MEPs made progress on energy security, economic reform and human rights when they met their counterparts from the EU's Eastern Partners in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 2-4 April. This was the second ordinary plenary session of Euronest, a forum to promote political and economic integration between the EU and Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Bulgarian Social-Democrat MEP Kristian Vigenin, co-president of the assembly, told us about the results achieved.
The Euronest interparliamentary adopted resolutions on common energy security threats, strengthening the role of parliaments, EU support for Eastern Partners' structural economic and public administration reforms, the empowerment of civil society and the need to give Ukraine's former prime-minister Yulia Tymoshenko proper healthcare. Participants also discussed human rights.
We asked Mr Vigenin about what happened during the Euronest meeting.
What are the results of the Euronest meeting?
We had a very successful meeting and not only because we adopted four reports on human rights, energy, trade and social affairs. We learned the lessons of the first plenary assembly last year, when no agreements were reached, but this time we managed to create an environment where decisions and compromises could be made. We also approved changes to our rules of procedure to improve our work and adopted an appeal to the Ukrainian authorities to grant the necessary medical treatment of Yulia Tymoshenko.
Azerbaijan also hosts the Eurovision song contest this year, but at the same time it is usually criticised for its poor human rights record. How do you see the situation?
The human rights situation is not perfect in this country. It has to be improved. The authorities understand that and are working on it, but I would like to see more commitment to this end. I hope that the report we have adopted on strengthening democracy, human rights and media freedom will also move things forward, not only in Azerbaijan, but in all of our partner countries and in the EU as well.
At the closing press conference, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was a recurrent topic. Can Euronest help to resolve this issue?
Euronest is not the body to solve this conflict. There is an internationally recognised format - the Minsk group - to do this. But Euronest is building an environment in which more trust and opportunities for dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan could be created. In the assembly our Eastern Partners, including Azeris and Armenians, need to communicate and work together. For the next plenary session of the assembly to be held in Brussels in 2013 we are drafting a report on the security challenges in the eastern neighbourhood and the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be avoided. This conflict is an open wound in South Caucasus. Finding a solution is not an easy task, but I know that if there is a will, there will be a way.
The assembly decided to extend the mandate of the Belarus working group to help democratisation in the country. Do you expect any progress soon?
The working group has to continue its work. It listens to the representatives of the opposition and also tries to establish contacts with the government. I hope that the upcoming elections will give a glimmer of hope that soon we will be able to invite parliamentarians from Belarus to our assembly. Euronest is not complete without Belarus but they can only join if the elections meet at least to some extent the international standards for free and fair elections.