Charting a path towards a new Europe: the Charter of Paris
In November 1990, just weeks after the reunification of Germany, 34 Heads of State or Government met in Paris to shape a new Europe.
The States, including former adversaries belonging to NATO and the Warsaw Pact, declared the end of the Cold War and agreed that the Europe of the future would be based on the principles of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms, economic liberty, and equal security for all countries. On the sidelines of the Summit, 22 states signed the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty establishing ceilings for military weapons and equipment.
While the Paris Charter heralded the advent of "democracy, peace and unity in Europe” and declared that “the era of confrontation and division of Europe has ended,” leaders also cautioned about the challenges ahead.
As U.S. President George Bush put it, “today, as old political divisions disappear, other sources of tension – some ancient, some new – are emerging. National disputes persist. Abuses of minority and human rights continue.”
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev cautioned about “succumbing to impermissible euphoria should we conclude that by achieving the great accomplishment of having virtually eliminated the threat of a major war in Europe, we thought that we had totally ruled out the possibility of conflict on the continent.”
Other leaders warned of the ethnic tensions simmering in the Balkans and that economic divisions between East and West risked replacing political ones. So while Paris represented a historic moment, a secure and free Europe was still very much a work in progress.
Within a year, the USSR had collapsed and conflict had engulfed the former Yugoslav states. But the commitments signed in Paris not only established a vision of Europe for all States to work towards – however difficult that path would prove to be – but it gave the OSCE a toolbox to help them get there, including the establishment of the Conflict Prevention Centre in Vienna and the Office for Free Elections in Warsaw (now the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights).