Friday, July 27, 2012

Ashton: Negotiations on Association Agreements are progressing well


Remarks by High Representative Catherine Ashton following the Eastern Partnership Ministerial Meeting

We had a good meeting that gave us an opportunity to have thorough discussion between 27 member states and 6 partners on our ambitious agenda of political association and economic integration.

Negotiations on Association Agreements - including in most cases Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas - are progressing well. We are also advancing on our visa liberalization agenda where we have now started a dialogue with Georgia to develop a Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, similar to those with Moldova and Ukraine.

There was frank and open discussion on the progress made so far and the remaining challenges. It has helped us better understand problems our partners are facing.

Obviously, partners are at very different level in terms of establishing sustainable democracy. Today’s discussions will enable us to better tailor our policy toward partner countries so that we can keep the Partnership as inclusive as possible. This will also help us to accommodate specific needs and ambitions of those who are the most advanced on the implementation of the agreed goals.

Reforms and genuine commitment to common values of freedom, democracy and human rights remain the underpinning elements of the Partnership. I welcome the good progress achieved by some partners in this area. More work however is still needed.

The presence of FM Martynov has allowed us to convey the EU’s deep concern as regards the lack of respect for human rights, the rule of law and independent media in Belarus. We stressed the importance of the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners, of reversing the current repressive policies and of free and fair parliamentary elections in September.

Our message to Belarus was clear: there is no place for political prisoners at the heart of Europe. At the same time we remain attached to a policy of critical engagement with Belarus. The Eastern Partnership provides an important platform to expose Belarus to democratic values and the virtues of European cooperation. For the people of Belarus we are ready to deepen cooperation once the political situation has changed.

The Eastern Partnership remains a priority for the EU and for me personally, working very closely with my colleague and friend Stefan Füle. We are determined to support on going transformation of partners toward sustainable democracies. We will pursue vigorously our agenda of political association and economic integration, based on common values of democracy and human rights.

The next time we will meet in 2013 we will be able to assess the progress on reforms and achievement of joint objectives and we look forward to the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius next autumn.

Source: Council of the European Union, Brussels, 23 July 2012

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ashton Chairs meeting of Foreign Minister of the Eastern Partnership

Chair's conclusions: Eastern Partnership

Foreign Ministers Meeting

1. On 23 July 2012 the third meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Eastern Partnership was held in Brussels.

2. The meeting was chaired by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, and attended by representatives from the EU Member States, the European Commission, the six Eastern European Partner countries (hereinafter the Partner countries), the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The European Commission was represented by the Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle. The Partner countries were represented by Deputy Prime Minister Iurie Leanca of the Republic of Moldova, Vice Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze of Georgia, Foreign Ministers Edward Nalbandian of Armenia, Sergei Martynov of Belarus and Konstantin Gryshchenko of Ukraine and Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmud Mammad-Guliyev of Azerbaijan. The EU acceding state Croatia also attended as an observer.

3. Representatives of the Civil Society Forum presented to Ministers the views of the Forum on the implementation of the Eastern Partnership.

4. Participants discussed the Eastern Partnership Roadmap to the autumn 2013 Summit released on May 15 by the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and adopted a joint statement on the subject.

5. Participants discussed a range of concerns about the situation in certain partner countries related to the values and principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law on which the Eastern Partnership is based.

6. Participants discussed the progress achieved so far in the bilateral track of the Eastern Partnership. As regards political association and economic integration, the EU Ukraine Association Agreement has been finalised, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. Negotiations on similar agreements with the Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Armenia are well advanced, while negotiations on an Association Agreement with Azerbaijan are also under way. As regards mobility of citizens, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine are already implementing Visa Liberalisation Action Plans. A dialogue with Georgia to draw up a similar Action Plan has recently been launched. Negotiations on visa facilitation and readmission agreements are under way with Armenia and Azerbaijan, and a similar offer has been extended by the EU to Belarus. Amendments to the Visa Facilitation Agreements with the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine have been negotiated and signed in view of further facilitating the issuance of visas to their citizens.

7. Participants also discussed the development of the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership. They noted the work done under the guidance of four thematic Platforms, in particular the launching of cooperation in new areas such as: public administration reform, transport and migration and asylum. They also reviewed the ongoing Flagship Initiatives.

8. Participants highlighted the recent adoption of the Eastern Partnership Integration and Cooperation Programme (EaPIC) which offers additional financial support amounting to €130 million for the years 2012-13 to countries that make significant progress in reforms for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

9. Participants welcomed the first meeting of the new informal Eastern Partnership dialogues, which took place in Chisinau on 5th June 2012 and laid the foundations for a new format of consultations for the further development of political and sector cooperation between the EU and partners, in the spirit of the Warsaw Summit.

Source:Council of the European Union, Brussels, 23 July 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vigenin welcomes the pardon decree by the President of Azerbaijan

STATEMENT by Mr Kristian VIGENIN, Co-President of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly on the pardon decree signed on 22 June 2012 by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev

I welcome the pardon decree signed by the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, releasing 66 prisoners. President Aliyev has taken into account the repeated calls by the European Parliament and other European and international organisations with regard to the human rights situation in the country. The release of nine out of the eleven prisoners detained at the demonstrations in April 2011 is an important step in improving the level of respect for human and citizens' rights. This will remove shadows in the EU-Azerbaijan relations and help develop further our cooperation.

I also call upon the Azerbaijani authorities to consider releasing the remaining two activists, imprisoned after the April 2011 demonstrations in Baku. There should be constant efforts to improve the system, so that political activity is encouraged and all rights of the citizens of Azerbaijan are duly guaranteed. Freedom of expression, information and assembly are important cornerstones of citizenship and the law should be used to guarantee them. President Aliyev has done a bold move to answer the concerns of the EU, which now has to find its continuation in an enhanced dialogue between the EU and Azerbaijan.

Brussels; 26 June 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Adopted report on energy security, renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy infrastructure

on energy security, renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy infrastructure: developments in the Eastern Partnership and in the EU countries

The EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly,

–having regard to the Constituent Act of the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly of 3 May 2011,

–having regard to the Conclusions of the Eastern Partnership Summits of 29-30 September 2011, in Warsaw,

–having regard to the European Parliament's previous resolutions on the Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy, as well as on the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine,

–having regard to the Joint Communication by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Commission on "A new response to a changing Neighbourhood" of 25 May 2011,

–having regard to the Communication from the Commission on security of energy supply and international cooperation - "The EU Energy Policy: Engaging with Partners beyond our Borders" of 7 September 2011,

–having regard to the Conclusions of the Council of the EU on strengthening the external dimension of the EU energy policy, of 24 November 2011,

–having regard to the Conclusions of the Council of the EU on Energy 2020 - A Strategy for competitive, sustainable and secure energy, of 28 February 2011,

–having regard to the Joint Declaration of Commissioner Oettinger and the deputy ministers of energy and senior representatives of the ministries of energy and national authorities responsible for nuclear energy of the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Belarus, the Republic of Croatia, the Russian Federation, the Swiss Confederation, the Republic of Turkey and Ukraine on comprehensive risk and safety assessments of nuclear plants ('stress tests') of 23 June 2011,

A.whereas secure, sustainable and competitive energy is of great importance to the citizens, economy and environment of the EU and Eastern European partners; whereas the EU has set ambitious objectives for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, developing renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency by 2020; whereas the EU and Eastern European partners share common interest in the achievement of these objectives taking into account their interdependence in the areas of energy supply and transport;

B.whereas energy cooperation under the Eastern Partnership is based on a policy dialogue aiming at further market integration, improved energy security, nuclear safety and the development of new partnerships on renewable energy sources and energy efficiency;

C.whereas regulatory cooperation and convergence are essential to establish a well-functioning, interconnected and integrated energy market of the EU and the Eastern European partners; whereas the Energy Community Treaty has established an effective regional cooperation in which the EU and other Contracting Parties have developed a stable regulatory framework favouring sustainable growth and investment in the energy sector; whereas the accession of the Republic of Moldova and of Ukraine as well as Armenia's and Georgia's observer status in the Energy Community set the basis and institutional frame for deepening energy cooperation and partnerships between the EU and those partner countries;

D.whereas competitive energy markets, development and creation of energy production and transport facilities, stable energy supply and transit routes, further development of energy efficiency and renewable energy and the safe use of nuclear energy are essential elements for strengthening energy security of both the EU and the Eastern European partners;

E.whereas the EU and Eastern European partners as well as other Black Sea and Caspian littoral states have, under the "Baku Initiative" launched in 2004, acknowledged their mutual interest in developing regional energy markets and attracting new investments in the Caspian Sea region;

F.whereas the diversification of suppliers, routes and sources of energy supply to the EU is a EU priority objective; whereas building up the Southern Gas Corridor comprising various routes and types of infrastructures, is of high importance both for the EU's gas supply diversification strategy and for the energy trade between the EU, the Caspian region and Central Asia;

G.whereas the most-cost-effective solution for reducing energy dependency is to stimulate energy savings, renewable energy and energy efficiency measures, which also contribute to job creation, combating climate change and progress towards a resource-efficient economy;

H.whereas the EU and the Eastern European partners share the common objective of raising the level of nuclear power safety; whereas transparency, accessibility of information and full compliance with international nuclear safety and environmental agreements are essential for ensuring an efficient cooperation in this area between the EU and Eastern European partners; whereas the EU and national bodies responsible for nuclear energy of the Republic of Armenia, Republic of Belarus and Ukraine agreed on the need to evaluate the safety of nuclear power plants, in particular through undertaking on a voluntary basis comprehensive risk and safety assessment (‘stress tests’);

1.Recommends to support and strengthen the dialogue on energy security between the EU and the Eastern European partners, based on the EU external energy policy, the "Baku initiative" and the Energy Community Treaty in consistency with the overall objectives of EU energy policy of competitiveness, security of supply and sustainability as well as with the EU 2050 energy and climate objectives;

2.Emphasises that today in the era of digital economy and society that is far more dependent on continuous and reliable supply of electricity, there is a strong need to strengthen energy security in the EU and its neighbourhood; recalls that in order to meet this need, the creation of a real competitive energy market and the full integration of energy infrastructure networks, as well regulatory convergence are needed;

3.Stresses the importance of ensuring the EU's assistance, cooperation and support with regard to the measures implemented by EU and Eastern European partners with the purpose of boosting the energy efficiency and encouraging the use of renewable resources;

4.Stresses the need to foster strategic partnerships on green technologies between the EU and the Eastern European partners in the fields of innovation, research and development, energy efficiency and savings, application of renewable energy technologies as well as energy storage, smart grids and balancing of energy systems;

5.Recommends to raise the European investments in the production of energy resources and their supply to the markets, to increase the volumes of joint development of the hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern European partners, specifically the Caspian Sea basin; recommends to increase the political and financial support of the existing pipeline systems, including the Trans-Caspian system;

6.Calls for the creation of the conditions necessary to increase the presence of the Eastern European partners in the common market of energy resources, which are open to all producers; recommends to support the privatisation, unbundling and commercialisation of energy producing and energy transporting structures in the Eastern European partners, according to the provisions of the Third Package for Electricity and Gas markets;

7.Encourages a greater emphasis on the environmental aspects of energy production and energy consumption in the Eastern European partners, to achieve carbon dioxide emission abatement; recommends to further support the development of renewable resources and energy-saving technologies;

8.Encourages Eastern European partners to include in their national energy policies clear targets for the development of renewable and sustainable energy;

9.Calls to promote the merger of the Eastern European partners' electricity and gas capacities and networks and the development of advanced technologies for the transport and use of liquefied natural gas (LNG);

10.Recommends to cement the ties between the expert community of the EU and that in the Eastern European partners in matters related to energy security by means of establishing a network of relevant institutions; welcomes in this respect, the Commission Communication "On security of energy supply and international cooperation"; recommends the creation of working groups (think tanks) consisting of energy security experts from the Eastern European partners and the EU; recommends to use such expert networks for sharing of experience and best practices by means of seminars and conferences;

11.Underlines the benefits that diversification of energy supply sources and routes can provide in terms of energy security; recalls that the EU and Eastern European partners will in the near future, be needing significant investments in construction and modernisation of existing energy infrastructure; welcomes the European Commission proposal for Trans-European energy infrastructure and highlights the need to coordinate policies and developments in the EU with the Eastern European partners; stresses the necessity to ensure the diversity of energy supply routes; at the same time draws the attention to the fact that the practice of closed borders policy increases artificially the cost of energy networks and prevents and hinders the effective cooperation in the process of diversification of energy supply sources and routes; recalls that the opening of the Southern Gas Corridor shall stay one of the political agenda priorities;

12.Calls for increased transparency of intergovernmental energy contracts, with the aim of ensuring full cooperation for energy security and avoiding supply interruptions and potential crises; welcomes, in this respect, the Commission Proposal for a decision setting up an information exchange mechanism with regard to intergovernmental agreements between Member States and third countries in the field of energy, as an essential first step towards these aims; recommends Eastern European partners to join such initiatives with a view of creating a stable and reliable cooperation environment;

13.Recognises that the Black Sea Region is of geo-strategic importance for the energy security of the EU, with regard in particular to the diversification of energy supplies, connecting Europe with the Caspian Sea area, the Middle East and Central Asia; emphasises the need to strengthen multilateral energy cooperation in the Black Sea region, and develop its energy infrastructure;

14.Recommends to ensure a reliable, efficient and stable system of mutually effective guarantees with regard to ensuring the security of the production facilities and the transportation of energy resources; declares any public threats to the energy generating facilities (nuclear power plants, dams, oil platforms, pipelines and terminals, oil refineries and chemical plants) in the Eastern European partners absolutely unacceptable and criminal. Any hostile actions in respect of such facilities shall be qualified as directed against the interests of the EU and the Eastern European partners;

15.Stresses the need to ensure that the highest nuclear safety and security standards in the preparation, construction and operation of nuclear power plants are maintained in the EU and concerned Eastern European partners; welcomes the participation of Ukraine and Armenia in the stress-test exercise and encourages the other concerned Eastern European partners to confirm their commitment to participate;

16.Underlines that Eastern European partners are to ensure that the highest environmental, social, efficiency and safety standards for the exploitation, construction and operation of energy infrastructure and power plants are maintained;

17.Stresses the need for the elaboration of joint energy roadmaps by the EU and by all key energy supplier and strategically important transit countries with the aim of promoting know-how exchange through technological, research and industrial cooperation;

18.Recalls the importance of international cooperation among researchers in the energy sciences; encourages Eastern European partners actively to participate in the energy-relevant specific programmes of the EU Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development;

19.Recommends that Eastern European partners promote and engage in such energy-related initiatives as 'Smart Cities and Communities' and the Convenant of Mayors;

20.Instructs its Co-Presidents to forward this resolution to the President of the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the European External Action Service, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the Eastern European partners.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Adopted report on agreements between the EU and the Eastern European Partners

on trade agreements between the EU and the Eastern European Partners, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas, and EU assistance in this field

The EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly,

–having regard to the Joint Communication from the Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of 25 May 2011 on A new response to a changing Neighbourhood (COM(2011)0303),

–having regard to the development of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) since 2004, and in particular to the Commission’s progress reports on its implementation,

–having regard to the Action Plans adopted jointly with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova, and to the Association Agenda with Ukraine,

–having regard to the EP recommendations for negotiations of Association agreements with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and the European Parliament resolution on the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy - Eastern Dimension of 7 April 2011,

–having regard to the conclusions of the Eastern Partnership Foreign Ministers’ meeting of 13 December 2010,

–having regard to the Joint Declarations of the Prague Eastern Partnership Summit of 7 May 2009 and of the Warsaw Eastern Partnership summit of 29-30 September 2011,

–having regard to Regulation (EC) No 1638/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 2006 laying down general provisions establishing a European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) ,

–having regard to its Constituent Act of 3 May 2011,

A.whereas the cooperation in the framework of the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly aims at bringing about positive effects by serving as a platform to exchange views, find common positions on global challenges of our times with respect to democracy, politics, economics, energy security and social affairs, and strengthen ties between the countries of the region and with the EU;

B.whereas within the ENP the Eastern Partnership has created a meaningful political framework for deepening relations, accelerating political association and furthering economic integration, which are linked by strong geographical, historical and cultural ties, by supporting political and socioeconomic reforms and facilitating approximation with the EU acquis;

C.whereas the Eastern Partnership strengthens multilateral relations between the countries involved, contributes to the exchange of information and experience on the issues of transformation, reform and modernisation, and provides the European Union with additional instruments to support these processes;

D.whereas the Eastern Partnership provides for strengthening of bilateral relations by means of new Association Agreements, taking into account the specific situation and ambition of the partner country and its ability to comply with the resulting commitments;

E.whereas trade between the European Union and its Eastern European Partners has been evolving in a dynamic way, covering more and more areas of cooperation and gradually deepening economic integration and whereas in order to govern the geometry of ever-close trade relations, both the EU and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries have recognised the need to establishing between them an enhanced contractual framework intended to upgrade the existing trade agreements;

F.whereas the new free trade arrangements (DCFTAs) will be deep and comprehensive in terms of their nature, scope and level of engagement, thus going beyond and above the traditional FTAs encompassing both liberalisation of trade in goods and of trade in services and investments based on the respective WTO principles and covering other trade-related areas including intellectual property rights, customs, public procurement, energy-related issues, competition, transparency, energy and sustainable development;

G.whereas the establishment of the DCFTA provides a broad spectrum of potential benefits to the contracting parties; whereas however most of these benefits will result from a synergy between the DCFTA and the approximation process provided for by the Association Agreement;

H.whereas trade with the EU represents a substantial part of international trade flows and whereas the economies of the EaP countries are dependent on it;

1.Is of the opinion that the EaP countries are culturally and historically closely linked to the European Union, sharing a European heritage and values, and recognises their will to economically integrate with the EU;

2.Underlines the significance of common standards for goods and services within the internal market of the European Union, which are at the core of European integration; believes therefore in the necessity for the Eastern Partnership countries to strive to achieve coherence with these standards in order to deepen cooperation in trade relations between the parties;

3.Welcomes the recent EU decisions to launch negotiations on DCFTA with Armenia, Georgia and Moldova; stresses that DCFTAs present an excellent vehicle for progress towards the economic integration of the EU with EaP countries that, if correctly applied and their provisions duly fulfilled, might further result in political integration of EaP countries with the EU; therefore calls on EU and EaP countries to intensify cooperation in order to accelerate the negotiations on the DCFTAs, opening negotiations with those countries which are prepared to do so, while initialling, signing and ratifying agreements with those that have already completed their DCFTA negotiations;

4.Proposes that the countries of the EaP which are not members of the World Trade Organisation complete the negotiations and join the WTO promptly as a necessary step to deepen convergence with the EU markets via the DCFTAs;

5.Urges the World Trade Organization to accelerate and speedily finalize the negotiation process with the Eastern Partner countries which are not members of the WTO and stresses the importance of this membership for the setting in the nearest future the common trade principles of the Eastern Partner countries with the EU Member States;

6.Emphasizes the need to ensure that the DCFTA negotiations recently launched with the Eastern Partner countries are conducted in a fair and transparent manner, placing due emphasis on long term sustainable development objectives, including improved competition and reduced corruption;

7.Draws attention to the shared interest of the European Union in helping the Eastern Partnership countries to pursue long-term stable and sound economic growth and to establish a modern economic governance, which can be achieved by linking the economies of the Eastern Partnership countries with the common market of the European Union via DCFTAs; underlines the fact that the DCFTA is crucial and essential to a modern, transparent and predictable trade, as well as to foreign direct investments leading to job creation and long term growth;

8.Deplores the insufficient funds and the protracted absence of a consistent EU policy towards the Eastern Partnership countries compared to other areas of the European Neighbourhood; points out that over the past two decades the pursuit of such a consistent policy towards some of the members of the former Council for Mutual Economic Assistance has yielded very positive results, including the current EU membership of several of them; in this regard draws attention to the negative aspects of this absence, resulting in increased migration, greater corruption and the weakness of democratic institutions in the EaP countries;

9.Calls for an enhanced dialogue between the EU and EaP partners, including technical and financial support, in topical trade-related sectors, particularly technical barriers to trade, including food safety and phytosanitary issues, customs issues, standardisation, conformity assessment, trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, etc.;
0.Encourages integration of the economies of the Eastern Partnership countries with the economies of the European Union; highlights that this may facilitate further political integration with the EU;
1.Stresses that DCFTAs should form an integral part of broader association agreements including provisions on political dialogue on human rights, democratic values and the rule of law;
2.Stresses that deeper market integration between the EU and the EaP countries could contribute to stimulating economic growth in both areas, in eliminating regional economic imbalances and social inequalities in these countries, and therefore enhance the welfare of their respective populations, a significant outcome in particular in a time of global economic crisis;
3.Underlines the fact that negotiations on the DCFTA with the European Union are linked directly to a wide-ranging programme of economic reforms of the countries which can be painful for some sectors of their economies in the short term but, provided that it is well implemented, is intended to create a properly-functioning market, allowing strong economic growth in the long term; urges authorities of the EaP countries to make progress in meeting Association Agreement requirements provided by the Commission and ensure that necessary progress is also achieved in demonopolisation, market liberalization and strengthening the rule of law;

14.Emphasises that regulatory approximation to the EU acquis, a key means of making the FTA “deep and comprehensive”, requires substantial changes in the very foundations of the EaP states and societies and the patterns of their legal and economic cultures;

15.Draws attention to the asymmetry in the DCFTAs with the EaP countries due to the respective sizes of the markets of the EaP countries and the EU market and the level of their development; therefore stresses that the “more for more” approach should be the basis for moving forward in DCFTA negotiations;

16.Calls for the establishment of a sound system of verification of the implementation of technical commitments accepted by the EaP countries during the DCFTA negotiations, both within the country concerned and in the EU institutions; highlights the possibility of sharing information between the EaP countries on best practices in the implementation of technical standards;

17.Calls for the European Union to contribute to addressing the burden of financial and technical aid to reform the economies of the EaP countries in order to make them consistent with EU standards; proposes in this regard making good use of twinning programs and TAIEX assistance between the various entities in the EU Member States and their counterparts in the EaP countries in order to spread know-how;

18.Draws attention to the spillover potential of good practices channelled through the Eastern Partnership programme into the EaP countries through the knock-out effect on their direct non-EU neighbourhood;

19.Recommends seeking to further improve the level of legal and technical standards in the EaP countries, which is necessary in order to create the potential to deepen economic cooperation between the EaP countries and the EU Member States;

20.Calls for an ambitious approach and a wider vision of integrating economies of the EU and the EaP through DCFTAs by not only including a wide spectrum of aspects linked to free trade, like phytosanitary measures and trade branding but also aspects of regulatory approximation and environmental protection and sustainable development; stresses in this regard the importance of including binding sustainable development chapters in the DCFTAs, including provisions on environmental protection and international labour rights, and stresses the significance of drafting accompanying Association Agreements linked to the political reality of the countries concerned;

21.Draws attention to the successful examples of economic integration among countries in Central and Eastern Europe as well as the Western Balkans, which could to a large extent be taken as a model by the EU in relation to Eastern Partnership countries; emphasizes, at the same time, the necessity to differentiate the approaches, needs, perspectives and opportunities between Mediterranean and Eastern dimensions;

22.Considers that European ambitions of an EaP country should be evaluated on the basis of differentiation and "more for more principles" and an eventual application for accession should be treated individually accordingly with the provision of Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union;

23.Recommends including access for EaP agricultural products in the DCFTAs, as in most of the EaP countries agriculture plays a significant role in the structure of their economies and a possibility of better access to the EU market for agricultural goods remains a key priority for the Eastern Partners;

24.Supports the idea of launching the European Neighbouring Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD) which could be developed based on the experience of the SAPARD Programme offered early to the Central and South-Eastern European countries;

25.Welcomes the constant inter-country communication within the EURONEST PA (to exchange trade-related concerns and to hammer out common positions) and within the EURONEST Committees (on specific trade-related developments between the EU and the Eastern European partners); welcomes the sharing experience in the framework of the EURONEST PA, which has a positive effect on the internal and external dimensions of cooperation between EaP members;

26.Calls the national parliaments of the Eastern European Partners to accelerate the process of harmonization of the national economic legislations with the aquis communitaire and supports the nationals parliaments in enacting the DCFTA-related reforms by adopting relevant recommendations; encourages the setting-up of multilateral working groups to assist each other in regulatory approximation across the whole spectrum of the EU acquis related to trade;

27.Is of the opinion that the key instruments of EU trade policy vis-à-vis the EaP countries should be applied in a targeted and result-oriented manner;

28.Supports the provision of a system to monitor the impact of the EU’s external trade policy on the national trade policies of the DCFTA partners, which should enable civil society and business voices to be heard;

29.Instructs its Co-Presidents to forward this resolution to the President of the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EEAS, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the Eastern Partnership countries.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Adopted report on strengthening civil society in the Eastern Partnership Countries

on strengthening civil society in the Eastern Partnership Countries, including the question of cooperation between government and civil society, and the question of the reforms aimed at empowering civil society

The EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly,

-having regard to the Joint Declaration of the Prague Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit of 7 May 2009 and of the Warsaw Eastern Partnership Summit of 29-30 September 2011,

-having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

-having regard to the Constituent Act of the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly of 3 May 2011,

-having regard to Article 8 and Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union,

-having regard to the Communication from the European Commission to the European Parliament and to the Council of the 3 December 2008 entitled 'Eastern Partnership' (COM(2008)0823),

-having regard to the European Parliament resolution of 20 May 2010 on the need for an EU strategy for the South Caucasus (2009/2216(INI)),

-having regard to the Joint Communication on 'A New Response to a Changing Neighbourhood' of 25 May 2011,

-having regard to the Commission Communications of 5 December 2007 entitled 'A Strong European Neighbourhood Policy', of 4 December 2006 on 'Strengthening the ENP', of 12 May 2004 entitled 'European Neighbourhood Policy - Strategy paper' and of 1 March 2003 entitled 'Wider Europe - Neighbourhood: A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbours',

-having regard to the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on 'Involvement of Civil Society in the Eastern Partnership' (explanatory opinion) of 13 May 2009,

-having regard to the Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on 'The contribution of civil society to the Eastern Partnership' of 25 August 2011,

-having regard to the European Parliament's previous resolutions on the Eastern Dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), and on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine,

-having regard to the conclusion of negotiations on the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine and ongoing bilateral negotiations with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, as well as to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed between the EU and Belarus in 1995, but not ratified,

-having regard to the European Charter on Local Self-Government,

-having regard to the opinion on the report on recommendations to the Eastern Partnership Summit of the Committee on Social Affairs, Education Culture and Civil Society adopted on 14 September 2011,

-having regard to its Rules of Procedure,

A.whereas the Eastern Partnership (EaP), a specific dimension of the ENP, is based on shared values including democracy, rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights, and recognises the importance of social and civil dialogue as well as the essential role of civil society organisations in the development and consolidation of democratic societies; whereas the ability of men and women to participate on equal terms in political life and in decision-making is a prerequisite for genuine democracy; whereas an active commitment to shared values and principles is essential to moving the process forward;

B.whereas civil society organisations and non-state actors are a vital part of a well-functioning democracy, and play an important role in establishing a democratic culture deeply rooted in society;

C.whereas the EaP has the objective of supporting Eastern European partners in their endeavours to carry out sustainable reform processes, with a view to speeding up their political association and economic integration with the EU;

D.whereas at the second EaP Summit, held in Warsaw on 29-30 September 2011, the Heads of States or Governments and representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, and the EU renewed their commitments to the objectives and continued implementation of the EaP;

E.whereas the EaP Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) and its national platforms are valuable instruments with which to attain the objectives established by the Eastern Partnership concerning the involvement of civil societies;

1.Underlines the essential and indispensable role of a genuinely independent civil society in strengthening democracy and the rule of law and holding governments accountable; stresses that to enable civil society organisations and actors to fulfil this role, fundamental freedoms must be guaranteed, including the freedom of association, of assembly, of expression, of the press and media, and of access to internet; considers that every effort should be made in order to facilitate the work of civil society organisations within a clear legal framework that avoids undue administrative burdens and arbitrary bureaucratic requirements;

2.Stresses the importance of building and strengthening partnerships between the EU, its Eastern Partners and their respective civil societies, emphasising that these partnerships must be inclusive; calls on Eastern Partners to involve civil society in regional dialogue and cooperation, in order to offer a fresh perspective on a variety of topics, including the promotion of democracy, economic reforms, trade, sectoral cooperation, gender equality, the economic and social situation of the youth, sustainable development initiatives and the fight against corruption; notes the varied results to date with regard to establishing dialogue between national governments and civil society;

3.Underlines that, in order to be completely legitimate and rooted in the will of people, any strategy for promoting democracy must be based on dialogue with as wide a range of local actors as possible; therefore, calls for democratic standards to be strengthened to allow the participation of civil society in political dialogue and decision making processes;

4.Emphasises the role that legitimate democratic political parties, genuine social movements and a free press play in safeguarding the public interest by overseeing the transparency and accountability of governments, thereby enabling states to protect human rights and promote social and economic development;

5.Calls on the EU and Eastern Partnership countries to exchange best practices with regard to the protection of the rights of refugees and internally displaced people, the resolution of their social problems and their participation in civil society building;

6.Welcomes the work of the EaP CSF and of its national platforms; supports its contribution to the development of civil society dialogue at different levels, both regional and local, and in different sectors; insists on the need for EaP CSF participation in the meetings of EaP intergovernmental platforms;

7.Welcomes the review of the ENP, which underlines the importance of creating partnerships with societies and envisages a Civil Society Facility (CSF) and the establishment of a European Endowment for Democracy;

8.Calls on the Eastern Partners to guarantee the independence of all media, in particular public, and encourages civil society to monitor the transparency of media agencies ownership; further underlines the need for independence of journalists and calls for the suspension of all kinds of political interference, pressure, intimidation, harassment and politically-motivated trials against them; stresses the need to ensure the independence of public broadcasting and the access of national and foreign media to broadcasting;

9.Calls for the active involvement and participation of civil society organisations in human rights dialogues, including the ones on minority rights; encourages civil society organisations to broadly participate in electoral observation missions, which will help to conduct elections according to internationally recognised standards and in a free, democratic and transparent manner;

10.Urges the authorities of the EaP countries and EU Member States to fight violence against women in all its forms through the implementation of legislative, institutional and public educational strategies; stresses the need to increase public awareness of violence against women as a criminal offence and as a violation of human rights; underlines the importance of achieving full gender equality through the adoption of gender equality policies and action plans to address the huge gender pay gap, which remains key to women's economic autonomy; firmly supports all initiatives, incentives and capacity-building measures included in EU external policies with a view to promoting the participation of women in the decision-making process at all levels, both in the public and the private spheres, as well as the engagement of civil society in issues of gender equality; recalls the international commitments taken with regards to gender equality;

11.Insists upon the essential role of youth in societies and encourages the implementation of policies targeted at increasing youth employment and social integration; stresses the importance of mobility schemes as mechanisms for intercultural dialogue and knowledge;

12.Encourages the EaP countries to contribute to the promotion of the common European social values; underlines the importance of providing information on and raising awareness about social dialogue among the government, employees and employers, particularly in connection with promoting the EaP's activities and objectives and building a European cooperation network; calls for the right of trade unions and employers, including SMEs, to participate in social dialogue;

13.Acknowledges the vital role played by NGOs and other non-state actors in the promotion of democracy, social justice and human rights; urges that all NGOs should, as long as they do not incite racial, ethnic, religious or any other discrimination or hatred, have equal access to registration and the right to function freely, without government interference and any type of political pressure, in order to preserve their integrity;

14.Considers that strengthening judicial systems and their independence, fighting corruption, securing and implementing fundamental freedoms and international human rights commitments, and ensuring the legal and economic conditions for civil society organisations to work independently are elements that would greatly contribute to the enhanced development and the strengthening of civil society in partner countries; calls for a greater separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive power;

15.Encourages the rights of every citizen to participate in public life and to run for public office; stresses the need to ensure that every citizen fully enjoys their right to table petitions, as well as the need to strengthen the role of the Ombudsman in EaP countries, including through a broad information campaign on the functioning of these institutions and by strengthening their office's independence from executive powers;

16.Stresses that improving the distribution of authority and of responsibility between local and central authorities is essential for public administration reform, including by permitting independent candidates to participate in local elections; encourages a greater decentralisation and a greater independence of local governments, including fiscal independence, and the full implementation of the European Charter on Local Self-Government;

17.Calls on the EU institutions and the Member States to share their experience and provide recommendations in relation to civil society consultations and their funding, and on providing new ways and means of communicating with people (using modern communication technologies); encourages the promotion of e-government and e-municipality policies;

18.Considers that national minorities represent an added value to the society as a whole, and encourages support for their rights and organisations;

19.Urges the EaP governments to promote the financial sustainability of civil society institutions by encouraging the development of independent and transparent mechanisms, including through sectoral approaches, as a priority for sustainable development;

20.Suggests to the national parliaments of the Eastern Partnership countries to improve their legislation on civil society institutions and to bring it in conformity with EU standards;

21.Encourages the development of a civil society dimension in existing and planned regional and trans-national networks and in cross-border cooperation programmes, and as a means of promoting capacity building; calls on the Commission and EEAS to make full use of instruments at their disposal to promote this cooperation; underlines the role of intercultural dialogue in conflict settlement and confidence building; takes into consideration the specific geographical, historical and political characteristics;

22.Stresses that the observance of EU principles of cooperation could have a positive impact on regional and international peace and stability; underlines that peace and stability are essential to create a positive environment for democratic reforms and civil society development; underlines and welcomes the role and initiatives of NGOs in promoting peace, understanding and confidence building;

23.Believes that empowering individuals and civil society through education, training and awareness-raising, while facilitating effective advocacy for all human rights, including social, economic and cultural rights, is an essential complement to the development and implementation of democratisation policies and programmes; stresses that a close partnership between the public and private sectors, as well as the empowerment of oversight institutions, including national parliaments, are key to promoting democracy; notes that cooperation in the field of culture, education, training and research can promote people-to-people contacts for which the necessary funding should be ensured; underlines the importance of enhancing intercultural dialogue via available EU programmes ; points out that a prioritisation of policies and projects focusing on investments in youth, education, training and skills can lead to increased job creation potential and a more sustainable economy; in this context highlights that mobility fosters cultural and social exchanges and promotes integration between the EU and the EaP countries; therefore urges the EU and the EaP countries to finalise negotiations on visa facilitation;

24.Highlights that dialogue with citizens and partnerships with society at all levels requires appropriate financial resources; calls for a long-term balanced and appropriate approach to the EU’s Southern and Eastern neighbours;

25.Underlines the important role of countries’ civil society and parliaments in democratic budget oversight, and is convinced that any direct budget support provided by the European Union has to be complemented by a technical and political reinforcement of the oversight capacity of national parliaments; maintains that the European Union should actively inform third countries’ parliaments of the scope of EU cooperation;

26.Considers that in the process of negotiating and subsequently implementing Association Agreements between the EU and its Eastern Partners, there is a particular need for reinforcing the role of civil society, including through consultation and strengthened dialogue with the national parliaments; notes that the pace of reforms connected to the civil society's situation in Eastern Partner countries can have a direct impact on the intensity of cooperation with the EU;

27.Instructs its Co-Presidents to forward this resolution to the President of the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the Commission, the EEAS, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the Eastern Partnership countries.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

MEPs achieve progress on energy security, trade and human rights in meeting with EU's Eastern Partners

MEPs made progress on energy security, economic reform and human rights when they met their counterparts from the EU's Eastern Partners in Baku, Azerbaijan, on 2-4 April. This was the second ordinary plenary session of Euronest, a forum to promote political and economic integration between the EU and Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Bulgarian Social-Democrat MEP Kristian Vigenin, co-president of the assembly, told us about the results achieved.

The Euronest interparliamentary adopted resolutions on common energy security threats, strengthening the role of parliaments, EU support for Eastern Partners' structural economic and public administration reforms, the empowerment of civil society and the need to give Ukraine's former prime-minister Yulia Tymoshenko proper healthcare. Participants also discussed human rights.

We asked Mr Vigenin about what happened during the Euronest meeting.  

What are the results of the Euronest meeting?

We had a very successful meeting and not only because we adopted four reports on human rights, energy, trade and social affairs. We learned the lessons of the first plenary assembly last year, when no agreements were reached, but this time we managed to create an environment where decisions and compromises could be made. We also approved changes to our rules of procedure to improve our work and adopted an appeal to the Ukrainian authorities to grant the necessary medical treatment of Yulia Tymoshenko.

Azerbaijan also hosts the Eurovision song contest this year, but at the same time it is usually criticised for its poor human rights record. How do you see the situation?

The human rights situation is not perfect in this country. It has to be improved. The authorities understand that and are working on it, but I would like to see more commitment to this end. I hope that the report we have adopted on strengthening democracy, human rights and media freedom will also move things forward, not only in Azerbaijan, but in all of our partner countries and in the EU as well.

At the closing press conference, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was a recurrent topic. Ethnic Armenian separatists in this Azerbaijan region declared independence in 1988, leading to a six-year war. Since then efforts to broker a peace deal have failed. Can Euronest help to resolve this issue?

Euronest is not the body to solve this conflict. There is an internationally recognised format - the Minsk group - to do this. But Euronest is building an environment in which more trust and opportunities for dialogue between Armenia and Azerbaijan could be created. In the assembly our Eastern Partners, including Azeris and Armenians, need to communicate and work together. For the next plenary session of the assembly to be held in Brussels in 2013 we are drafting a report on the security challenges in the eastern neighbourhood and the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh cannot be avoided. This conflict is an open wound in South Caucasus. Finding a solution is not an easy task, but I know that if there is a will, there will be a way.

The assembly decided to extend the mandate of the Belarus working group to help democratisation in the country. Do you expect any progress soon?

The working group has to continue its work. It listens to the representatives of the opposition and also tries to establish contacts with the government. I hope that the upcoming elections will give a glimmer of hope that soon we will be able to invite parliamentarians from Belarus to our assembly. Euronest is not complete without Belarus but they can only join if the elections meet at least to some extent the international standards for free and fair elections.

Delegations / External relations − 11-04-2012 - 11:25

Adopted report on challenges for the future of democracy

on challenges for the future of democracy, including the question of free and independent media in Eastern Partnership and EU countries

The EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly,

–​having regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, proclaimed in Strasbourg on 12 December 2007,

–​having regard to the Treaty on European Union,

–​having regard to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,

–​having regard to the Constituent Act of the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly of 3 May 2011,

–​having regard to the Conclusions of the Eastern Partnership Summits of 7 May 2009 in Prague and of 29-30 September 2011 in Warsaw;

–​having regard to the European Parliament's resolution of 22 October 2009 on democracy building in the EU's external relations,

–​having regard to the European Charter on Freedom of the Press of 25 May 2009,

–​having regard to the European Parliament's resolutions on the eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy, as well as on the Republic of Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine,

–​having regard to the Joint Communication by the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Commission on ‘A new response to a changing Neighbourhood’ of 25 May 2011,

- ​having regard to the opinions of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe adopted in 2010 and 2011 and related to constitutional issues, electoral code, freedoms of conscience and religion, political parties, human rights standards, non-governmental organisations, political unions of citizens, law on assembly and manifestations and independence of judiciary in Eastern Partnership countries,

–​having regard to the regular reports to the OSCE Permanent Council by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media,

–​having regard to the Declaration of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on measures to promote the respect of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (adopted on 13 January 2010);

–​having regard to its Rules of Procedures,

A.​whereas democracy is a universal value and a form of government in which citizens enjoy equal rights to participate in political life and equal access to legislative processes;

B.​whereas the Joint Declaration of the Eastern Partnership Summit held in Warsaw on 29-30 September 2011, states that ‘the Eastern Partnership is based on a community of values and principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law’ and that ‘all countries participating in the Eastern Partnership are committed to these values through the relevant international instruments’;

C.​whereas Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union refers to democracy as a founding value of the Union and identifies it as common to EU Member States; whereas these Member States share a form of governance based on representative democracy;  

D.​whereas Article 49 of the Treaty on the European Union refers to the right of any European State, which respects the EU democratic values and is committed to promoting them, to apply to become a member of the Union;

E.​whereas democratic systems may vary in form and shape, reflecting different histories, cultures and circumstances, but popular sovereignty, equality and freedom, the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, transparency and accountability in public affairs are universally identified amongst the basic features of democracy; whereas respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential to the establishment of democratic systems enabling citizens to protect their rights and enjoy fundamental freedoms;

F.​whereas democracy shall ensure equality before the law and elimination of all forms of discrimination; whereas it requires that men and women may participate on equal terms to political life and that all citizens, including the ones belonging to minorities or vulnerable groups enjoy the same rights;

G.​whereas a scarcity of accountability of political class and of its capacity to reach compromises, a protracted instability, along with limited economic growth and development may result in pervasive popular frustration and an anti-democratic populism may gain strength;

H.​whereas representative democracy is founded on the principle of elected individuals representing the will of the people and requires the periodic organisation of competitive, free and fair elections; whereas representative elections require an active participation of voters and a high voter turnout;

I.​whereas independent executive, legislative and judicial institutions with separate powers form the basis of democratic systems and governance; whereas, according to democratic principles, governments and parliaments at international, national or sub-national levels are accountable for the conduct of public policies and administration and give transparency to their decisions before citizens;

J.​whereas strong parliamentary institutions are at the heart of all democratic systems of governance; whereas the European Parliament is providing a welcome assistance in offering capacity support to Eastern European partner parliaments;

K.​whereas in a democracy, the diversity of political parties with capacity to represent citizens ensures that there are different choices in terms of policies, political ideas and programmes as well as in terms of candidates for executive and legislative institution offices; whereas political parties offer and provide citizens with the capacity to discuss the aspirations and demands of society openly and transparently and to turn them into policy proposals and alternatives;

L.​whereas freedom of  opinion and expression, freedom of assembly, the right to establish independent political parties, non-governmental organizations and associations are essential elements of democracy; whereas it is fundamental to guarantee that citizens are allowed to exercise their rights in these areas without being exposed to threats of lawsuits or imprisonment;

M.​whereas freedom and pluralism of the media and press are essential so that citizens make opinions and judgments benefiting from a variety of information sources; whereas democratic political life requires the free access of citizens to information, through communication channels ranging from press publishing to electronic vectors including the internet and social media, without censorship, as well as ensure reliable and safe environment for investigative journalism;

N.​whereas establishing or adjusting media legislative frameworks in such a way as to prevent the formation of monopolies and promote media pluralism is a recurrent challenge to all states; whereas such frameworks should lay down adequate regulations applying to the internet, electronic communication technologies and social networks, which provide new opportunities for increasing political knowledge and the participation of citizens in political life and for raising their interest in civic engagement;

O.​whereas civil society organisations which are distinct and are not linked to state structures, have a prominent role in the functioning of democracy; whereas they are instrumental in building up democratic culture in society by informing citizens, encouraging them to participate in political discussions and holding governments accountable for public policies;

P.​whereas the development of democracy poses a number of challenges in terms of citizens’ participation in political life and debates, the openness of policy-making bodies, including parliaments to dialogues with the society, and the freedom of media and their independence from political and economic powers;

Q.​whereas corruption undermines trust in democratic institutions and weakens the accountability, legitimacy and credibility of political leadership; whereas eliminating corruption is a challenge and a necessary condition for democratisation for all societies and requires the enforcement of appropriate laws and ethical, deontological and conduct rules applying to political life;

R.​whereas democratic reforms in Eastern European partners would be highly beneficial to cooperation and dialogue with EU Member States under the Eastern Partnership; whereas in this context, such democratic reforms should address as a priority the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as free and fair elections; whereas these democratic reforms depend highly on the political will and different political intentions of the ruling elite of each partner country;

S.​whereas transparent and accountable public administrations faces new organisational challenges in making decisions and policy-decision processes available to access, debate and discussion for citizens; whereas the latter shall have an opportunity to claim their demands and introduce their proposals, which are to be taken into consideration by public administration;

T.​whereas there are trends towards increasing policy decision-making at international level, given that political responses to global economic, societal and environmental challenges need to be of global nature; whereas, at the same time, international organisations play a crucial role in bringing all partners at the global level to work on common standards considering democratic governance;

U.​whereas educating people and in particular the young to democratic values, as well as creating civil society is crucial to the future of democracy, with a view to avoiding low voter turnouts which undermine the legitimacy of representative institutions and bodies;

Giving priority to the fundamentals of democracy

1. Believes that progress regarding democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law is of major importance to both EU Member States and Eastern European partners, and to the development of their cooperation, economic integration and political association;

2. Considers that the separation of powers and a proper balance between state institutions are necessary for the stability, independence and effectiveness of democratic institutions, which are the only guarantee to increase citizens’ trust towards these institutions;

3. Stresses that democratisation processes should give priority to respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the strengthening of the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, transparent procurement, separation of politics from business, reliable court procedure and the fairness and transparency of elections;

4. Underlines the need to ensure the freedom of citizens to stand for elected office; stresses the importance of promoting the right of citizens to form political parties, freely declare their membership and participate in electoral campaigns;

5. Calls on the respective governments to ensure that elections, in particular the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in the Eastern European partners, prove to be fair, transparent and in full compliance with international standards for democratic elections, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and OSCE/ODIHR recommendations; stresses the importance of ensuring a fair electoral process in the run-up to election days for all competing sides, including fair access to media; calls for national electoral frameworks and codes to be critically reviewed and modified where needed; in this regard, welcomes the latest changes made to the Electoral Code of Armenia; considers that international election observers have an important role to play in fostering public trust in all election processes and calls the international community to ensure an international observation exercise of the elections to be held in Eastern European partners and provide with objective evaluation of the whole electoral process, publicized equally for all Eastern European partners and based on the same standards;

6. Calls on the Eastern European partners to ensure that forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, which are on the way, prove to be free, fair, democratic as conducted according to the OSCE standards;
7. Stresses that the adoption and implementation of legislation against discrimination are critical elements for democratic progress in open, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies;

8. Calls for the enforcement, improvement or adoption of codes of conduct for political life, encompassing ethical principles and standards to be applied in national governmental bodies and parliaments; emphasises that the latter should be supported in their efforts to play their proper role in defining national policies, holding governments to account, monitoring and assessing past performances and achieved results; calls for the establishment of a clear separation between the economic and political spheres in decision making so as to avoid conflicts of interest, not least in respect of the financing of political parties; underlines the importance of clear legislative framework and provisions on political party and campaign financing guaranteeing the transparency of regulation, oversight of political party financing and equal opportunities for all political parties;

9. Invites the EU, EU Member States and Eastern European partners to make a firm political commitment for combating corruption in all its forms and to strengthen and effectively implement anti-corruption legislation, since corruption not only hampers long-term economic growth and citizens’ trust in political development, but also has negative impact on the social tissue and evolving prospects of society;

10. Calls for strengthening the Joint Programme of the EU and the Council of Europe on enhancing judicial reform in the Eastern European partners; recommends that it be extended to joint training and experience-sharing activities between judges from the EU Member States and Eastern European partners;
Deepening the Eastern Partnership political dialogue and cooperation for democracy building

11. Calls for enhancement of the political dialogue between the EU and Eastern European partners on the issues of building up democracy and implementing democratic reforms; pledges to intensify the role of the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly in this dialogue with political institutions and other stakeholders, in particular by developing exchanges and discussions between its Members and representatives of governmental bodies, parliamentary and non-parliamentary political parties, civil society, the media and non-governmental organisations;

12. Encourages EU Member States which experienced a transition from authoritarian regimes to democracy to offer advice to Eastern European partners on the basis of the lessons drawn from the successes and difficulties they have met over the past twenty years; recommends that in their transition towards deeper democracy and political association with the EU, partner countries adopt legislative and concrete measures ensuring the access of their citizens to national archives related to the surveillance activities of former authoritarian regimes.

13. Recommends to build solidarity and to strengthen EU support to Eastern European partners in implementing democratic reforms, in particular with regard to reforming the judiciary and court systems, and guaranteeing the independence, impartiality, accountability and professionalism of the judiciary and courts;

14. Calls on the European Commission to provide enhanced financial, technical and expertise support to the national parliaments´ administrations of the Eastern European partners within the Comprehensive Institution Building programme in order to strengthen their efficiency, transparency and accountability, which is crucial if the parliaments are to play their proper role in the democratic decision making processes;

15. Recommends to strongly support the existing human rights dialogue the EU has established with Belarus and the other formats of cooperation on human rights with the other Eastern European partners; calls on the EU and partners to provide additional financial and human resources to this cause;

16. Calls for the establishment of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), aimed at supporting political actors, such as political parties, non-registered non-governmental organisations and trade unions, which strive to bring about democratic change; recommends that the EED be used as an independent, flexible and expert tool in European Eastern partners;

17. Stresses that the future EED should be additional to existing democracy-support instruments, and in particular should neither substitute nor duplicate the activities implemented under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR);

18. Encourages political parties in the EU Member States to develop cooperation programmes with their counterparts in Eastern European partners, and encourages the twinning of other EU democratic actors, such as trade unions, non-governmental organisations, employers’, farmers’ and women’s organisations, religious and cultural dialogue bodies, consumer, youth, journalists’ and teachers’ organisations, local government bodies and universities, with similar organisations in Eastern European partners;

19. Recommends stepping up efforts to fight corruption by increasing funding for anti-corruption plans and measures, and by enhancing cooperation between EU Member States and Eastern European partners within the Council of Europe Group of States against Corruption (GRECO); encourages Eastern European partners to develop comprehensive multi-annual anti-corruption strategies and action plans with concrete measures and deadlines, and to allocate the necessary budgetary resources for their implementation;

20. Recommends enhancing the dialogue between the EU and Eastern European partners on best practices regarding measures to protect vulnerable people and minorities from discrimination; draws attention of the EU and Eastern European partners that, while establishing national mechanism under UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, sufficient financial and human resources have to be provided for the institution that will be chosen to carry out the mandate;

Supporting the freedom of expression and the development of free and independent media

21. Stresses that, in all EU Member States and Eastern European partners, independent and free media are essential to democracy and its functioning, as they ensure the involvement of civil society in public affairs and empower citizens;

22. Urges the EU Member States and the Eastern European partners to ensure the fundamental right of citizens to information in accordance with article 11 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights by monitoring and fully respecting the principle of media independence and pluralism in order to prevent monopolization and unjustified interference in media activities;

23. Deplores the fact that many journalists have been subjected to acts of intimidation and harassment or victim of aggressions and attacks because of their courageous and independent work and calls on the relevant authorities to fully investigate these facts and bring those responsible to justice;

24. Recommends establishing or improving the legislative framework applying to public and private broadcasting, in accordance with OSCE international standards; considers that new or amended regulations should aim at preventing the concentration of media ownership, ensuring the fairness of broadcasting licensing competitions and protecting broadcasting media content from political and commercial pressures, especially during election processes, preventing all competing sides from unfair conditions, exclusion of certain political options and restrictions;

25. Recommends promoting a freely accessible internet, which serves freedom of expression and media pluralism and can be used as a tool for supporting political debates, democratic initiatives and the dissemination of political culture and knowledge;

26. Calls on the EU and Eastern European partners to organise exchange and training programmes in order to professionalise journalists, identify good journalistic practices and promote ethical and professional standards of journalism, and develop investigate journalism; underlines that better knowledge and promotion of the Eastern Partnership by the media would significantly improve the understanding and ownership of EU supported and encouraged democratic reform programmes by the population of Eastern European partners;
Building citizens' confidence in democratic institutions and interest in policy

27. Calls on the EU, EU Member States and Eastern European partners to ensure the transparency of policy-making decisions by providing stakeholders with  information and involving them in public open debates and consultations; recommends to foster the interest of citizens in political debates by further opening up parliaments and democratic assemblies for consultations and exchanges with citizens, in particular involving into discussions women and youth representatives;

28. Calls also on the EU, EU Member States and Eastern European partners to promote the democratic role of political parties and movements in assuming an intermediary role between state institutions and citizens, shaping public opinion, pooling interests, and putting forward and allowing competition between different political options;

29. Recommends further encouraging political parties to ensure a balanced representation of men and women in their procedures for the designation of candidates for elections;

30. Underlines that sustainable democratic reforms require a better understanding and ownership of them; therefore calls on the EU Member States and the Eastern European partners to consult with civil society before launching reform programmes so as to ensure the broadest possible public support;

Strengthening civil society

31. Stresses the importance of a strong, active and genuinely independent civil society which is a key player for the development of democracy; in this regard, calls on the EU and Eastern European partners to increase technical and financial assistance to civil society organisations or institutions, and to secure the transparency and efficiency of this assistance; calls, furthermore, for adequate guarantees and protection for human rights defenders;

32. Stresses that the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum is a very important tool for promoting the civil society's role in support of democracy; calls for greater involvement of the Civil Society Forum in the implementation of the Eastern Partnership; recommends an increased participation of the Civil Society Forum delegates in meetings between representatives of the EU and Eastern European partners; gives due attention and consideration to the Forum's activities and recommendations as regards people-to-people contacts;

33. Underlines the need to ensure the independence of non-governmental organisations, which contribute to the vitality of public debates and the spread of information within the society; in this regard, insists on state institutions, particularly, national parliaments and governments to promote interaction with civil society through organising parliamentary hearings and public consultations;

34. Notes that strengthening the youth dimension of the Eastern Partnership is an important investment in the future of the EU - European Neighbourhood Policy relations with great potential for years to come, and in the democratisation of those partners and the harmonisation of their legislation with European standards;

35. Stresses the significant role of all initiatives aiming at improving the education and skills of young people in the area of democratic processes and participative civil society development; welcomes therefore efforts of the EU Member States and Eastern European partners in organising Young People's Parliaments; encourages the EU to launch programmes supporting these efforts, such as the creation of young inter-parliamentary friendship groups between the European Youth Parliament and the youth national parliaments of the Eastern European partners;

36. Calls on the EU to increase the number of exchange programmes for young people, as it is the most efficient way to promote the exchange and sharing of gained experience in the area of participative democracy and civil society development;

37. Instructs its Co-Presidents to forward this resolution to the President of the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the European External Action Service, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the Eastern European partners.