Foreign Affairs MEPs back closer EU - South Caucasus ties and encourage reforms
A delegation of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, led by its Chair David McAllister (EPP, DE), visited Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia on 22-26 May.
The MEPs met with the authorities, opposition and civil society in the three countries to assess relations with the EU, including new Agreements, to encourage reforms, to fight against corruption and defend Human Rights and fundamental freedoms. The Members encouraged the EU’s partners to solve the protracted conflicts in the region in the framework of the existing mediation formats.
"This was an intense and very productive mission during which we reaffirmed our strong interparliamentary ties with the countries of the South Caucasus. At the same time, we passed a very clear message: the European Parliament supports the deepening of relations with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, to increase trade and sectorial cooperation, but we are equally as attentive to our common values - such as democracy, the rule of law, good governance, the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms” said Mr. McAllister after the visit.
MEPs met the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, the Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan. In all three countries, they also met the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the Speakers or Vice Speakers of Parliament, the Chairs of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Members from the ruling parties and from the opposition, civil society representatives and human rights activists, as well as representatives of international organisations. In addition, they visited a settlement for IDPs and refugees in Azerbaijan, the administrative line with South Ossetia in Georgia and, in Armenia, the Genocide Memorial and an EU funded project supporting vocational training.
In Azerbaijan, Members noted that their visit was a demonstration of the resumption of an open and frank dialogue between the European Parliament and the Milli Mejlis. They reminded that the European Parliament is closely following the negotiations of the new EU-Azerbaijan agreement and that, once the negotiations are over, the European Parliament will be asked to give its consent to the deal. They emphasised that the parts of the agreement on common values are equally as important as the parts on trade and sectorial cooperation. In particular, they encouraged the authorities to implement the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and swiftly release all political activists and human rights defenders. They also discussed recent legislation which limits the funding of NGOs and the situation surrounding some media outlets that are experiencing difficulties in Azerbaijan - such as Meydan TV and Radio Free Europe.
In Georgia, the Members welcomed the deepening of EU-Georgian relations and underlined that Georgia is the front-runner in the Eastern Partnership. They noted that the reforms taking place are impressive and welcomed the ongoing work on the implementation of the Association Agreement. At the same time, the Members encouraged the government to continue with the reform efforts, especially the reform of the Judiciary, the fight against corruption and the protection of minorities. They also discussed the constitutional amendments, which are expected to bring major changes, including to the electoral system, and welcomed the fact that the government is consulting the Venice Commission. They supported a broad consultation, with the opposition and civil society, so that these major reforms are as inclusive as possible. Finally, the Members reaffirmed the EU’s support to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In Armenia, the Members discussed the new EU-Armenia agreement - to which the EP will also have to give its consent. They noted that Armenia is also a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and therefore that this new agreement is the demonstration that the Eastern Partnership is not a zero-sum game, in competition against other regional actors. They encouraged the next government to implement the necessary reforms such as the reform of the judiciary, fight against corruption and anti-discrimination. They highlighted that improving the business climate and creating economic growth opportunities to boost employment – especially of the young Armenians – is a strong expectation from the society and that the implementation of the recommendations of the election observers is also a priority. Finally, they encouraged the authorities to launch deep reforms on issues including domestic violence, media freedom, labour rights, gender equality and the rights of minorities, to involve the civil society in the process and to ensure impartial, credible and effective investigation of all alleged human rights violations.
On the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Members reminded that the status quo is unsustainable, that the conflict does not have a military solution and needs an early political settlement in accordance with international law. “The EU continues to fully support the mediation efforts and proposals of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs,” they said.
The EU is currently reshaping its relationship with Armenia and Azerbaijan through new agreements for which the negotiations have just ended (Armenia) or just started (Azerbaijan) and to which the EP will be asked to give its consent. The MEPs’ visit will feed into the European Parliament’s resolutions on these agreements to be drawn up later this year. The EU has recently agreed to a visa liberalisation regime with Georgia to allow its citizens to travel without visa to the EU (except U.K. and Ireland) for up to 90 days. In all three countries, the EU provides financial assistance notably to support reform efforts as well the civil society.
In addition to Mr McAllister, the EP’s delegation was composed of seven MEPs, representing all of the 6 largest political groups in Parliament: Mr László Tokes (EPP, HU), Ms Željana Zovko (EPP, HR), Mr Andrejs Mamikins (S&D, LV), Mr Angel Dzhambazki (ECR, BG), Mr Ivo Vajgl (ALDE, SI), Mr Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL, DE) and Ms. Heidi Hautala (Greens, FI).
Gediminas Vilkas - Press officer (in Brussels)
Gulnara Bayranova - Press officer (in Baku)
Ms Tamriko Mikadze - Press Officer (in Tbilisi)
Anahit Azatyan - Press officer (in Yerevan)
Julien Crampes - Adviser to the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Marta Udina - Adviser to the Director General