Thursday, October 20, 2011

Council of Europe legal specialists condemn Belarus on NGO freedom


The Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters – better known as the Venice Commission – strongly criticised Belarus for its treatment of non-government organisations (NGOs).

During its plenary session in Venice on 14-15 October, the Commission noted that in the last ten years, almost all human rights NGOs were stripped of their status.

The Venice Commission also deplored a recent modification of Article 193-1 of the Belarus criminal code that represses freedom of association, with the threat of two years incarceration.

Belarusian legislators had approved a package of amendments that significantly expand KGB powers – including the right to enter homes – in addition to banning foreign financing of NGOs. Once the bill is signed into law, security officers will be authorised to break into organisations, as well as residential homes, if they believe a crime was or is being committed or a criminal suspect is hiding inside.

Belarus has been criticised often by the Council of Europe as the only European country which still uses the death penalty.


Source: Council of Europe. Published in strasbourg on 17 October 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The first Ordinary Session of the Euronest PA in September


FIRST ORDINARY SESSION

Thursday 15 September 2011
9:00 - 11:50 hrs
Strasbourg


DRAFT AGENDA

Formal opening by Mr Jerzy BUZEK, President of the European Parliament,with an address by Mr Štefan FÜLE, Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

1. Adoption of draft agenda

2. Approval of minutes of the constituent session of 3 May 2011 in Brussels

3. Exchange of views with Mr Janusz LEWANDOWSKI, Commissioner on Budget and with Mrs Cecilia MALMSTRÖM, Commissioner on Justice, Liberty and Security

4. Discussion and adoption of a Resolution with recommendations to the EaP Summit meeting on 29-30 September 2011 in Warsaw

5. Discussion and adoption of a Declaration on Belarus

6. Discussion and adoption of the Euronest Work Plan for 2011-2012, including the activities of the Standing Committees and the Working Groups

Monday, July 11, 2011

'Stop The Dictatorship' -- An Interview With Georgian Opposition Figure Nino Burjanadze

With her perfectly coiffed hair, controlled manners, and impeccable clothes, Nino Burjanadze has the appearance of a stern yet kindly schoolteacher.

But the 47-year old lawyer and former parliamentary speaker is actually one of the most controversial opposition figures in Georgia at the moment. And she does not blush about it for a second.

Rather than presenting a mea culpa for all of the questionable moves she has made in recent years, she instead wants to tell what she calls "the truth" about her political foe -- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili -- and the political climate he has created in her country.

Speaking to RFE/RL during a recent visit to Brussels, Burjanadze didn't mince her words, describing the Georgian president as "Europe's new dictator" who is in total control of the media, the judiciary, and the police.

"I think Georgia is not a reliable partner of the European Union right now," she said. "And even worse, the situation in Georgia is getting worse every day."

Relationship Deteriorated

But Burjanadze was not always this critical of the current political elite. Promoted to the role of speaker of the Georgian parliament in 2001 by the previous Georgian leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, she was instrumental in paving the way for the Rose Revolution that swept away her former patron two years later and ushered Saakashvili into power.

She stayed on as speaker until 2008, embracing Saakashvili's reforms and his desire to integrate the country with NATO and the European Union.

Her close affiliation with the president deteriorated in 2008 after what she claimed was the stalled democratization process in the country, as well as what she believes was Saakashvili's mishandling of the August war with Russia over South Ossetia the same year.

But critics allege that Burjanadze really quit because her allies did not get as many places on the ruling United National Movement's party list in the May 2008 parliamentary elections.

Burjanadze resigned shortly after those elections and formed her own party, Democratic Movement-United Georgia, turning into a vociferous critic of the government. Despite polling at only 2 percent, Burjanadze is still making headlines in Georgia with periodic noisy street protests. The government has countered her activities with what she described as a "campaign of terror."

"Everybody knows that all telephones are [being listened to]," she said. "Everybody knows that if you express different views from the government you might lose your job. If you are an active member of the opposition you may find in your pocket drugs or a gun and you might be in jail for many months or even years because there is no independent judiciary in the country."

Numerous Scandals

Her clean-cut image has also been tarnished by numerous scandals in recent years.

Several members of her party have been arrested for attempting to overthrow the government, and her husband Badri Bitsadze recently fled the country after being accused of employing paramilitary troops in an antigovernment rebellion. There are also persistent rumors of her being a Russian quisling, receiving indirect money from Moscow.

The biggest controversy occurred in May when Burjanadze organized street protests with the stated aim of removing Saakashvili from power. The demonstrators were given a permit to hold rallies in downtown Tbilisi from May 21 until midnight on May 25. A military parade to mark Georgia's Independence Day was scheduled for May 26.

But Burjanadze and her allies refused to disperse, even when the authorities offered them an alternative venue in the center of the city, saying they intended to prevent the military parade from taking place.

The police began to suppress the protests with tear gas and rubber bullets after midnight on May 25. Some of the demonstrators appeared intent on provoking violence, attacking police with sticks and metal pipes.

Two people were killed in the subsequent chaos. The government quickly pointed the finger at Burjanadze, claiming that the deaths occurred when a car in which she was traveling sped through a group of people -- a story she dismissed with a wave of the hand.

"Without any proof and without any evidence the government immediately [said] that my son was driving the car and that this was my car," she said. "I am calling [for] an international investigation. I am ready to give any information to an independent investigation committee."

Eerie Similarities

The events of May 2011 are eerily similar to a crackdown on protesters that occurred in November 2007. The difference is that she, as the speaker of parliament and a Saakashvili ally then, endorsed the government's violent response. She strongly condemned the authorities' handling of the recent protests.

Burjanadze is keen to dispel the similarities and her apparent flip-flopping on the issue. Armed with maps, photos, and videos showing the police breaking up the demonstration, she explained how protesters were surrounded on all sides by riot police. She said the government simply wanted to "punish the people."

She also defended her actions as speaker in 2007.

"First of all, when I was a speaker of the parliament and there was a crackdown of the demonstrators, I opened the door to the parliament and gave the possibility for people to enter in the parliament building to survive from the gas and police," she said. "I supported at that time investigation about excessive force and I signed a special decree in the parliament that the investigation commission should be established and investigate excessive force."

In the same fashion, she defended herself against other accusations leveled against her.

She brushed off her alleged Russian connection, despite the fact that she has traveled to Moscow to meet with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, both of whom have expressed a desire to see Saakashvili overthrown.

'This Is Bringing Nothing'

Claiming that Saakashvili's policies toward Tbilisi's mighty neighbor to the north has only brought about the loss of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Burjanadze said she favors closer ties with both Russia and other allies in the West.

"Ignorance of Russia did not bring anything good for my country," she said. "One thing is that you have to try to find a right language to protect your country's interest. Another thing is not to speak with the people whom you don't want to speak. This is bringing nothing."

When it came to her husband, who is allegedly hiding from the Georgian justice system abroad, she was equally combative.

"They want to keep my husband as a hostage in jail to push me to change my political motivation or not to continue my struggle," she said.

She also suggested that Georgia risks descending into the same type of bloodshed witnessed during uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East.

"One day in Georgia if things will continue like that in any case there will be an explosion," she said, "but it will be similar to the Middle East right now. It is dangerous for the country's stability and this might bring bloodshed. So we have to stop the dictatorship right now."

By Rikard Jozwiak. Published on 7 July 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/georgia_nino_burjanadze_/24258110.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, June 20, 2011

With Economy In Free Fall, Belarusian President Running Out Of Options

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka seems to be running out of options. Rapidly.

Minsk applied to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout of up to $8 billion, that on top of the $3.5 billion the fund provided following the 2008 global financial crisis and the $3.5 billion package that the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Community pledged last month. China has also provided about $1 billion in trade credits.

The latest request to the IMF comes as the country scrapes the bottom of its hard-currency reserves, experiences growing double-digit inflation, and watches the national currency lose value by the day.

The meltdown was sparked largely by increases in the rates Minsk must pay for Russian energy and a lavish, populist campaign of public spending that Lukashenka rolled out in the run-up to the December 2010 presidential election.

The IMF might offer Belarus a lifeline, but the conditions will be harsh, says Matthew Rojansky, the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program of the Carnegie Endowment.

"A bailout should be possible, as long as the necessary nonpolitical conditions can be imposed. But I think the IMF would take in some ways a similar approach as the Eurasian Economic Community in demanding that there is proof of action before the money gets released," Rojansky says. "It would be foolish for them to do otherwise, to give Lukashenka even the first tranche, which he would use to prolong his short-term survival and then probably maneuver for some other alternative without undertaking the necessary reforms."

Bitter Medicine

An IMF team wound up a visit to Minsk on June 13, warning Lukashenka that "structural reforms" must be implemented if Belarus hoped to receive further assistance. Such reforms would break his vise grip on the Belarusian economy. The Bloomberg news agency ran a stark headline on June 14 that encapsulates the situation: "Lukashenka Must Choose Between Belarus Control or IMF Aid."

The head of the IMF team in Belarus, Chris Jarvis, told reporters in Minsk that any new assistance would be contingent upon "a strong program" that addressed the deficiencies of Belarus's state-dominated economy. "We would also have to be sure that all actors -- the president, government, and national bank -- are committed to that program," Jarvis said.

And that has long been a problem in a country that has been autocratically ruled by Lukashenka for 17 years. Yury Shautsou, director of the Minsk-based Center for Problems of European Integration, says the economists in the National Bank have trouble implementing their policy suggestions.

Shautsou says that while there are "some very good people" in the National Bank and Finance Ministry, he has "spoken to many of them and they say, 'We prepare good documents but then the presidential administration issues instructions or orders that say the exact opposite thing.' This raises the question of who is making decisions about the Belarusian economy."

A Threat To Lukashenka?

The economic situation in Belarus -- which is a relatively small and isolated economy -- is increasingly presenting political challenges to the Lukashenka government. In addition to a sweeping crackdown since December against the political opposition that has provoked the ire of the West, Belarusian security forces have put down numerous protests sparked by the crisis.

On June 12, police in Hrodna forcibly dispersed a demonstration of drivers who were protesting draconian new rules imposing customs fees on cars leaving the country with more than 5 liters of gasoline more than once every five days. On June 14, Lukashenka vowed to "strike hard" against any further public protests in the country.

Economist Anders Aslund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said in an interview posted on the institute's website that the Belarusian meltdown presents more of a political problem than an economic one for the country's neighbors.

Aslund said that while Belarus was "not sufficiently important" to threaten a regional economic contagion and the country that most concerned is Russia, which "can easily take it. So, if there would be a contagion, it would be political. It would be like the Arab Spring, and it could go to Ukraine and to Russia, because Lukashenka can not take this politically."

Aslund sees the crisis as similar to the collapse of the state-centered economic model of the Soviet Union.

Analyst Rojansky agrees that the economic meltdown is likely the beginning of the end of Lukashenka's rule in Belarus, although he avoids saying the president's departure is imminent. Nonetheless he urges the West and Russia to begin planning for a post-Lukashenka Belarus.

He says that although Russia's oligarchs are pushing hard for the opportunity to buy up Belarusian state assets at fire-sale prices, Moscow's long-term interests in the country are similar to the West's.

Rojansky says Russia and the West "can agree that we don't want a humanitarian crisis. We can agree that if there is real political instability in Belarus -- even if we don't agree on what the outcome should be -- that we don't want violence and we don't want to be reacting to one another in the kind of hostile way that you saw around the Georgia crisis in 2008."




By Robert Coalson. Published on 14 June 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/economy_in_crisis_belarus_president_running_out_of_options/24234827.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Viktor Yanukovych and Serzh Sargsyan among leading figures to address PACE summer session

Strasbourg, 10.06.2011 – Addresses by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (Tuesday 21) and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan (Wednesday 22) will be among highlights of the summer plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg on 20-24 June 2011.

Support for fledgling Arab democracies will be the main theme on Tuesday, when the parliamentarians will decide on the Moroccan Parliament’s request for “Partner for Democracy” status with the Assembly, followed by statements from the Speakers of both chambers of the Parliament, Abdelwahed Radi and Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah. Tunisian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohamed Mouldi Kefi will also take part in a debate on the situation in Tunisia.

This will be followed by a joint debate on sharing responsibilities for asylum seekers and refugees in Europe, and on the interception and rescue at sea of asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants. A number of refugees and asylum seekers who have come together to form a “living library” will be present during session week to share their personal experiences.

Wednesday sees a debate on follow-up to the report of the Council of Europe Group of Eminent Persons “Living together in 21st century Europe”. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov will also address the Assembly on the same day.

On Thursday, the Assembly holds its biennial debate on the state of human rights in Europe. German Federal Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and the Attorney General for England and Wales Dominic Grieve will take part in a joint debate on national parliaments as guarantors of human rights in Europe, and on the role of parliaments in the consolidation and development of social rights in Europe. This will be followed by the ceremony to award the Parliamentary Assembly’s Human Rights Prize for 2011 to the Russian NGO “Committee against Torture”.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko will present the Communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly on Monday afternoon, and answer questions from parliamentarians. On Wednesday, there will also be a debate on reform of the Assembly.

 
Source:PACE. Published in Strasbourg on 10 June 2010

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ukraine - the case of YuliaTymoshenko

The Group of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament announced that it will not support the proposed, EPP initiated joint resolution on the case of the former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko later today.

Its Vice-President Hannes Swoboda stressed that the Ukrainian authorities must of course avoid any perception that judicial measures are used selectively, and confirmed that also the S&D Group insists that a maximum transparency of investigations, prosecutions and trials must be guaranteed; in particular where it concerns leading politicians who are in opposition to the government.

"The European integration process is of the greatest importance for the pursuance of economic, social and political reforms in Ukraine", said Mr. Swoboda, "and respect for the rule of law, incorporating fair, impartial and independent legal processes is for our Group a prerequisite for the further development of relations between the EU and Ukraine".

"But this also means that all political forces inside and outside Ukraine must refrain from any interference in the work of the country's judicial authorities", said Mr. Swoboda.

Mr. Swoboda welcomed the approval of the law against corruption by the Verkhovna Rada and stressed that all political forces in Ukraine should cooperate with the authorities to take care of its full and impartial implementation as from 1 July 2011.

"The European Union should assist the government of Ukraine in its further efforts to bring about the necessary reform of the judiciary system in the country. The resolution which is now presented to the European Parliament does, however, not reflect this willingness to make a joint effort to bring about the necessary reforms in Ukraine" said Mr. Swoboda.

The S&D Group in the European Parliament will continue to keep a critical eye on the internal developments in the country, but also wants to express its clear support for the Ukrainian decision to go the European way.



Source: S&D. Published on 9 June 2011.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Moldova’s local elections largely met international standards, but remaining legal and regulatory issues need to be considered, observers say

Moldova’s local elections largely met OSCE and Council of Europe election-related commitments, in conditions conducive to a competitive campaign and offering voters a genuine choice, international observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities concluded in a statement issued today.

However, the observers noted that remaining legal, administrative and regulatory issues need to be further considered in order to ensure continued forward progress.

“Electoral participants noted much more equitable opportunities to reach voters as part of a competitive campaign, but improvements in the regulation of political financing would further benefit the electoral process,” said Gerald Mitchell, the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Limited Election Observation Mission. “A more concerted effort to introduce a centralized electronic voter register would also further improve the process.”

“Voters in this election clearly benefitted from a wide range of options,” said Britt Marie Lövgren, the Head of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities delegation. “But the competencies of local authorities in election administration need to be clearer. If they are in charge of important aspects of election administration, this must be clear in law and they must be given the necessary resources.”

The observers found that the candidate registration process was inclusive and provided voters with a genuine choice. Media covered the election campaign through a variety of formats, including editorial broadcasts, debates and paid advertising, offering voters a broad range of information about contestants and their programmes.

The legal framework provides a sound basis for the conduct of democratic elections, and the election administration performed in a transparent and professional manner overall, perceived as impartial by the majority of stakeholders.

However, the postponement of the introduction of a centralized electronic voter register meant that voter lists were again prepared by local authorities. As in previous elections, this resulted in concerns over their accuracy. The ongoing problem of unclear residency provisions to designate proper place of voting underscored these difficulties.

Also, mechanisms for the oversight of political financing are insufficiently developed and lacking in precision and adequate enforcement. A lack of clarity over the division of competencies among different levels and bodies of government also raised concerns over the provision of clear and sufficient funding to allow them to carry out their respective tasks.

Election day procedures, including voting and counting, proceeded calmly and were conducted in a generally orderly and transparent manner.


Source: OSCE. Published on 6 June 2011 in Chisinqu.

Friday, May 27, 2011

“A new response to a changing Neighbourhood”

STATEMENT by Mr Kristan VIGENIN, Co-President of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly and Chairman of the EP Delegation to the Euronest PA on the occasion of the publication of the Joint Communication by the European Commission and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on “A new response to a changing Neighbourhood”


Mr VIGENIN congratulated the Commission and the High Representative on the new communication, which presents a re-adapted strategic approach to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).

The commitment to work together towards "deep democracy", as one of the main priorities in the document, will bring more clarity on the goals and the road ahead in the relations with our neighbours. There is a clear signal that not only the responsibility but also the accountability for the results achieved is shared.

With regard to the Eastern neighbourhood, it is essential that the Communication makes a reference to articles 8 and 49 of the Treaty on European Union. The Communication also focuses on the need for better tailoring of the partnership offer towards individual countries through the "more for more" approach. The membership perspective is a strong incentive for some of our partners in the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. It gives more added value to the strengthened cooperation with the EU and demands a deep commitment from our partners.

The drafting of annual reports on the progress of the neighbouring countries provides greater opportunities, both for the EP to play its key role in the assessment process and for the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly to have a fresh input to the monitoring and implementation of the main lines of the new ENP.

Mobility and people to people contacts; media freedom; support to political parties, NGOs and social partners will be main subjects of discussion in the Euronest bodies and I commend the Commission for setting out the partnership with civil society as a priority. This shows that we have learned our lesson from recent events in North Africa.

Finally, it is crucial for the Member States to understand that the new ENP will not be successful unless it is supported by the joint efforts of all EU institutions and countries. Individual actions would undermine the solid basis for a common EU strategy that has been presented in this document.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Interview: Moldovan Foreign Minister Reaffirms Policy Of European Integration

Moldovan Foreign Minister Iurie Leanca says that further integration with Europe is the only way forward for his country and the best way of resolving the long-standing frozen conflict in breakaway Transdniester.

Leanca visited RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague and participated in a wide-ranging conversation about his country's ambitions and the challenges it faces.

RFE/RL: The current ruling coalition came to power as a bloc largely against the Communist Party. How is it functioning now and does it actually stand for something?

Iurie Leanca: Having a coalition in power is a reflection, an expression of a certain maturity of the society. But from what I understand, a coalition, or the exercise to work or act in a coalition, is never a very easy exercise. We are in the Czech Republic and from what I understand, they also have a coalition government of three parties. And from what I understand it is not a very easy way of co-habitating. They have their own problems -- I don't know whether they are bigger or smaller than is the case with the Moldovan coalition, but these problems exist everywhere, from what I understand.

Now, the Moldovan coalition -- maybe in the first place it was against the Communists, but I think it is also a coalition in favor of something. And the most important objective is in favor of modernizing Moldova. It is not by accident that the coalition is called the Alliance for European Integration.

And I think that it unites us. Yes, there are differences, differences in terms of foreign policy. There are differences in terms of how to pursue economic policies or the social policies. Yes, there are animosities. Yes, there are rivalries and the [upcoming] local elections show that we are not exempt from any human feelings.

But look at the decision made by my party to withdraw its candidate for mayor of Chisinau and to support the current mayor, the incumbent one. It was not an easy decision. You might tell us it was a decision based on certain realities. Maybe. But we made this decision. We have proved we can, maybe, take a decision which is not very popular in our own party, but shows that we can really work for the interests of the country. Again, it is not an easy exercise but I think there are more elements which unite us than things which are problematic within the coalition.

Seeing The Positives In Eastern Partnership

RFE/RL: A lot of people have been skeptical about the European Union's Eastern Partnership and are saying that it has been largely pushed off the agenda. What is your view?

Leanca: By the way, it is quite interesting -- to some extent, maybe symbolic -- that my visit takes place almost two years after the launch of the Eastern Partnership initiative here in Prague in May 2009. Let me mention in the beginning that the then-Moldovan authorities were very unhappy with the fact that Moldova was included in the Eastern Partnership because they felt that Moldova deserves very special treatment and should be put somewhere together with the western Balkans in the same package.

And maybe there is some rationale in this attitude, but the problem is that during eight years they did everything possible and impossible in order to make the distance between us and Brussels bigger and not closer. When we started to work as a government, we proceeded from the understanding that this is a reality and we cannot change it.

And since it is a reality then we need to benefit from all those opportunities which were enshrined in this initiative once it was launched -- the association agreement and the visa-free-regime perspective and the so-called free-trade area and the common aviation space and the cooperation in energy. These elements are all envisaged in the Eastern Partnership.

And there is another very important principle which is very dear to us -- the principle of differentiation. Because if Belarus is not eager to join the EU or Azerbaijan, from what I understand, wants more like Switzerland's EU relationship and doesn't necessarily envision its membership -- that's their sovereign decision. In the case of Moldova -- again, I don't see another alternative, I don't see another viable option -- therefore, this principle of differentiation should be applied. And that's what we discuss with our European Union friends.

I don't see, by the way, it's not my impression that the Eastern Partnership has become a less important initiative. No, on the contrary, France, for instance, just recently has appointed an ambassador-at-large for the Eastern Partnership and France didn't have in the previous two years such a special coordinator of French policies in this respect. And due to the fact that there is a group of countries -- like Sweden, the Baltic countries, the Visegrad group, Romania -- the interest for this initiative -- at least that's my feeling -- is not diminishing.

Of course, there are new challenges -- the developments in northern Africa, for example, lead to discussions on redistributing some financial resources. But, again, I don't have the feeling that it is less important and I do believe that we could use the existing framework in order to get out of the Eastern Partnership and to get just a bilateral-relationship treatment.

You know that the European Union, the commission, is now finalizing the review process of the European Neighborhood Policy. And when the exercise was launched at the end of last year, those who shaped or drafted the future principles of the future Neighborhood Policy wrote something that the countries of the Eastern Partnership could get as close to the EU as they wanted except the membership perspective. Since December, less than half a year, I am very happy to see that no one speaks anymore about this principle being stipulated in the review process that is about to be published. On the contrary, we hear that a certain reference to Article 49 from the Lisbon Treaty, which envisages the right of any European country which meets certain criteria to apply for membership. And I think that is an excellent transformation.

So, again, Moldova is more or less happy with the existing framework, of course, provided that it will not keep us forever from the chance to move beyond it and to discuss about the prospects to have the right to apply for membership. And we will do this -- we haven't decided when because we need to make sure that our internal developments will be as positive as last year and that what happened last year was not just a kind of accident of history and now we come back to the chaos. No, we need to prove the sustainable developments of the economy, the political institutions. And then, after you have more arguments, to apply for membership. And we will do that.

Again, the Eastern Partnership is not an impediment in this respect. And we are very keen to make sure that the Warsaw summit in September will produce some positive decisions -- and the most important for us is to make sure that the reference to this article is somewhere there. At least, the Czechs, the Poles, the Swedes -- from what I know -- are working to this extent.

RFE/RL: It is good to hear a positive assessment of the Eastern Partnership.

Leanca: It depends what the country wants. For instance, our Belarusian friend, the minister of foreign affairs, whenever he would come to meetings dedicated to the Eastern Partnership, we would speak just about money and would complain [that] they don't give us enough money.

I don't think the Eastern Partnership is just about money without any kind of preconditions. It is in the first place about sharing the same values, I think. So if you have the right approach, if you come with the right arguments and you have some data, I think the response is also positive and at least that is what we experienced in our relations with the commission and the member states.

RFE/RL: Could you tell us about your country's relations with Georgia?

Leanca: I don't want to hide from you that there are some impediments -- and the impediment is the sensitivity of one country. We proceed from the fact that we have common problems -- we are, so to say, hosting frozen conflicts. We have common aspirations and we need to exchange experience. And there is already a quiet, good exchange of experience.

For instance, Georgians are learning from us how to negotiate the association agreement, because we have managed in a very short period of time to become real champions in this respect. We are learning from them how to reform the police, for example, especially the road police. The minister of the interior was in Georgia just a few weeks ago. We hope that a few experts from Georgia will come to us and will show us, advise us, how to implement this concept, how to fight more effectively against corruption.

And I'm sure that in the fall we will have also the visit of the prime minister to Georgia on the invitation which was addressed before by President [Mikheil] Saakashvili. I think the cooperation, the dialogue is proceeding pretty well and is mutually beneficial.

Transdniester Conflict

RFE/RL: Since you are here in the Czech Republic, I was wondering if it is possible that you could see the "civilized divorce" between the Czech Republic and Slovakia as a model for a settlement of your Transdniester conflict?

Leanca: Interestingly enough, these questions about the Czechoslovak model of civilized divorce (painful, but civilized) were asked yesterday and I was a bit surprised to hear that one could draw some parallels. I think that there are no similarities.

In Czechoslovakia, there were two nations -- two identities, distinct identities, two languages -- whereas Transdniester is a very artificial entity. Still the ethnic Moldovans represent almost 40 percent. So, it has nothing to do with identity. It has nothing to do with religious confessions. It has to do just with the political problems.

Let's not forget that Transdniester was created as a problem before the break-up of the Soviet Union, as a labyrinth to keep Moldova inside the Soviet Union and it is developing based on this model. I don't know whether Transdniester is really self-sustainable as an economic model.

Let me bring you just one figure -- on the right bank of Moldova, even the most impoverished categories pay today $400 per 1,000 cubic meters [of natural gas]. More than $400, which -- even if there are no average prices for gas because it is not yet a full commodity -- but still, we pay almost the same that consumers in Romania or in Bulgaria pay. In Transdniester, consumers pay something like $85 per 1,000 cubic meters. And this money is not even sent to the entity Moldovagas, which pays for the consumption of the gas to Gazprom. No, it is consumed locally in Transdniester.

As a result of this, every year, the debt of Transdniester is increasing and it is now almost like $2.5 billion. Without this money, would they be able to exist? I think no. Without the so-called humanitarian assistance from Moscow which is allowing them to add to the pensions a certain amount of money, would they be able to exist. I doubt it. So, again, I don't think it is viable, neither as a political entity nor as an economic entity.

So, because of this, the only chance is, of course, to make sure that we can create the conditions for their smooth, harmonious reintegration. But any solution of the Transdniester conflict -- and that is what I'm telling almost every day to our European partners -- should be achieved not at the expense of our European future, but just to consolidate our chances to become [a member of] the EU. Any other solution is not viable and will not, in fact, be accepted in Chisinau.

Ukraine's 'Leverage'

RFE/RL: Could you describe Moldova's current relations with Ukraine, particularly in the context of the Transdniester situation?

Leanca: Relations with Mr. [Kostyantyn] Hryshchenko are developing in a positive way from a cold start into a more personal, positive, and constructive relationship, number one.

Nunmber two, Ukraine has a huge potential to help us to address the Transdniester conflict. Maybe Ukraine on its own and together with us would not be able to resolve the conflict, but Ukraine has the leverage -- and especially the former administration when Mr. [Petro] Poroshenko was the minister showed that it has the leverage -- to make the Transdniestrian leadership hear the opinion of Ukraine and of Moldova.

You'll remember when we started the demarcation process on the Transdniestrian segment [of the border], the initial reaction was negative. [Transdniester leader Igor] Smirnov was summoned to Kyiv after the flow of goods in Odesa stopped to Transdniester for two days and suddenly he became very flexible and very cooperative.

So what I would like to see from the current Ukrainian administration -- and of course we are trying to pursue this line -- we want them to be a lot more active. Their position is that first we need to address the demarcation, the property issues, and then we'll be able to focus. I don't think these two exclude one another.

But again, I hope that in July maybe we'll have a package deal that will represent a win-win situation for both sides on the property and on demarcation. And then based on that happy end to these difficult, very sensitive, very delicate relations, we will be able to focus more on Transdniester. We'll be able to focus more on energy. And we'll be able to work maybe better together on our common aspirations, European aspirations.

RFE/RL: Thank you very much for visiting RFE/RL in Prague.

Leanca: I hope you will continue to broadcast. I hope we will be able to continue to benefit from your help, from the way you present developments in a very fair and unbiased situation. Moldovan society still needs this, so I hope you will have always the financial resources to continue.


By RFE/RL. Published on 18 May 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/interview_moldova_foreign_minister_reaffirms_policy_of_european_integration/24179142.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers – Ukraine presents its priorities

Ukraine has just taken over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for the next six months.

Ukraine considers the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers as an opportunity to contribute to the developments of modern European processes in which the Council of Europe plays a significant role. It will ensure that the goals and priorities of the Council of Europe will continue to be pursued, in particular the strengthening of democracy, respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights. Ukraine intends to initiate practical steps in order to advance in the implementation of the main priorities of the Council of Europe and strengthen the Organisation’s political role.

Within the framework of its Chairmanship, Ukraine will focus on the following priorities:

1. Protection of Children’s rights. The Ukrainian Chairmanship intends to strengthen the coordinating role of the Council of Europe in implementing regional and national initiatives of member states with regard to the protection of children’s rights, with an emphasis on the implementation of existing programmes and decisions of the Organisation as well as the development of new priorities.

2. Human rights and the rule of law in the context of democracy and stability in Europe. The Council of Europe created an efficient system of human rights protection. As a second priority of its Chairmanship, Ukraine will give special attention to the prevention of violations. The international conference on “The role of prevention in promoting and protecting human rights” to be organised in Kyiv on 20-21 September, will be a practical contribution of the Ukrainian Chairmanship to this end.

3. Strengthening and developing local democracy. Strengthening democratic processes at local and regional level in Europe, by ensuring effective implementation of the principles of local self-government in European countries, using the potential of the Council of Europe as a standard setting Organisation in this area constitutes a further priority for the Ukrainian Chairmanship. The 17th session of the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government will be held on 3-4 November in Kyiv under the Ukrainian Chairmanship.

To promote continuity within the Council of Europe, prior to assuming the chairmanship, Ukraine had held consultations with the United Kingdom and Albania as forthcoming chairs. As a result, for the first time ever three consecutive chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers will work along the same lines in pursuing the goals of reform of the Council of Europe, thus setting a new practice in the modus operandi of the organisation.

Chairmanship’s website
http://www.coe.int/t/dc/files/presidences-sessions-cm/presidences/ukraine/default_EN.asp?


Source: Council of Europe. Published on 11 May 2011.

Monday, May 16, 2011

OSCE media freedom representative offers assistance to improve media freedom in Azerbaijan

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović,concluded a four-day visit to Baku during which she called on authorities to improve media freedom in Azerbaijan and offered them her Office’s assistance in reforming media laws.

The visit, which took place following an invitation from President Ilham Aliyev, was Mijatović's first to Baku.

“I had open and frank discussions with Azerbaijani authorities about the legal media framework and the latest developments in the media-freedom field. The concerns I raised were taken seriously” Mijatović said.

“We agreed that the media-freedom situation needs further improvement so that Azerbaijan can fully meet its OSCE media commitments. President Aliyev assured me that reform of the media environment will continue as part of Azerbaijan’s modernization plans. He also assured me that the Internet will remain free.”

Mijatović urged the authorities to ensure that the perpetrators and masterminds of all attacks on journalists, including the 2005 assassination of the Monitor editor Elmar Huseynov, are brought to justice. She also called on the authorities to prevent violence against the media and to ensure that journalists and social media activists can perform their work in a free and safe environment. In addition, she raised with the authorities the recent harassment of two journalists from Azadliq newspaper, and voiced her concerns about restrictions on the work of journalists during recent demonstrations.

“The authorities should allow for more pluralism, especially in the broadcast media. Access to information for the media should be granted to all media. Restrictive changes brought to the media legislation in recent years should be reversed, the transparency of the activities and accountability of the country’s media regulator must be guaranteed and the political independence of the Public Broadcaster should be ensured,” she said.

Mijatović offered her Office’s assistance in reforming media legislation. During her visit, she participated in a Conference on 11 May organised by the OSCE Office in Baku and the Press Council. At the conference Mijatovic expressed hope that a law decriminalizing defamation in line with international standards would be adopted soon.

In addition to President Aliyev, Mijatović held talks with Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov; Interior Minister Ramil Usubov; Ali Hasanov, the head of the Presidential Administration’s Social and Political Department; Human Rights Commissioner Elmira Suleymanova, Aflatun Amashov, Head of the Press Council and Nushiravan Maharramli, the chair of the National Television and Radio Council. She also met with journalists and representatives of media nongovernmental organizations.

On 10 May Mijatović visited newspaper editor Eynulla Fatullayev in prison.

Source: OSCE. Published in Baku, 13 May 2011.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Euronest Parliamentary Assembly establishes four committees and two working groups


During the Constituent meeting of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly which took place in Brussels on 3 May 2011, 4 standing committees were established with the aim of preparing the works of the plenary and to contribute to the Assembly’s inter-action with the Eastern Partnership multi-lateral platforms.

The following four standing committees are set up:

- Committee on Political Affairs, Human Rights and Democracy;
- Committee on Economic Integration, Legal Approximation and Convergence with EU Policies;
- Committee on Energy Security;
- Committee on Social Affairs, Education, Culture and Civil Society.

Each of the standing committees will be composed of 30 Members, 15 from the Eastern Partners’ component and 15 from the European Parliament.

The S&D Group nominated Mr Göran FÄRM as co-Chair of the Committee on Economic Integration, Legal Approximation and Convergence with EU Policies, Mr Knut Fleckenstein as co Vice-Chair of the Committee on Political Affairs, Human Rights and Democracy and Ms Iotova Iliana Malinova as co Vice-Chair of the Committee on Social Affairs, Education, Culture and Civil Society.

In addition, two Working Groups were set up,namely:

- working group on ´Belarus´;
- working group on the ´Rules of Procedure´

S&D member Ms Edit Herczog will be the co-Chair of the working group on the ´Rules of Procedure´.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

For Journalists In Belarus, One Of World's Least-Free Countries, Things Only Getting Worse

Sandwiched between Cuba and Myanmar on Freedom House's annual Freedom of the Press listing, Belarus has little to celebrate on World Press Freedom Day on May 3. And the already dismal situation in the authoritarian country is definitely taking a turn for the worse.

The New York-based NGO Freedom House this year lists Belarus among the 10 worst-rated countries on its index, states where "independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens' access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression." Those 10 states are Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

And the Freedom House report was written before authorities in Minsk began court proceedings to shut down the country's two main remaining independent media outlets -- the newspapers "Nasha niva" and "Narodnaya volya." The Information Ministry has issued each of the newspapers three official warnings in recent months over "wrong coverage of events."

'Who Will Hear Us?'

The stepped-up pressure on the independent media in Belarus is part of a general crackdown on political dissent following the disputed reelection in December of longtime President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The repression only got worse following the April 11 terrorist bombing in the Minsk subway system, which left 14 dead and scores injured.

Renowned actress Zinaida Bandarenka published an open appeal to Lukashenka urging him to end the persecution of the two papers.

"I think he is acting as if he hasn't noticed our appeal," she says. "There is still a small hope, but then, when they really do shut down these papers…This is our last chance to address him. There is no other opportunity. If they close these papers, who will hear us? Will the official media publish our pain and our cries? Of course not."

The government's steps against the two papers provoked criticism from the media freedom representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Dunja Mijatovic says the move will "further diminish media pluralism in the country."

Minsk ordered the OSCE to close down its Belarus office at the beginning of the year, following OSCE criticism of the December 2010 presidential election.

'They Will Close, Of Course'

Opinions about what will happen next are divided on the streets of Minsk.

"A lot of people read these newspapers. Everyone buys them. They are quite popular," one man says. "And they really write about what people want to hear, what they want to know. Apparently someone doesn't like that, and so they will close the papers, of course."

"I don't think they will be shut down," another man says. "It would just give another reason to argue that the principles of democracy are violated in Belarus, that we have here the last dictatorship in Europe."

The Belarusian Association of Journalists is calling on ordinary citizens to appeal to the Information Ministry and ask officials to withdraw their case against the newspapers. Association lawyer Andrey Bastunets tells RFE/RL's Belarus Service that the goal is to keep the case from making it to court.

"If the case goes to court then, most likely, the verdict will not be in favor of the independent media," Bastunets says. "Therefore, it is important to morally sway the representatives of the organ that filed the case -- the Information Ministry -- so that they feel that we aren't talking about two independent publications, but about their readers, people who are being deprived of their chosen publications."

The case is scheduled to begin on May 11.

For now, journalists at the two newspapers are impressed with the support they have received from readers and the general public. "Narodnaya volya" Deputy Editor Marina Koktysh says the paper has been targeted by officials before, when they barred the state newspaper-kiosk system from selling it and when their printer suddenly refused to print it.

As a result, the paper's staff remains defiant and is preparing contingency plans to move underground or to publish from abroad. For now, Koktysh says, the paper is actively working the system.

"You know, as they say, hope dies last," she says. "We don't plan to get on our knees before anyone, not before Lukashenka, not before any of his bureaucrats. But we think that now we need to knock on every door. Even if they are closed. And if there is even the smallest chance to save the newspaper, we have to grab it."



By RFE/RL. Published on 3 May 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/belarus_press_freedom_least_free_countries/24089877.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Buzek: "Today's meeting in the European Parliament is a historic event"


On Tuesday 3 May, the President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek launched the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

After the meeting EP President Buzek said:

"Today's meeting in the European Parliament is a historic event. Cooperation between the European Parliament and legislatures of the eastern partner countries has begun in earnest. Our aim is to help build vibrant democracies, free market economies and foster the rule of law. This is a forum of the people, by the people and for the people.

Today's meeting is a major step towards closer cooperation that we hope will ensure prosperity for all citizens in the region. The people of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are close to our hearts. There is a long way ahead of us. But it is important that we have embarked on it.

While the European Union is focused on the changes in North Africa, it is equally committed to it's Eastern Neighbourhood. The launch of Euronest is a tangible example of that.

Today's inauguration took place without the participation of Belarus. I am confident that in the future Belarusian legislators will join us once the country holds free and fair elections.

Closer ties among our parliaments will give additional legitimacy to actions taken by governments in the framework of the Eastern Partnership.

I would like to thank my colleagues from the parliaments of the partner countries for expressing their determination for this new project to bear fruits. Euronest must bring tangible results for the citizens. It's success is in our hands."



Source: European Parliament website
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/president/view/en/press/press_release/2011/2011-May/press_release-2011-May-4.html;jsessionid=211E53C1D861AF03844141A898DB8F3F

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ashton welcomes the convening of the first Euronest meeting


Address of HR/VP Catherine Ashton to the First meeting of EURONEST
European Parliament, Brussels
Tuesday 3 May 2011

Mr President of the European Parliament, Honourable Speakers,
Honourable Members,

I warmly welcome the convening of the first meeting of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly today. I would like to congratulate those who have come to Brussels to take part in this important occasion, as well as the Members of the European Parliament present today.

I would like to highlight three points: first, the significance of Euronest; second, the priorities of the European Neighbourhood Policy and of the Eastern Partnership, and third, the contribution that I hope Euronest will make to the realisation of these priorities.

First, Euronest is particularly important for the EU High Representative because it completes the institutional framework of the Eastern Partnership. The EaP is not only a partnership of governments: it is also a partnership of peoples and of the Parliaments that represent them. We already have numerous fora for meetings among civil servants; we have meetings of Ministers and Heads of Government; and we even have a forum for civil society, the EaP Civil Society Forum. But only now does the Eastern Partnership have its own parliamentary assembly.

It is regrettable that the Belarus parliament is not represented at this first meeting of Euronest. That is because Belarus did not live up to the democratic standards expected of the Eastern Partnership participating states. I do hope that respect of democratic values in Belarus will improve, and that Belarus parliamentarians will be able to join this assembly in the future. It is Euronest that will have to monitor the situation in Belarus and take that decision when the time is ripe.

Second, this meeting takes place at a time of historic upheavals in the Southern neighbourhood of the EU. These people-led movements demand more democracy, rule of law and respect of human rights. Or, as they would put it, they demand dignity. They show us that we can achieve real stability, prosperity and security in the neighbourhood of the EU only if we build them on these foundations.

I believe this applies to the South of our neighbourhood as it applies to the East and to the EU itself. And what better guarantee of democracy, rule of law and human rights can we imagine than democratically elected parliaments, which pass fair laws and ensure they are enforced in full respect of human rights? This shows the importance of your role and of parliamentary cooperation.

The attention of the EU is currently focused on the South, but I can assure you that the East is not forgotten. Far from forgetting it, we have actually set ourselves some very ambitious goals:

I. Negotiations on New Association Agreements

We are currently negotiating new Agreements with five partner countries. These cover all aspects of our relations. Ultimately they could include, as an integral part, the establishment of deep and comprehensive free trade areas with the EU – leading to full access to the EU’s internal market.

II. Mobility

Mobility is a critical issue for our partners – and one which has an enormous potential to transform the lives of our citizens and bring us closer. We have made good progress with the launch of Action Plans for Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova last year and we are advancing toward our goal of negotiating Visa Facilitation agreements – albeit at different speeds - with all our partners.

III. Deepened Sectoral Cooperation in key areas such as energy and transport.

In the area of energy, Ukraine and Moldova’s accession to the Energy Community Treaty are important in ensuring closer links between our energy markets through the adoption of the EU acquis.

IV. The strengthening of the administrative capacity of partners including through the implementation of Comprehensive Institution Building Programmes (to a total value of €173 million over 2011- 2013).

V. Efforts to support cohesion within our partner countries through the development of Pilot Regional Development Programmes (worth approximately €70 million over 2012-2013).

We will take stock of progress in all these areas at the second Summit of the EaP in Warsaw this September. The Summit will be the occasion to renew our joint commitment to the ambitious goals of the Eastern Partnership and to the values and principles that found it: and in particular democratic principles and practices, the respect for human rights, good governance and the rule of law.

There is no competition between the South and the East of our neighbourhood: any additional resources allocated to the South to address the current upheavals there and the needs of our Southern partners will not come at the expense of the East and will not result in reduced resources for the East in any way.

Increasingly, the EU will allocate resources to its partners based not on geographical location in the East or in the South, but on the principle of conditionality and differentiation, sometimes called “more for more”. “More for more” means that the EU will allocate more resources to those partners that are willing to make more progress towards universal values and EU standards and are ready to engage in serious reform efforts.

The EU has much to share with its neighbours: successful peacebuilding, after a devastating second world war; effective political integration based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law; the experience of a relatively recent transition to democracy of many Member States; prosperity built on deep economic integration; a sense of solidarity among its people and its member states; and an independent, thriving civil society which actively participates in governance and acts as a counter-weight to state institutions.

Events in the Southern neighbourhood of the EU have brought to the fore the need for the EU to engage more strongly in democracy promotion, to enhance democratic processes and improve the workings of democratic institutions in our partners. One possibility that we will examine is the establishment of a European Endowment or Foundation for Democracy that would channel support for democracy promotion through civil society actors.

This is one of the main results of the ENP review, which will be laid out in a Communication of the European Commission and High Representative later this month. The other main points that will be highlighted by the Communication include the need for partnerships with peoples and societies; the need for enhanced political dialogue, and the need for greater political steering of our relationships.

Which brings me to my third and last point: what is the contribution of Euronest to the ENP and to its eastern dimension, the EaP?

After the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU is a more cohesive political actor beyond its borders. Euronest can make a very important contribution to political dialogue and political steering of the EaP at the level of parliaments. Furthermore, I believe it is very important that the EU be open to its partners. The EU must learn to listen more to its partners in its neighbourhood, so it can better shape its policies. Euronest provides a very good opportunity to do that. Euronest can also help provide more visibility for the EaP. Together with the EaP Civil Society Forum, it can help provide feedback and guidance for the EaP and bring it closer to the concerns and the needs of the people.

Most importantly, Euronest is a multilateral forum where partners can exchange experience on reform and approximation to EU standards and on legislation to enhance democratic governance in their countries. I mentioned earlier our goal of concluding Association Agreements. These Agreements include a commitment to democracy, rule of law and respect of human rights. Parliaments have an essential role to play in adopting legislation that furthers these values and in monitoring its effective enforcement. Progress towards these values will help speed up the conclusion of Association Agreements and will be a crucial part of their implementation.

I wish you a productive and successful inaugural meeting of the Euronest parliamentary assembly, which will put in place the necessary institutional arrangements. And I look forward to the important contribution of Euronest to the realisation of the goals of the Eastern Partnership.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly inaugurated


The EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly, bringing together MEPs with elected representatives from the EU's eastern neighbour countries, held its inaugural meeting on Tuesday. The aim of the body is to provide a parliamentary dimension to the EU's eastern neighbourhood policy. "We have created a powerful tool today," said EURONEST Co-President-elect Kristian Vigenin (S&D, BG) at the end of the constituent meeting.

The EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly's constituent meeting was opened by EP President Jerzy Buzek, who observed that the democratic reform processes of the eastern partner countries must be strengthened. "Stable countries can only be democratic countries; democracy is the only way to stability," he said. He added that the Parliamentary Assembly was crucial in bringing citizens of this region closer together. "If we want more cooperation and more integration, we have to start with parliamentary cooperation, because it represents contacts between people," he said.

Adjourning the meeting, Co-President Kristian Vigenin emphasised that "this assembly is one of two equal partner components: equal in rights and responsibilities", and expressed his confidence that EURONEST members will live up to both. At a press point afterwards, he underlined that "the establishment of this body is the strongest signal we could send" about the potential for cooperation between the EP and the eastern partners. Co-President Borys Tarasyuk (Ukraine) echoed this view, and also appealed to all European Union institutions not to give in to the temptation to divert attention and funds from the eastern to the southern neighbourhood.

Decisions taken

The Parliamentary Assembly adopted and signed its constitutive act, approved its rules of procedure, set up two working groups (on Belarus and the Rules of Procedure) and formed four committees (one on Political Affairs, Human Rights and Democracy; one on Economic Affairs, legal approximation and convergence with EU policies, one on Energy Security and one on Culture, Education and Civil Society).

It also elected its two Co-Presidents, Messrs Vigenin and Tarasyuk, as well as 8 Vice-Presidents, to form a Bureau: Vahan Hovhannesyan (Armenia), Elkhan Suleymanov (Azerbaijan), David Darchiashvili (Georgia), Igor Corman (Moldova), Traian Ungurenau (EPP, RO), Ryszard Czarnecki (ECR, PL), Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE, NL) and Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (EPP, PL).

Background

The EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly was devised to provide a parliamentary dimension to the EU's eastern partnership, as part of the EU's neighbourhood policy. It consists of 60 MEPs and 10 MPs from each of the five eastern partner countries. Belarus is a special case: although a part of the eastern neighbourhood, there was much discussion about how to allow its participation in EURONEST without giving legitimacy to Alexander Lukashenko's regime. In the end, the constituent meeting was held without any representatives from Belarus in attendance.


Source: Website of the European Parliament
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/en/pressroom/content/20110502IPR18529/html/EURONEST-Parliamentary-Assembly-inaugurated

In Pictures: Euronest Constituent Meeting




Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Euronest Parliamentary Assembly Launched Today

Programme

9.00-9.30hrs

1.Welcome by Prof. Jerzy BUZEK, President of the European Parliament, and presentation of the Speakers of the Parliaments of the Eastern Partners.

9.30-9.45hrs

2.Address by Mrs Catherine ASHTON, High Representative/Vice President or her representative

9.45-10.30hrs

3.Addresses by the Speakers or the Heads of Delegation of the Eastern Partners

10.30-11.15hrs

4.Adoption of the Constituent Act and the Rules of Procedure of the Euronest PA

5.Signature of the Constituent Act of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly by the Speakers of the Parliaments of the Eastern Partners and the President of the European Parliament

6.Election of the Bureau of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly:
-2 Co-Presidents
-8 Vice-Presidents

11.45-12.15hrs

8.Adoption of the decision on setting up four parliamentary committees and approval of the Rules of Procedure for the committees

9.Adoption of the decision on setting up two working groups

12.15-12.30hrs

10.Final remarks by the Co-Presidents

12.30hrs

11.Closure of the meeting and

12.Opening of the constituent meetings of the standing committees

Friday, April 29, 2011

Euronest PA to be launched on 3 May

The first Constituent meeting of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly is scheduled to take place on Tuesday 3 May 2011.

Despite various attempts to launch this assembly, the political situation in Belarus, and as a consequece of that, their participation in this assembly, delayed this launch for more than a year.

Nevertheless, both the members of the European Parliament and the members from the 5 Eastern countries, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine understood the importance of launching this parliamentary assembly and worked together towards reaching a compromise which would pave the way to initiate this project.

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and the Speakers of Parliaments of the Eastern Partners will open the session.

During this meeting, the Constituent Act and the Rules of Procedure wil be signed. In addition, there will be the election of the Bureau of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly and the adoption of the decision on setting up four parliamentary committees and two working groups.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

OSCE Mission to Moldova supports prosecution service reform

The role of prosecutors and reform of prosecution services were discussed today at a roundtable event held by the OSCE Mission to Moldova in co-operation with the General Prosecutor’s Office.

Prosecutors from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, whose countries’ prosecution services have successfully completed the transition to European norms, were invited to share their experience and best practices with their counterparts and experts from Moldova.

“The project does not aim at providing a single model for reform - rather, Moldovan officials can learn about the experiences of the Baltic states when confronting the same problems, to see what worked and what didn’t work, without reinventing the wheel,” said Ambassador Philip Remler, the Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova.

Prosecutor General Valeriu Zubco and Parliamentary Advocate Anatol Munteanu participated in the event, together with representatives of the Parliament, the government and civil society.

Today’s event is part of a larger project to support the prosecution service. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the OSCE Mission to Moldova and the General Prosecutor of the Republic of Moldova in March.

Source: OSCE. Published on 20 April 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs issue statement

The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, Ambassadors Bernard Fassier of France, Robert Bradtke of the United States, and Igor Popov of the Russian Federation, released the following statement:

"The Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group (Ambassadors Bernard Fassier of France, Robert Bradtke of the United States, and Igor Popov of the Russian Federation) traveled April 11-14 to Yerevan, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Baku. Joined by Ambassador Andrzej Kasprzyk, the Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairperson in Office (PRCiO), the Co-Chairs met separately with Armenian President Serge Sargsian, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and the de facto authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh. In their meetings, the Co-Chairs discussed next steps for reaching agreement on the Basic Principles. It is the strong view of the Co-Chairs that the time has arrived to finalize and endorse the Basic Principles and move to the drafting of a peace agreement.

On April 13, the Co-Chairs crossed the Line of Contact (LOC) by foot, before continuing to Baku. As with their crossing of the LOC in September 2010, this was intended to demonstrate the importance of maintaining and strengthening the 1994 ceasefire and that the LOC should not become a permanent barrier to contacts among neighboring peoples, as well as to reaffirm the Co-Chairs' need to visit any areas affected by the conflict. In conjunction with the crossing of the LOC, the Co-Chairs also visited part of the region southwest of the city of Terter. In addition, the Co-Chairs visited the village of Orta Karvend, accompanying the PRCiO in monitoring the area where the reported March 8 incident occurred.

Building on the March 5 joint statement made in Sochi by the Presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the Russian Federation, the Co-Chairs also presented to the sides a draft mechanism for investigation of incidents along the front lines with the participation of all sides. The Co-Chairs will continue to work with the parties to create as soon as possible a transparent and objective investigation process, with the goal of enhancing confidence, decreasing the risk of miscalculation, and saving lives.

The Co-Chairs expressed their concern that the planned opening of an airport in Nagorno-Karabakh could lead to further increased tensions. They cautioned that the operation of flights to and from this airport could not be used to support any claim of a change in the current status of Nagorno-Karabakh under international law. The Co-Chairs urged the sides to reach an understanding in keeping with international conventions and agreements, as well as current practice between Armenia and Azerbaijan for flights over their territory. The Co-Chairs welcomed assurances from the sides that they will reject any threat or attack against civil aircraft, pursue the matter through diplomatic steps, and refrain from politicizing the issue.

The Co-Chairs will travel to Washington in late April for consultations with senior United States government officials, and to discuss the status of progress towards a peace settlement."


Source: OSCE. Published on 14 April 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Minsk Bombing Has Everyone Asking: Who Could Benefit?


With the investigation of Belarus's deadly subway tragedy still in the early stages, it is impossible to say who might have been responsible for the rush-hour attack that left 12 dead and more than 200 injured.

But everyone is asking the question that Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka posed to his security advisers at an emergency meeting hours after the blast: Who stands to gain from the terrorism and bloodshed?

Lukashenka said he wouldn't "rule out that this 'gift' was from abroad," but added, "we must also look inside."

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Internet and blogosphere are nearly unanimous in their opinion: the main beneficiary of this tragedy is likely to be Lukashenka himself, who can use the security crisis as a pretext for any number of political moves.

In recent weeks, the government has been shaken by a profound economic crisis and forced to ask Russia for up to $3 billion in emergency stabilization funding as the public has been queuing to buy up hard currency and durable goods. The latest security crisis could be used -- as similar ones in the past have -- to crack down on the opposition or to justify austerity measures.

Investigators have confirmed that the explosive packed the force of 5 to 7 kilograms of TNT and was detonated by remote control, indicating a fairly high level of preparation and sophistication.

Vladimir Lutsenko, a colonel with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), is certain -- "100 percent" -- that the Minsk bombing was the work of international Islamist terrorism targeting peaceful civilians.

"When they murder innocent women and children on the streets of a peaceful city, everyone is terrified and everyone is hurt," Lutsenko says. "They blow up mosques in Iraq and Pakistan. They blow up apartment blocks in Moscow. They blow up skyscrapers in America."

Lutsenko adds that speculation that the explosion was organized either by the Belarusian authorities or by the country's weak and fragmented political opposition is "stupid."

"They said the same thing about Moscow -- that the FSB is blowing up Russia, that Putin blew up the homes of civilians in order to come to power," Lutsenko says. "We've heard this nonsense before and I won't be surprised if we hear it now, too."

The Official Response

But despite Lutsenko's certitude, Belarus has no history of Islamist terrorism. In 2005, a bomb in Vitebsk injured 40 people. An unknown anti-Lukashenka group reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, but no one has been convicted. In July 2008, an explosion injured about 50 people at an Independence Day concert attended by Lukashenka. That attack was never solved either, despite a massive investigation led by a high-profile investigator.

Belarusian political scientist Yury Chavusau recalls those incidents and predicts a familiar response this time from authorities.

"I still remember the explosion in Vitebsk in 2005," Chavusau says. "Like the July 3 [2008] explosion, it was accompanied by, you might say, thorough, mass arrests of representatives of the opposition. Therefore you can suppose that -- regardless of the strength or weakness of the security structures -- the reaction to this terrorist act and the activities of the investigation will be similar -- irrationally massive. They simply don't know any other way, our security forces."

In fact, police have announced the detention of "several" people in connection with the latest attack. In addition, police press secretary Alyaksandr Lastovsky warned the media not to spread "stupid rumors" or foment panic in society. He warned that the police have the power to "make the strictest warnings to those who make up rumors or spread them."

Redistributing Influence?

Belarusian state media have given the incident blanket coverage, focusing on the solidarity being shown by the nation and showing images of ordinary citizens helping one another in the time of crisis.

In addition to using the security crisis to defuse discontent prompted by Belarus's fiercely disputed presidential election in December 2010 or the current economic panic, Lukashenka could use the opportunity -- as he did following the 2008 bombings -- to reorganize his security team.

"I think there could be a redistribution of influence within the ruling elite, and it isn't certain that this redistribution will be to the advantage of the security structures," analyst Chavusov says. "They have become too strong in recent times and the regime is too dependent on them."

Removing key security officials who carried out the postelection crackdown on the opposition could even help Lukashenka mend his fences somewhat with the West, which has imposed sanctions on Belarus over this issue.



By RFE/RL. Published on 12 April 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/minsk_bombing_everyone_asking_who_benefits/3555193.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Group of States against Corruption publishes report on Armenia


The Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) today published its Third Round Evaluation Report on Armenia in which it finds that further amendments to the Criminal Code are necessary to comply with Council of Europe standards. GRECO also calls for a strengthening of the supervision over the funding of political parties and election campaigns.

Regarding the criminalisation of corruption [theme I], GRECO welcomes the 2008 amendments to the Criminal Code, but finds that in order to fully comply with the standards of the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption the legal provisions need to be further amended to ensure – among other things – that the mere request for a bribe can be prosecuted, that all persons who work in the private sector are covered and that Armenia can prosecute all corruption offences committed by its citizens abroad. The main challenge lies with the effective application of legislation. In this context, Armenia is strongly urged to take further measures to increase understanding amongst practitioners of the legal provisions and of the level of proof required in bribery cases.

Concerning transparency of party funding [theme II], GRECO acknowledges that a reform process aimed at improving accountability and transparency of political finances is currently underway. Armenia is encouraged to address in this context the various deficiencies identified in the Law on Political Parties and Election Code, such as the fact that caps on private donations and expenses only apply during election campaigns, the lack of regulation of donations in kind and the lack of transparency of the funding of election campaigns at local level. In addition, it must be ensured that all violations of the rules can be punished and that the sanctions foreseen for these violations are proportionate. Above all, it is of pivotal importance to strengthen supervision over the funding of political parties and election campaigns: it should be ensured that an independent monitoring mechanism is in place and that it has the authority and financial and human resources to investigate infringements of the rules on political financing.

In the report GRECO addresses 19 recommendations to Armenia. The implementation of these will be assessed by GRECO in the second half of 2012, through its specific compliance procedure.


Source: Council of Europe. Strasbourg, 11 April 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Crackdown on independent media in Belarus

Statement by the spokesperson of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on the crackdown on independent media in Belarus


The spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, issued the following statement today:

“The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is deeply concerned by news of the detention of Mr. Andrzej Poczobut, a correspondent for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, during his journey to the EU Delegation to Belarus in Minsk.

This is yet another example of ongoing human rights violations conducted by the authorities in Belarus since the presidential elections on 19 December 2010. The EU strongly condemns all harassment, arrests, and intimidation of representatives of the Belarusian independent media as well as violations of the fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the media.

The EU calls upon the Belarusian authorities to end at once the prosecution of independent journalists for slander or other politically-motivated charges. The EU also urges the Belarusian authorities to cooperate fully with the OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media.”

Press release: Brussels, 10 April 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

Commissioner Štefan Füle on the European Neighbourhood Policy Review


Štefan Füle European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Address to the European Parliament on the European Neighbourhood Policy Review European Parliament Plenary Session Strasbourg, 6 April 2011


European Parliament Plenary Session

Strasbourg, 6 April 2011

President, Honourable Members,

I am delighted to have this opportunity for an exchange of views with you on the European Neighbourhood Policy. In the context of the current events in the southern Mediterranean, redeveloping this policy could not be more important.

In fact over the past nine months the Commission has undertaken a review of the Policy, and I want to take this chance also to thank you for your input to the consultation – which took responses from partner countries, EU Member States, academics and civil society groups.

I have read both the Mário David report on the South and the Marek Siwiec report on the East, and find them each significant and useful. I am pleased that our thoughts are along the same lines.

You will have noticed that the results of our previous discussions on Neighbourhood Policy are already reflected in the Communication on a Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity of 8 March. Now we are preparing for the wider Communication on the results of the Review, which is due to be published in May.

A key outcome of the Review is a new emphasis on differentiation of the Neighbourhood Policy according to the needs and wishes of each partner country. While the Policy will continue to offer engagement to all partners, every neighbour is different and has different aspirations.

Some partner countries want to progress as far as they can towards the European Union – indeed as far as accession. But others prefer to make the most of other benefits of the Neighbourhood Policy. So it will deliver "more for more" in a specific and differentiated way – alongside stronger political steering of our relationships with our partners.

Nevertheless, as both Mr. David and Mr. Siwiec recommend in their reports, our shared values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights will be at the heart of the revised Neighbourhood Policy for all partner countries.

They should find their expression in stronger joint commitments to elements indispensable to democratisation: I am thinking in particular of free and fair elections, freedom of expression and association, judicial independence, the fight against corruption, and security sector reform.

Also as highlighted in both reports, the revised Neighbourhood Policy will recognise and act on the importance of civil society. Non-governmental organisations have the expertise and experience to deliver democratic and market-oriented reforms from the bottom up, based on shared values.

A thriving civil society gets citizens involved and helps to hold governments to account. So the European Union will complement its relations with governments with much closer engagement with civil society. This is also important at a regional and sub-regional level – where, for example, the Eastern Partnership's Civil Society Forum has been making good progress.

The forthcoming Communication will offer more detail on the approach towards the two sub-regions of our Neighbourhood. It will spell out how we see the Eastern Partnership developing further in the wake of the Summit under the Polish Presidency.

In the South, the Union for the Mediterranean has the potential to make a real difference – but frankly it has not yet done so and must be revitalised. Its promise lies in developing concrete economic projects with a focus on employment, innovation and growth. The UfM’s Secretariat is best placed to act as a catalyst and bring together states, International Financial Institutions and private companies to work on such economic projects.

I would like to mention briefly three other elements brought to light by the Review, which will be key to the revised Neighbourhood Policy.

First, the role of trade and economic integration to help advance stability and prosperity in partner countries. The most significant vehicle to achieve this is the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.

A successful DCFTA has transformative power – regulatory reforms made by a partner country are anchored through trade.

Next, the need for improved mobility between partner countries and the European Union – since there is no better way to promote European values than through sharing experiences person to person. The Neighbourhood Policy will seek improvements to mobility, without losing sight of security.

Finally, the desire expressed in the consultation by many partner countries for greater political engagement with the European Union. Closer and more substantial political dialogue across all areas of our relationships will help us resolve difficult issues in a spirit of mutual confidence.

Thank you for your time. I look forward very much to the coming debate and will take on board your views.

Source: Press Release RAPID

Thursday, April 7, 2011

On The Verge Of Economic Disaster, Minsk Turns To Moscow


With an economy teetering on the brink of collapse and a nervous population standing in hours-long lines to buy foreign currency or gold, Minsk is going hat in hand to Moscow seeking relief.

The open question is: What price will Russia demand for bailing out Belarus and its authoritarian leader, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka?

Russia has long been pushing Minsk to sell off key state assets including oil refineries, chemical plants, oil and gas pipelines, and machinery plants. In addition, Moscow has been calling for Belarus to open its markets to Russian goods, tearing down barriers that exist despite the fact that the two countries are members of a unified customs zone.

"It is a matter of the privatization of shares, the entrance of Russian capital into Belarus, and the opening of markets to Russian products," notes Yevgeny Minchenko, director of Russia's International Institute of Political Expertise.

Belarus has run through 20 percent of its hard-currency reserves since the beginning of the year and implemented a partial currency devaluation at the end of March. Long lines are forming at exchange booths that are rapidly running out of dollars and euros.

Panicky Belarusians are meanwhile buying up cars, gold, and nonperishable staples like sugar, tea, and coffee as they desperately seek to retain the value of their savings as fears of further devaluations mount.

Moscow's Terms

On March 31, Belarus presented Moscow a plan to stabilize the economy that envisions $2 billion in credits from the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec) and $1 billion from Russia. It also proposes a tightened monetary policy, structural and tax reforms, and reduced state spending.

However, Moscow has been slow to react. Deputy Finance Minister Dmitry Pankin told Interfax on April 5 that Russia had made "no promises" and that Moscow was studying the proposed macroeconomic reforms.

Belarusian economist Syarhey Chaly tells RFE/RL's Belarus Service that no serious restructuring can be carried out so quickly and the talks must really be focused on other matters.

"It's obvious that there are conditions, but they aren't being publicly discussed. Most likely, the conditions are very concrete," Chaly says. "Because we are in a very bad situation and have painted ourselves into a corner, Russia can demand practically anything it wants."

Russia's hand is further strengthened because Lukashenka may have miscalculated in his normally wily geopolitical balancing act, political scientist Minchenko says. "There is no possibility to play the game that Lukashenka loves to play," he says, "weaving between Russia, the West, China, and Latin America."

No Room To Maneuver

Prior to Belarus's December presidential election, the European Union offered Lukashenka a $4.2 billion aid package if the poll was conducted fairly. Not only was the election held in poor esteem by outside monitors, but Lukashenka also launched a brutal crackdown on the political opposition in the wake of the poll. The EU aid offer was withdrawn and the West began imposing fresh sanctions.

In addition, the bad economic situation was brought to the current crisis by populist measures Lukashenka adopted in the run-up to the vote. In particular, he raised salaries in the country's enormous public sector at a time when Russia was raising the rates it charges Belarus for oil and gas.

The current crisis will likely force Lukashenka to roll back those promises and could prompt a devaluation of the national currency by as much as 40 percent.

After years of oppression and marginalization -- as well as the postelection crackdown -- the political opposition in Belarus is hobbled and in a poor position to capitalize on the growing public discontent. But the panic puts additional pressure on Lukashenka to come to terms with Moscow quickly.


By RFE/RL. Published on 6 April 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/belarus_turns_to_russia_on_verge_of_ecenomic_collapse/3549085.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Restrictive measures against certain officials of Belarus

Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union on the alignment of certain third countries with the Council implementing Decision 2011/174/CFSP implementing Decision 2010/639/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against certain officials of Belarus


On 21 March 2011, the Council adopted Council Decision 2011/174/CFSP1. The Council Decision amends the list of individuals subject to restrictive measures in Belarus. This declaration is made to announce that the following countries have declared that they share the objectives of Council Decision 2011/174/CFSP: The Candidate Countries Croatia*, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Montenegro* and Iceland+, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania,Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and the EFTA countries Liechtenstein and Norway,members of the European Economic Area.

They will ensure that their national policies conform to this Council Decision.

The European Union takes note of this commitment and welcomes it.


Published on 22.03.2011 in the Official Journal of the European Union no. L 76, p. 72

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nagorno-Karabakh Tries To Make A Mark In Washington


From the outside, it looks more like a dentist's office than an embassy. In reality, it is neither.

But a glance at the website of Nagorno-Karabakh's office in Washington, D.C., would suggest that inside this unremarkable, flagless building a few blocks from the White House exists something that at least resembles an embassy.

The website includes a "country profile," a list of "national holidays," information on the region's government and economics, and a section with instructions on how to obtain a visa.

Robert Avetisyan, whose styles himself the permanent representative of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to the United States, explains, "We implement all the procedures and we render the same assistance and render the same services as an embassy does."

Avetisyan, however, does not hold a diplomatic passport. And Nagorno-Karabakh is not a country.

Indeed, with a largely Armenian population on the one hand, and legal ties to Azerbaijan on the other, the region's long-term status is far from settled.

Unrecognized, But With An Office

Nagorno-Karabakh was the site of a bitter six-year war between Armenia and Azerbaijan from 1988-94 that saw tens of thousands killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. The mountainous territory unilaterally declared independence in 1991 and has enjoyed de facto autonomy since a cease-fire was declared in 1994.

But landlocked and isolated, it remains largely dependent on Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh is even represented by Armenia in the Minsk Process, the international -- and largely inert -- attempt to resolve the dispute.

But the de facto government in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh's capital, has established its Washington office in an effort to raise its profile in the hope that proximity to levers of power might sway the debate on the territory's status.

"In the views of major actors and in the eyes of the international community, 'territorial dispute' is a negative thing," Avetisyan says. "And there could be more or less a negative stance towards this issue. But if it's people who are fighting for their freedom and trying to finalize the decolonization process of the Soviet Union, it's an absolutely different story."

Avetisyan says one of his office's primary duties is to maintain the website, which along with embassy-like sections also contains detailed accounts -- from his side's perspective -- of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

'Misleading The U.S. Public'

Yerevan claims that Nagorno-Karabakh is a historically Armenian territory called Artsakh. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, when both Armenia and Azerbaijan gained independence, Yerevan and Stepanakert have argued that the territory has a right to self-determination.

Baku, on the other hand, claims that the territory is historically Azerbaijani and maintains that any attempt to detach Nagorno-Karbakh violates its territorial integrity.

Azerbaijan's embassy in Washington says that the office is "misleading the U.S. public" by spreading Armenian "propaganda" and presenting itself as an official representative of a territory that has no sovereignty.

The office's website directs would-be visitors to the territory to contact the Nagorno-Karabakh office in Armenia, which it says issues visas.

Nasimi Aghayev, a spokesman for the Azerbaijani Embassy, says that in the eyes of Baku, that direction amounts to promoting illegal activity.

"Because the Nagorno-Karabakh region is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan, those who want to travel there should respect the laws of Azerbaijan," Aghayev says. "And Azerbaijan has made it clear that traveling to Nagorno-Karabakh without permission by the authorities of the Republic of Azerbaijan is illegal and inadmissible."

Avetisyan also sends a monthly newsletter to influential Washington think tanks and produces a bimonthly general newsletter, which he says is read by "thousands" in the Armenian diaspora.

Front For Armenian Lobby?

Together with the Embassy of Armenia, his office helped organize an event last September at the U.S. Capitol commemorating of the 19th anniversary of Nagorno-Karabakh's self-proclaimed independence. The Congressional Caucus on Armenian Issues co-sponsored the event, which was attended by Senator Mark Kirk (Republican-Illinois), the caucus's co-chair.

Due to its strong ties to Armenian-American organizations, however, Avetisyan must regularly counter those who say that his office is simply a front for Washington's influential Armenian lobby.

Indeed, his two rooms are provided free of charge by the Armenian Assembly of America, a lobbying group that shares a floor of the building. The office appears among a long list of lobbying groups registered under the Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Until recently, the cost of running the office was defrayed by Armenian-American groups, although Avetisyan says expenses are now completely covered by Nagorno-Karabakh's de facto government.

But Avetisyan, who freely admits that the support he receives from Armenian groups is "priceless," remains reluctant to accept the "lobby" description.

"It depends on what we call [a] 'lobby.' If we promote the interests of a state, if we promote the interests of ordinary people, if we promote peace, then yes," he says, "if that can be considered a lobby."

Abkhazia 'More Of A Player'

Whatever it's called, analysts say the clout the Armenian lobby enjoys in Washington has been indispensible for Nagorno-Karabakh's representative office.

Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank, notes that there might be better arguments to justify an office representing Abkhazia, a breakaway region in Georgia, than Nagorno-Karabakh.

"If you compare Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh, for example, Abkhazia is larger, it has stronger institutions, it has an opposition, it has a media, and a stronger civil society than Nagorno-Karabakh," de Waal says. "So objectively speaking, Abkhazia is more of a player in the region than Karabakh. So there's an inconsistency there when you compare the two on the ground, [but] it all really comes down to Washington politics rather than local realities."

Georgia, of course, is one of the United States' staunchest allies.

De Waal says, however, that Nagorno-Karabakh remains largely isolated from the outside world and struggles to have its voice heard "thanks to the efforts of Azerbaijan."

What he calls the office's "positive role" is that it represents the voice of "a rather ignored party in a very important regional conflict."

Whether a distinct voice, a proxy for Yerevan's interests, or something in between, Avetisyan admits that he is not getting the attention he envisioned for his office.

His contacts are mainly with lawmakers already attuned to Armenian interests, and chances to speak with State Department officials are few and far between. But he says his office will continue on its mission.

Avetisyan is also not the only Nagorno-Karabakh representative abroad. The territory's government has offices in Australia, France, Germany, Lebanon, and Russia, as well as in Armenia.


By Richard Solash. Published on 29 March 2011
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty
http://www.rferl.org/content/nagorno-karabakh_armenia_azerbaijan_embassy/3540574.html
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of S & D.