Hastings Poised for Re-election at OSCE
This morning, when Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) pulls up to the J.W. Marriott Hotel in his blue Buick Rendezvous to stand for re-election to the presidency of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, he isn’t anticipating much of a contest.
“I fully expect to be elected by acclamation,” said the Florida Democrat, who for the past year has served as president of the parliamentary body of the OSCE, a 55-nation, predominantly European organization that also includes the United States, Canada, Russia and several Central Asian nations and which focuses on security issues ranging from arms control to human rights to election monitoring.
That wasn’t the case last summer in Edinburgh, Scotland, when the 68-year-old Hastings won his initial one-year term against legislators from France and Finland during an intense week-long campaign for the top post. In doing so, he became both the first American and first ethnic or racial minority to hold the position.
Hastings is presiding over the assembly during its historic inaugural meeting in the United States, which concludes today. It is a particularly auspicious, and touchy, time to hold the presidency.
“I’m an American at a time when the trans-Atlantic relationship is more fragile than it appears it was at other times,” Hastings said. “And I am not a diplomat, yet as president of this organization I have to use diplomatic skills and avoid any kind of appearance that I would be the heavy-handed American. I think I have been extremely successful in that regard.”
Another American, Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, was also expected to be re-elected as chairman of the OSCE PA’s Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment during the conference.
On Friday, the assembly kicked off its 14th annual session in Washington, a forum that was expected to draw 800 people to the District, including some 300 international parliamentarians. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) were among the speakers.
The five-day event, which was scheduled to include a full slate of committee meetings, reports and resolutions, is set to end this afternoon after assembly officer elections and the adoption of the assembly’s Washington declaration.
Over the weekend, the parliamentarians, including nearly a dozen Members of Congress, were slated to consider about 80 amendments dealing with a wide swath of economic, political and human rights issues, including one calling on the U.S. government to grant equal Congressional voting rights to D.C. residents that was expected to easily pass.
“It’s like a gigantic mark-up, if you will,” joked Hastings spokesman Fred Turner.
Belgian Senate President Anne-Marie Lizin was scheduled to deliver a report on the situation at Guantanamo Bay, recommending that the U.S. detention facility be closed. Meanwhile, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, better known as the Helsinki Commission, was set to deliver a report on illegal human trafficking.
Among the controversial internal topics discussed was the length of the term of the OSCE PA’s secretary general — a matter that came to the fore after Pentti Väänänen, a former deputy secretary general of the OSCE PA, alleged that he was unjustly dismissed last December after indicating an interest in succeeding current Secretary General Spencer Oliver, who has served in the post since its inception. Oliver denied Väänänen’s charges, calling them “false and uncorroborated allegations of a disgruntled former employee who has been fired from his job.”
The matter was resolved just before the opening of the session when lawyers for the OSCE and Väänänen reached a settlement, said Kimmo Kiljunen, a member of the Finnish parliament.
Under the settlement, Väänänen — who has subsequently been appointed chief coordinator of the upcoming 100-year jubilee celebration of the Finnish parliament — agreed to withdraw his legal complaints and OSCE PA leaders agreed “to do their best to make sure he receives a small compensatory severance payment,” Kiljunen said.
Oliver, a former Congressional aide, was appointed to another five-year term.
But it was not all work and no play during the conference, as attendees were slated to receive a hearty dose of Americana.
Planned activities included an after-hours tour of the Capitol, a trip to Mount Vernon and July Fourth fireworks. A select group also met with Vice President Cheney at the White House.
As OSCE PA president, Hastings has visited 18 countries as well as taken the lead in appointing members of the OSCE’s election-monitoring teams, including the one that monitored last November’s U.S. elections.
“They said our elections were free and transparent,” Hastings noted, but they added “that incumbent Members of Congress don’t seem to suffer much opposition.” During his presidential tenure, Hastings, along with Smith and other parliamentarians, has also taken an active role in combatting anti-Semitism, through conferences and other activities.
But Hastings said there is much left to accomplish if, as expected, he is given a second term (which, because of term limits, would be his last).
Among his priorities are solidifying and expanding the relationship with the Mediterranean observer nations to the assembly, seeking “further rapprochement with Russia,” which has been skeptical of some OSCE election monitoring activities, and “strengthening the trans-Atlantic relationship.”
At a welcome reception last week, Parliamentary Assembly members praised Hastings’ performance to date.
Bruce George, a member of the British House of Commons and Hastings’ predecessor as president, said that Hastings has excelled in his international role, unlike many American Congressmen, who are “like some wines — they don’t travel well. … Having a black American sends a signal to countries where there are ethnic tensions and ethnic rivalries and ethnic bloodshed, that the most powerful country in the world has a black Congressman who is president of the assembly.”
For his part, Hastings noted, with just a hint of pride, that so far he’s maintained a 92.4 percent voting-attendance record while juggling Congressional and presidential duties. “That’s more than some Members who are not president of a trans-Atlantic organization,” he chuckled.