L-r: Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Erich Honecker, First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Gerald Ford President of the United States, Bruno Kreisky, Chancellor of Austria, Helsinki, 1 August 1975. (Bundesarchiv/Horst Sturm)
The OSCE traces its origins to the détente phase of the early 1970s, when the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE) was created to serve as a multilateral forum for dialogue and negotiation between East and West.
Meeting over two years in Helsinki and Geneva, the CSCE reached agreement on the Helsinki Final Act, which was signed on 1 August 1975. This document contained a number of key commitments on polito-military, economic and environmental and human rights issues that became central to the so-called 'Helsinki process'. It also established ten fundamental principles (the 'Decalogue') governing the behaviour of States towards their citizens, as well as towards each other.
Until 1990, the CSCE functioned mainly as a series of meetings and conferences that built on and extended the participating States' commitments, while periodically reviewing their implementation. However, with the end of the Cold War, the Paris Summit of November 1990 set the CSCE on a new course. In the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the CSCE was called upon to play its part in managing the historic change taking place in Europe and responding to the new challenges of the post-Cold War period, which led to its acquiring permanent institutions and operational capabilities.
As part of this institutionalization process, the name was changed from the CSCE to the OSCE by a decision of the Budapest Summit of Heads of State or Government in December 1994.