What is the OSCE?

Some basic elements

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was established in 1973 as the 'Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe' (CSCE). A European security organisation had been under discussion since the 1950s, but the Cold War prevented any progress on this front, until talks began in Helsinki in November 1972. The recommendations of those talks, "The Blue Book", formed the basis for a three-stage conference in Helsinki. During the third phase of the Conference (30 July and 1 August 1975), the Helsinki Accords were signed by the 35 participating countries. On 1 January 1995, following the collapse of communism, the CSCE was renamed the OSCE.

The OSCE ensures the security of a geographical region stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok. It now has 57 participating states from North America, Central Asia and Europe. It is recognised as a regional organisation within the meaning of Chapter VIII of the United Nations Charter. As the name suggests, the aim of this international organisation is to ensure security through cooperation. The OSCE handles the complete conflict cycle: early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict reconstruction.

A broad definition of Security

The OSCE takes a comprehensive security approach, with the following dimensions:

  • The political-military dimension: activities pertaining to this dimension focus on the following areas: police, arms control, border management, the fight against terrorism, conflict prevention and resolution and security sector reform and cooperation.
  • The economic and environmental dimension: since economic prosperity is essential for stability, the OSCE focuses on promoting a healthy economic environment in the participating states. The Strategic Document of December 2003 on the Economic and Environmental Dimension of the OSCE sets out the focus themes of this dimension: 'co-operation on economic good governance, sustainable development and environmental protection'. Transport, migration management, climate change, hazardous waste and water management, anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism are also addressed.
  • The human dimension: in the context of the third dimension, the OSCE promotes full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Among other things, this dimension covers freedom of expression, press freedom, security of journalists, freedom of peaceful association, the rule of law - including the fight against torture and the death penalty - tolerance and non-discrimination, rights of minorities - including Roma & Sinti - and elections.
  • The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is the main body responsible for promoting human rights and democracy within the OSCE. In order to give impetus to democratic transitions, the ODIHR organises the OSCE international election observation missions and leads projects that are conducive to the proper conduct of elections.
  • Certain themes are covered in all three dimensions and are therefore cross-dimensional. Migration, Gender, Youth, Cyber/ICT Security and Trafficking in Human Beings are the most important.


The activities of the OSCE go beyond the meetings in Vienna:

  • Missions on the ground: the OSCE deploys around 3,000 people for 15 missions and activities on the ground. They are active in Eastern Europe, South-Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. OSCE staff work on the ground to facilitate political processes, prevent or resolve conflicts and promote civil society and the rule of law.
  • Election observation missions: In line with the OSCE commitments, participating states are required to invite the Organisation to observe elections. The basic principles subscribed to by the 57 participating States are: universality, equality, justice, confidentiality, freedom, transparency and responsibility. On the ground, experts need to monitor the complete electoral process: administrative organisation, political campaigns, voting procedures, media coverage and human rights issues.

Belgium's participation in the OSCE

The Permanent Representation of Belgium to the OSCE is located in the same building as the Belgian Embassy, as well as the Permanent Representation of Belgium to international organisations (UN, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) in Vienna. The Permanent Representative to the OSCE cooperates with a team of diplomats sitting in the various bodies of the OSCE: the Permanent Council, the Preparatory Committee, the SubCommittee for Economic and Environmental Activities, etc. The Permanent Representative to the OSCE works with a team of diplomats.


The OSCE recruits staff for 15 field missions. These secondments are one-year contracts which can be renewed. Before the headquarters in Vienna launches a selection procedure, each State is invited to nominate candidates.

For more information:

The site of the OSCE