latvia and Lithuania, and subsequently Poland and Romania, in the boycott.
Formed after the adoption of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 during a period of Cold War rapprochement between eastern and western blocs, and headquartered in Vienna, OSCE is a northern hemisphere-only, security-oriented intergovernmental organization with 57 member states. Its tasks include arms control, the promotion of human rights, overseeing the freedom of the press and free and fair elections.
Editor: Andrew Whyte