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European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood
Speech at the EuroNest Parliamentary Assembly
EuroNest Parliamentary Assembly
Baku, 3 April 2012
I am happy to be here, in Baku, 21 years after Azerbaijan, as well as Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine regained their independence.
I am thankful for the invitation and I want to express my gratitude to Azerbaijan’s Milli Mejlis for hosting our meeting. I am also pleased to see here representatives of Armenia’s parliament. The resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and reconciliation between the two nations is not easy. But I believe that dialogue between both parliaments may help overcome this sore issue. In this context, let me stress the importance of ensuring that all opportunities are used to establish and strengthen contacts across boundaries and within the region as whole. For instance, culture that per definition has no boundaries provides such an opportunity. I sincerely regret that Belarus’ parliamentarians are not with us today. Yet, I think that they will one day join your Assembly.
Let me assure you that we are strengthening our ties with Belarus’ civil society and we have reiterated our commitment to the policy of critical engagement with authorities.
I am guided by the long-term vision of a democratic and prosperous Belarus, free of political prisoners and strongly anchored in a common space of European values. Let me here stress the following: there is no place for prisoners of conscience or for political prisoners in the Eastern Partnership region. And let us resist the temptation to turn the debate about this important issue into a discussion about who is a political prisoner and who is not. History has given us many lessons here.
The Euronest Parliamentary Assembly is an important element of the Eastern Partnership. There are high expectations regarding your contribution to the implementation of the Eastern Partnership. You represent people and you hold your governments to account. I believe that you can foster democratic values on which our partnership is founded and urge your governments to undertake painful, although necessary reforms.
About values. By making the values of liberty, democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law a central part of our partnership we wish to extend the area of stability and security to the Eastern part of the continent.
To make this happen, we have strengthened the Eastern Partnership following the review of our policy towards neighbours. As a result, we have now an instrument that allows us to make our support better tailored to the ambitions, needs and aspirations of the partners- not only for those who have EU aspirations but also for those who want a strategic partnership with the EU.
We plan to increase our assistance to the partners based on the so called “more for more” principle: the more reforms the partners do, the more support they get from us. Let me make it clear once again, "the more for more" is not for Southern neighbours only. It does not reflect the Arab Spring only. It applies to the Eastern partners as well.
About reforms. We want to bring Eastern partners as close to the EU as possible. We want to assist our partners in completing political and economic reforms and adopting the European model of development that will guarantee long term stability.
Political stability requires good governance and the rule of law. Moreover, any political regime must enjoy the support of its people to sustain itself over the longer term.
There is no better way of achieving this support than free and fair elections. There is no better way of encouraging societies to freely develop than to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the media and freedom of assembly.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Economic stability needs sustainable and inclusive growth. That is why we encourage partners to develop small and medium size enterprises, to fight against corruption and to further regular approximation to EU standards in order to attract investments and make business in their countries more transparent.
The leading role in ensuring that values are reflected not only in political declarations but also on the ground falls on governments. The same applies to the implementation of reforms. However, it does not mean that other actors have no significant role to play. On the contrary, parliaments are an indispensable element of this endeavour.
It is up to parliaments to keep governments accountable and to ensure that the will and expectations of the people are taken on board when political decisions are being made. Parliaments are well placed to advocate for reforms, to promote democratic values and to defend citizens’ rights.
So the Euronest is much more than just the latest institution established under the Eastern Partnership. It is a tool to advance democratisation and to exchange best practice among parliamentarians from partner countries and EU Member States.
Importantly, the strength of the Euronest depends on the strength of its elements: national parliaments and the European Parliament. That is why the issue of democratic legitimisation is of paramount importance. Free and fair elections in line with international standards are a condition sine qua non of increased EU political and financial support.
That is why the forthcoming elections in four partner countries will be under the close scrutiny of the international community. I believe that these elections will prove that Eastern partners are part of the European family also in terms of conducting free and fair elections.
It is important that the electoral process is fair and provides equal opportunities for all political forces standing for elections. Allowing the opposition to conduct electoral campaigns without any interference, ensuring equal access to media, inviting international observers as early as possible– all these elements count.
It is equally essential to ensure that our societies can freely grow and take part in the discussion about the main developments in their countries.
Our goal is simple; we want to create the conditions for a stronger dialogue between civil society and the authorities. This is why we have established an Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. I am glad to see members of the Forum in the room.
We should harness the courage and determination of civil society representatives to advance the implementation of our goals. We must not ignore their point of view. The values of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms to which we have subscribed, oblige us to foster the development of civil society.
We will continue to facilitate the regular structured dialogue between civil society and governments that was launched in September 2011. I would also like to encourage you to strengthen your ties with the Civil Society Forum and its national platforms. I believe that both institutions, the Euronest and the Forum can jointly foster democracy and promote reforms in Eastern European countries.
The main challenge that we currently face is to vigorously implement the ambitious agenda set by the Warsaw Summit. To maintain the momentum of the Summit, we intend to establish informal Eastern Partnership Dialogues. Through these Dialogues we would like to strengthen links with partners and when appropriate, to deepen sector cooperation. It will be an instrument of political steering. It will also strengthen sense of ownership of the Eastern Partnership on the side of our partners.
To streamline the implementation of the agreed objectives, we are working on a road map of the Eastern Partnership. The road map will list agreed objectives and actions and indicate EU support, including financial assistance. It will provide us with a means of monitoring of the progress. So, in addition to the instrument of political steering, we will also have a clear and detailed agenda of our cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Euronest's contribution is much needed in both aspects of our work: the implementation of agreed objectives and assessing the progress. That is why it is so important that this assembly is efficient and effective. I am pleased that measures have been taken to enable Euronest to conduct vigorous parliamentary debates on the positive Eastern Partnership agenda.
Before I conclude, let me say few words about our host and it does not matter if it is done without the presence of the President. Azerbaijan has come a long way over the last 20 years. It has even come a long way since I last visited Baku in 2010. A model of secularism and tolerance, the country has developed into a strong economy, upgrading its infrastructure and engaging in processes of economic diversification. Beyond those internal transformations, it has also gained clout on the international scene: it seats as a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council. I believe it is not by chance that today Baku hosts the first Euronest Session outside Brussels and will soon host the Eurovision song contest. And it is also not by chance that expectation is high to make domestic developments sustainable through the adoption and the implementation of inclusive and full-hearted reforms. And it is also not by chance that there are legitimate aspirations of people of Azerbaijan that their wish to fully benefit from democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights will be met.
To fully embark on the path towards modern 21st century country, Azerbaijan should unwrap the entire potential of its people.
I wish you a successful session. I wish that the Euronest contributes to the strengthening of the Eastern Partnership as a joint project with joint ownership to the benefit of people of six partners and the European Union. I look forward to the resolutions that you are going to adopt and await our future cooperation.