Three Eastern Partnership neighbours in the South Caucasus

The EU’s Eastern Partnership policy, adopted in 2009, covers six post-Soviet states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. It was created to support political, social and economic reform efforts in these countries with the aim of increasing democratisation and good governance, energy security, environmental protection, and economic and social development. All the members (except Belarus whose membership is suspended) are part of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

The European Parliament has a Delegation for relations with the South Caucasus, which oversees the Parliamentary Association Committee (PAC) with Georgia, the Parliamentary Partnership Committee (PPC) with Armenia and the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee (PCC) with Azerbaijan, and monitors the work of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia (EUSR).

Georgia

Georgia’s presidential election in 2018 and parliamentary elections in 2016 saw the victory of the Georgian Dream (GD) coalition and the confirmation of the country’s Euro-Atlantic orientation. The EU-Georgia Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), entered into force in July 2016. Georgia has made major efforts in terms of aligning its legislation with EU standards, which led, inter alia, to the visa waivers for short stays in the Schengen area as of March 2017. The EU is Georgia’s top trading partner, representing some 27% of its total trade (2018). EU financial support focuses on economic development, good governance, movement of people and education. Under the European Neighbourhood Instrument, funds for the 2017-2020 period are estimated at between EUR 371 and EUR 453 million.

Georgian democracy is still experiencing a major polarisation of politics (which is also reflected in the media landscape), with persistent tensions between the governing coalition and the opposition, amid recurrent accusations of selective justice and politically motivated anti-corruption campaigns. This polarisation has been further exacerbated by the 2017-2018 constitutional reform process. This process has nevertheless resulted in successful completion of the evolution of the Georgian political system towards a parliamentary system with full proportional representation from 2024, and has been assessed positively in this regard by both the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the EU.

Faced with Russia’s slow but continuing annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgians have pinned their hopes on moving closer to the EU and NATO. The EU has stressed the importance of peacefully resolving the impasse in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, while respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity. The EU supports the conflict resolution efforts made through the work of the EUSR, the EU Monitoring Mission and the EU Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace, thus complementing the Geneva International Discussions. The annual EU-Georgia Strategic Security Dialogue is a sign of trust in relations between the two sides. Georgia has also made significant contributions to several EU common security and defence policy (CSDP) operations, based on a framework agreement for Georgia’s participation, which entered into force in 2014.

A. The European Parliament’s position and interparliamentary cooperation

The eighth meeting of the EU-Georgia PAC took place in March 2019. A final statement and recommendations were adopted at the meeting, highlighting progress on harmonisation and ongoing reforms, while calling for further efforts in areas including the independence and efficiency of the judiciary, labour law and non-discrimination. The text also reiterated the European Parliament’s unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders. In its November 2018 resolution on the implementation of the association agreement, Parliament welcomed the ‘sustained reform track and progress made’ in implementing the agreement and the DCFTA.

B. Election observation

Georgia has hosted delegations from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR), which includes Members of the European Parliament and monitors the country’s parliamentary, presidential and local elections. The 2016 parliamentary elections were assessed as broadly democratic and fair, despite some procedural irregularities and allegations of intimidation. The GD party won, securing the ‘constitutional majority’ (75% of MPs) required to pass an amendment to the constitution. The 2018 presidential elections received criticism from the OSCE and the EU for the misuse of administrative resources, the severe polarisation of the private media and negative campaigning.

Armenia

Armenia’s relations with the EU are ambivalent, but the time for a new start may have come. On the one hand, Armenia decided to join the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia shortly before that Union came into effect on 1 January 2015, thus ending the negotiation process on an association agreement with the EU. On the other hand, negotiations on a new EU-Armenia agreement, based on EU values but compatible with Yerevan’s new obligations vis-à-vis the EAEU, were launched in December 2015, and thanks to the pragmatism shown by both sides, they led to the swift conclusion of a Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA). The agreement has been provisionally applied since June 2018, pending ratification by all the EU Member States.

The political situation in Armenia changed radically in May 2018, when peaceful street protests against the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) government brought the opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan to power (the ‘Velvet Revolution’). The snap parliamentary elections of December 2018 resulted in a landslide victory for the new prime minister’s bloc, with over 70% of the vote, while the RPA failed to reach the 5% threshold for entering parliament, showing the level of popular support for change. The new government faces numerous challenges, in particular as regards economic development, and in its reform agenda in the area of the rule of law, transparency and the fight against corruption. EU support to Armenia is mainly provided under the European Neighbourhood Instrument, with an indicative allocation of between EUR 144 million and EUR 176 million envisaged for 2017-2020.

Armenia has been involved in a protracted conflict with Azerbaijan over the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region for over 30 years, with tensions reaching their highest point since 1994 during the ‘four-day war’ in April 2016. Relations with Turkey are distant, as the latter makes the re-opening of its border with Armenia conditional on progress in resolving the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The EU has welcomed the recent exchanges between the presidents and foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia and the introduction of measures to reduce tensions along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border and the Karabakh-Azerbaijan line of contact.

A. The European Parliament’s position and interparliamentary cooperation

The European Parliament gave its consent to the CEPA in July 2018, with an accompanying resolution in which it also applauded the people of Armenia for the peaceful transition of power. In line with the CEPA, the Parliamentary Cooperation Committee (PCC) has been transformed into a Parliamentary Partnership Committee (PPC). The inaugural meeting took place in October 2018. The resulting joint statement focused in particular on CEPA implementation, democracy, rule of law and good governance issues, and on regional security challenges. In April 2015, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the centenary of the Armenian genocide.

B. Election observation

Armenia has hosted Members of the European Parliament — as part of OSCE ODIHR election observation missions — on a number of occasions, including the country’s snap parliamentary elections in 2018. The organisation of elections in Armenia has significantly improved. The 2018 elections were judged positively, as being well-organised and with minimal irregularities, and the European Parliament delegation observed a major drop in electoral malpractice.

Azerbaijan

Negotiations for a ‘comprehensive agreement’ between the EU and Azerbaijan were launched in February 2017. The new agreement will address political, trade, energy and other specific issues, including conditions for the possible establishment of a future visa-free regime. It should include provisions on common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and non-CFSP matters, including robust provisions on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. The EU is Azerbaijan’s key trade partner, representing more than 40% of the country’s total trade (2018), mainly due to oil exports to the EU. Azerbaijan’s energy exports to the EU are likely to increase further after the completion of the Southern Gas Corridor project, which aims to bring gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe.

Azerbaijan ranks 149th out of 167 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2018 Democracy Index and is classified as ‘not free’ in the 2018 Freedom in the World report. President Ilham Aliyev, currently serving his fourth term, succeeded his father, Heydar Aliyev, in 2003. In 2016, the constitution was amended, inter alia to extend the presidential term from five to seven years and to create the post of First Vice-President. In 2017, the President appointed his own wife to this post.

Azerbaijan has been involved in a protracted conflict with Armenia over the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh region for over 30 years, with tensions reaching their highest point since 1994 during the ‘four-day war’ in April 2016. The EU gives unwavering support to the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs and their 2009 Basic Principles, with the aim of resolving the conflict in a peaceful manner.

A. The European Parliament’s position and interparliamentary cooperation

The European Parliament has repeatedly expressed concern with regard to the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. In a 2015 resolution, Parliament called on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately end their crackdown on civil society and human rights work. Imprisoned activist Leyla Yunus was released in 2015 following intense European Parliament lobbying and humanitarian/health support. In a 2017 resolution, Parliament condemned the abduction and detention of Azeri journalist Afgan Mukhtarli and expressed concern about the situation of media in Azerbaijan. In January 2019, Parliament passed a resolution calling for the immediate release of Mehman Huseynov, an anti-corruption blogger, and other political prisoners. Huseynov was pardoned in March 2019 together with several other bloggers, journalists, and representatives of political parties and NGOs.

Official interparliamentary relations were resumed in 2016 after a four-year break. The 15th EU-Azerbaijan PCC took place in Baku in May 2018 and concluded with a joint declaration stressing in particular the potential for closer economic relations with the launch of negotiations on a new agreement, the importance of the Southern Gas Corridor, the importance of progress in the areas of human rights and freedoms, democracy and the rule of law, and the need to find a peaceful and lasting settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as soon as possible. Parliament passed a resolution in July 2018 on the negotiations on the new bilateral agreement, which stressed that the deepening of relations was conditional upon Azerbaijan upholding and respecting the core values and principles of democracy, the rule of law, good governance, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

B. Election observation

Azerbaijan has hosted Members of the European Parliament as part of OSCE ODIHR electoral missions. However, in view of the fact that all the country’s elections observed by those missions were deemed to fall short of international requirements, and recommendations still have to be implemented, Parliament decided not to send observers to the 2015 parliamentary elections or the 2018 presidential elections. The ODIHR mission to the 2018 presidential elections stated that the elections ‘took place within a restrictive political environment and under a legal framework that curtails fundamental rights and freedoms, which are prerequisites for genuine democratic elections’.

 

Michal Jiráček