Malvina Condratiuc: A general overview of the Swedish OSCE Chairpersonship: impact on the negotiation process for the Transnistrian settlement and reintegration policies

Sweden took over the OSCE Chair on January 1st, 2021, having set the priorities for this mandate[1] following the commitments laid down in the Paris Charter of 1990 – together with all other OSCE principles and commitments which constituted the foundation of the European security order. These priorities focused on crucial elements needed to resolve conflicts and avoid new crises, such as ensuring political and economic security, promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

Primarily, the priorities of the Swedish Chairpersonship of the OSCE were established to support the comprehensive concept of security and to continue conflict resolution efforts in the OSCE region, in conjunction with Sweden’s core security policy interests, with a particular focus on human rights and gender equality.

The first official visit to the Republic of Moldova since Sweden took over the OSCE mandate was paid by the Special Representative of the Swedish OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transnistrian Settlement Process, Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting. During the meeting with the Moldovan Government officials on January 26, 2021, the key government priorities were announced for the upcoming year within the Transnistrian settlement process and the interest of the Republic of Moldova in making a substantial contribution to the implementation of the priorities stated by the OSCE Chair was reaffirmed. In particular, the importance of combining efforts to move closer to the regulatory processandadapting confidence-building measures to the current context was emphasized, taking into consideration the worsening of the human rights situation in the region, but also acknowledging the calls reflected in the Ministerial Statement of December 3, 2020[2], on the negotiations for the Transnistrian settlement process in the “5+2” format.

The same position regarding the negotiation process for the Transnistrian settlement was stated by the Moldovan Government officials during the high-level visit to the Republic of Moldova paid by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Ann Linde, on February 17, 2021. During the discussions, Mrs. Lindewas informed about the precarious situation created in the Transnistrian region since the beginning ofthe pandemic and was asked for intervention to ensure the protection and restoration of fundamental rights and freedoms of the inhabitants from both banks of the Nistru River with the immediate and unconditional resumption of free movement between the two banks[3].

The following period was marked by an active interaction between the OSCE and the Republic of Moldova on issues stated above and those included in the Ministerial Statement. In total, there have been organized 2 visits in the Republic of Moldova of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, about 15 working meetings of the Deputy Prime Minister for reintegration with the Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, 5 – with the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for Transnistrian Settlement, and 5 – with the Swedish Ambassador to Moldova.

Concerning the implementation of the provisions stipulated in the Ministerial Statement of December 3, 2020, the OSCE Chairpersonship supported the constant efforts of the Government of the Republic of Moldova to maintain and develop the dynamics of dialogue between Chisinau and Tiraspol on socio-economic aspects, humanitarian aid, human rights, health care issues and other.

In this sense, during the reported period, 11 meetings of political representatives in the negotiation process for the Transnistrian settlement took place. Throughout these meetings, a wide range of current issues on the agenda were discussed, in particular the issue related to the participation of the vehicles with neutral plates from the Transnistrian region in international road traffic. Additionally, over 25 meetings of sectoral working groups were held, the most active of which covered transport, health issues, education, human rights, customs issues, economy and other issues.

The Swedish Chair-in-Office provided assistance in facilitating the dialogue between Chisinau and Tiraspol on issues aimed at restoring the freedom of the movement of citizens to/from the left bank of the Nistru River, thus largely fulfilling the provisions of point 4 of the 2020 Ministerial Statement. Along with other international partners of Moldova, the OSCE has also supported the efforts of national authorities in the implementation of the National COVID-19 Immunization Programme on both banks of the Nistru River, which has provided an incentive to exclude restrictions on the free movement of medical personnel who live in the Transnistrian region and are employed on the right bank.

It is worth mentioning the approach of the OSCE Chairpersonship-in-Office in the coherent promotion of economic security, human rights and gender equality in relation to the Moldovan Government’s reintegration policies and its positive impact on the development of the negotiation process for Transnistrian settlement. A significant contribution to this process has been made by Sweden through the European Union’s Confidence Building Measures Programme, where the Swedish Government supports two important projects – “One UN Joint Action to Strengthen Human Rights in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova”[4] and the „Advanced Cross River Capacities for Trade (AdTrade)”[5].

Thus, within both projects, there have been selected successful and sustainable initiatives from the perspective of generating alternative solutions to the problems faced by the inhabitants on both banks of the Nistru River, and where the sides are unable to find a consensus within the existing platforms of dialogue.

Under the One Joint Action project, a series of grants have been allocated to encourage cooperation between civil society organizations from both banks of the Nistru River and to support initiatives aimed at the realization of the rights of men and women, girls and boys from both banks of the Nistru river by ensuring equal access to all public services and full participation and inclusionin all areas of public life so that nobody is left behind. The actions carried out within the project AdTrade, contributed to the facilitation of cross-river cooperation and expansion of enterprises from the Transnistrian region (particularly MSMEs) to export promotion mechanisms available on the right bank. At the same time, special attention was given to promoting the expansion of the MSMEs sector in the Transnistrian region by developing new emerging businesses, particularly those led by women, with an impact on representatives of the most vulnerable groups of people.

These projects provided a special opportunity to deepen and develop Moldovan – Swedish cooperation, including within the OSCE, as well as to reaffirm the support of other international partners of Moldova, such as UN Women, the British Government, the Council of Europe, and many others, in Moldova’s aspirations to integrate into European Union and complete democratic reforms.

Talking about the role of gender equality in the Swedish Chair at OSCE, it is important to emphasize that this priority presented an exceptional opportunity to deepen Moldova-Swedish-OSCE cooperation in promoting the Agenda Women, Peace and Security.

Being responsible for the coordination of the National Program for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in Moldova, the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration, supported the process of elaboration of the new National Programme on the implementation of Resolution 1325 in Moldova for 2022-2025, that is supposed to be extended, with the participation of the local public authorities representatives from the Security Zone, and will be drafted also with consideration of active participation of the civil society organizations from both banks of the Nistru river.

At the same time, the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration took on the responsibility of resuming the work of the governmental commission for equality between women and men, which had not been convened for almost 4 years. The Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Gender[6],who was also invited at this event, highlighted the importance of such initiatives and their positive impact on the reintegration process.

In the context of Swedish Chairpersonship’s commitments to promote Women, Peace and Security agenda during 2021, the OSCE Mission to Moldova in partnership with UN Women in Moldova developed a project on enhancing the capacities of key female members of joint expert working groups. This initiative aimed at strengthening the communications, conflict analysis, as well as negotiation and mediation skills of the female Working Group members both from Chisinau and Tiraspol, but also to contribute more to the inclusion of the specific concerns of conflict-affected women and girls into the considerations of the working groups. This action complemented the efforts of the national authorities to involve the Transnistrian region in activities aimed at promoting human rights and gender equality, serving also as a confidence-building measure for women negotiators and the participants of the sectoral working groups in identifying common solutions based on women’s interests and related humanitarian aspects.

Although the most active developments during the Swedish OSCE Presidency have been registered namely on the gender dimension, a separate provision or mention of encouraging the further efforts on this dimension has not been reflected in Ministerial Statement on the negotiations on the Transnistrian settlement process in the “5+2” format approved on December 3rd, 2021. Also, this subject is not listed among the priorities of the Polish Presidency within the OSCE in 2022, preliminarily presented by Poland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs at the OSCE Permanent Council on July 15, 2021[7].

Nevertheless, the text of the Declaration re-confirms the commitment of the OSCE Member States to attain a comprehensive, peaceful and sustainable settlement of the Transnistrian conflict based on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova within its internationally recognized borders with a special status for the Transnistrian region that fully guarantees the human, political, economic and social rights of its population.

Moreover, the document contains an appeal to the sides to intensify their dialogue and efforts concerning the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, given the persistence of serious relevant concerns, including in individual cases and in areas that directly impact the day-to-day life of the local population. This note should contribute to the activation of the dialogue between the Government of the Republic of Moldova with international partners and participants in the 5+2 negotiation format in identifying concrete measures, that might be useful for the experts from the sectorial working groups in finding solutions to the most pressing issues related to protection and promotion of human rights based on mutual interest. This point could also be used as a lever for the further promotion of aspects related to gender equality and women’s rights.

Furthermore, by approving the text of the Ministerial Declaration at the end of 2021, the parties were urged to continue the dialogue in 2022 on issues concerning the participation of non-commercial vehicles in the Transnistrian region in international road traffic, the realization of the so-called „Berlin plus” package, tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, and create favourable ground for the resumption of the Permanent Conference on political issues within the negotiation process for the Transnistrian settlement in 5 + 2 format, which was last convened in 2019.

It is doubtless that Poland will take over the OSCE Chair in very challenging times, distinguished by negative tendencies of escalating new conflicts or tensions in the OSCE conflict zones. At the same time, considering the sensible particularities in the relations between Poland and the Russian Federation, and the blockages persisting within the negotiation processes on the Transnistrian settlement, situation around Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia etc, and ascendant risks towards peace and stability in Europe, it is of crucial importance the ability of Polish diplomacy to maintain the balance and cooperation with the OSCE member states, including in the “5 + 2” framework, to ensure the implementation of the general objectives and principles of the organization.