The European Union Reaches Out to The Caucasus and Central Asia
The European Union has worked in recent years to develop its diplomatic capacity. EU member states have paid especially close attention to developments in the former Soviet Union, including the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. For example, EU states played an important role in securing the Council of Europe's decision to admit Armenia and Azerbaijan as full members in June 2000. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive.] The EU is involved in a variety of ongoing initiatives aiming to promote stability in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Alexander von Lingen has been a member of the administrative staff of the European Parliament for almost 30 years. He is at present a member of the Secretariat of the Presidency of the European Parliament, and has served as head of the research section concerning CIS countries. He discussed the European Parliament's activities in the Caucasus and Central Asia with EurasiaNet in late April. The transcript of his comments follow:
EurasiaNet: What relations does the European Parliament (EP) have with the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia?
Von Lingen: This question needs to be put in the context of the European Union's overall relations with the countries of this region. The EU has concluded, signed and put into force what we call Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCAs) with all but two former Soviet republics. Agreements with Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as well as with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have all been in force since 1 July 1999. These six agreements are very much like the PCAs signed with Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. Turkmenistan signed a PCA in 1998 but has not yet ratified it, so the interim agreement continues to be in force. Nothing has been signed yet with Tajikistan. The ratification procedure for the PCA signed with Belarus has been suspended.
EurasiaNet: What exactly is a PCA?
Von Lingen: Let me explain it this way. The normal agreement the EU has concluded with a third country is called a Trade Agreement and deals only with trade related matters. A step further than that is the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which provides, in addition, for various kinds of cooperation in different economic sectors. The "partnership" aspect of a PCA means that there is much more cooperation that goes beyond issues of foreign economic relations. The PCA expands cooperation to other fields of policy making, including, for example, culture, the environment. The PCAs concluded with different countries are more or less similar, but each agreement varies slightly with the country concerned. They all exclude any mention of possible future EU membership, and this makes them different from the Europe Agreements signed with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as with seven other central European countries.
EurasiaNet: Who is responsible for administering the PCAs with the South Caucasus and Central Asian countries?
Von Lingen: The PCAs provide for bilateral Association Councils on a governmental level (i.e., between the EU on one side and the country concerned on the other side) covered by the Council of Ministers, and also for permanent contacts between the European Commission and the country concerned. In this framework there is also a Cooperation Committee, which is a bilateral inter-parliamentary committee with the EP being one side and the national legislature of the other signatory being the other side. This parliamentary cooperation constitutes the parliamentary dimension of the agreements mentioned. The EP and the country's national legislature work together to follow and supervise the work of the Association Councils and the various ministries of the European Commission and the signatory state. The establishment of these structures signifies the enhancement of the EP's profile in EU affairs and responsibility for them. They also encourage the other side to include their parliaments in the bilateral cooperation with the EU. For us, to have their national parliaments involved is nearly as important as EP participation itself.
EurasiaNet: Some people would find it easy to be skeptical of such inter-parliamentary cooperation. What results and successes has it had?
Von Lingen: First of all, the EP encourages the national parliaments to assert their role and influence in their own country, and especially to participate in implementing the different national policies covered by the PCAs. We share with them our experience of learning to be tougher vis-a-vis the executive, including the enforcement of oversight via the budget procedure in order to influence the setting of national priorities. The parliaments of Armenia and Azerbaijan, for example, have become more assertive of their prerogatives in recent years.
EurasiaNet: The EU has been especially active just this year in the South Caucasus.
Von Lingen: Sweden now has its first presidency of the European Union and is concerned to demonstrate that it intends to be very pro-active. Indeed, a so-called "troika" visit to the South Caucasus occurred in mid-February. This was a very high-level delegation including the Swedish Foreign Minister, Mrs. Lindt, the Commissioner for Foreign Affairs, Chris Patten, and the high Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana.
EurasiaNet: Does the EP have any place and role in such an initiative?
Von Lingen: Not formally, but there are permanent contacts. For example, Per Gahrton (Swedish Green Party), the EP's rapporteur on the South Caucasus, is in consistent contact with his compatriots on this. Also in both the Foreign Affairs and Energy Committees of the EP there are reports being prepared with reference to the South Caucasus. And of course the Swedish presidency puts a very personal mark on this activity, focusing mainly on conflict-resolution, which has not received so much attention here -- until now. The people in the EP who are interested in these matters are providing input. It is very significant that they are on the same wavelength these days as the Swedish presidency, which has a kind of project for conflict resolution, while the EP is focusing on human rights and other issues. And we do this even though the countries concerned sometimes almost complain that all the EP ever does is ask them what they are doing to improve their human rights situation.
EurasiaNet: So the Foreign Affairs and Energy Committees are acting so as to broaden the scope of interest in the EP concerning the South Caucasus in particular?
Von Lingen: Yes, in fact the EP in its Cooperation Committees is consistently following what is happening to TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe Caucasus Asia) and INOGATE (Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe), which are elements in the whole of EU policy. The TACIS [economic] cooperation programs are also involved since they are in fact part of the EU budget that is as a whole controlled by the EP.
EurasiaNet: Several years ago there was severe criticism by the EP concerning the implementation of the TACIS programs in general.
Von Lingen: That is so, and I think the [European] Commission paid attention to the problems identified by the EP and solved them more or less to the EP's satisfaction. Of course, TACIS is no longer one large overall program but has many sub-programs. The TRACECA is also a permanent point of interest of the EP and the subject of some criticism as well as in its committees. Of course the EP is monitoring the work of the Commission and monitoring also what the countries receiving the assistance are doing with it. This is one of the functions of a national parliament in its domestic political system, so the EP is carrying out those sorts of functions on the European scene. The EP is the only democratically elected parliament on the international level, and its role in the EU's relations with the countries of Central Eurasia illustrates how it is a pacesetter among international parliamentary formations.
This interview was conducted by Dr. Robert M. Cutler , Research Fellow, Institute of European and Russian Studies, Carleton University, Canada.