Time to take stock of Euronest experience

Azerbaijan, to its detriment, is turning away from the founding principles of the Eastern partnership.

Recent developments in the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood have served to highlight the many different forces at play across the region that in some cases are drawing certain neighbourhood countries closer to Europe while pushing others further away. The May 2015 Eastern partnership summit in Riga confirmed that the partnership still has significance and a role to play despite ongoing differences.

It is useful to perhaps refresh our memories of the partnership’s founding principles and commitments. On 7 May 2009 in Prague, the founding members declared that the Eastern partnership “will be based on commitments to the principles of international law and to fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as to market economy, sustainable development and good governance”.

Today I cannot emphasise enough the importance of those words. Economic prosperity and social progress are linked to the consolidation of the fundamental values in functioning institutions. The perspective of economic cooperation between the EU and the Eastern partners parallels this.

The reality of the Eastern partnership is that the three countries with EU association agreements; Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, now form a “coalition of the willing” which deservedly expect to receive the full attention of the EU in accordance with the “more for more” principle. It is no easy task to transpose, implement and monitor 300-400 EU legal instruments. Success will largely depend on whether reforms can lead to fundamental changes.

In this spirit I welcomed the agreement between the Georgian, Ukrainian and Moldovan parliaments to support each other in the implementation work. The Euronest parliamentary assembly will enhance this cooperation by hosting an open conference on 10 December in the European parliament jointly with Open Society Foundations. MEPs have valuable experience of incorporating EU instruments into national legislation and therefore can be of great help. To date, too little practical parliamentary experience has been utilised in the sphere of the Eastern partnership.

The fact that these three countries are now in their own category, does not meant that the three other Eastern partner countries should just be left to drift away. The European commission’s practical support to the justice sector reforms across all the Eastern partners is vital for the successful development of other sectors.

Armenia rejected the association path in 2013, but it is now negotiating a new agreement. Releasing six political prisoners, Belarus has signalled that it is ready for closer cooperation with the EU. This has not gone unnoticed by the European parliament. However, the events over the past year show it is too early to draw any conclusions.

The developments in Azerbaijan have not been left unnoticed by the EP either. The recent urgent resolution focuses on the ever deteriorating human rights situation, in particular on the increasing number of political prisoners and crackdown of the civil society.

Now that Baku, with its angry reaction to the parliament’s resolution, seems ready to leave Euronest, it is also turning away from the very principles of international law and fundamental values to which it committed itself as a founding member of Eastern partnership. This will only be to the detriment of the Azeri people. In its resolution, the parliament said that the welfare of people, including the respect of rights and freedoms, is the prerequisite of sustainable economic growth.

People’s welfare, rights and freedoms should be at the core of any new bilateral partnership agreement. Together with Euronest’s co-president Victor Dolidze, we regret Baku’s exit plan and have expressed our willingness to discuss the situation openly with our colleagues in Milli Majlis, the Azerbaijani parliament.

Published in Parliament Magazine’s regional review October 2015