21 June 2012 - NATO PARLIAMENTARIANS SUGGEST PUTTING EASTERN PARTNERS HIGHER ON THE AGENDA
The Euro-Atlantic community must continue to monitor the developments in countries of Eastern Europe where democratic standards and human rights have – unfortunately – been deteriorating in recent years. However, the growing civic consciousness has the potential to bring positive changes in the future, participants of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s 80th Rose Roth seminar learned. The seminar focused on relations between the Euro-Atlantic community and its Eastern neighbours Russia, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. A photo exhibition commemorated the first Rose-Roth seminar that was also held in Vilnius in 1991.
Some 50 members of parliament from 19 NATO and partner countries participated in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly 80th Rose-Roth Seminar “Eastern Partners: Contemporary Challenges and Future Prospects” in Vilnius on 18-19 June, 2012. The seminar, jointly organised with the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania and supported by the Swiss government, featured senior representatives from research institutes, international and non-governmental organisations, the diplomatic community and media.
NATO PA President Dr. Karl A. Lamers and Irena Degutiene, Speaker of the Seimas, reminded participants of the huge success of Central and Eastern European countries’ integration into Euro-Atlantic structures after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Lithuanian Minister of Defence Rasa Jukneviciene noted that the differentiation of values between Eastern and Western part is gradually disappearing. However, Europe is not yet completely whole and free and there are countries that are left behind.
Ukraine remains a pivotal country with a major impact on European security even after the government of Victor Yanukovich decided to take NATO membership off the agenda. Seminar discussions revealed concern about the domestic developments in Ukraine and participants stressed that the Ukrainian government’s declared commitment to uphold democratic values and principles is called into question by the selective application of justice and by disproportionate concentration of power in the hands of the presidency. NATO PA President Karl A. Lamers called upon President Yanukovich to release Yulia Tymoshenko and other political actors from prison." Ukraine needs to redouble efforts implementing ambitious reforms in order to modernise its economy and judiciary. Otherwise, its domestic and foreign policy will continue to be held hostage by obscure business interest groups. The Ukrainian authorities were also urged to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections will be free, fair and open.
A more positive outlook was given for Moldova. There is some progress in the negotiations on a Transnistrian settlement, according to Ambassador Erwan Fouere, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transdniestrian settlement process. However, a great leap forward towards an agreement is unlikely and achieving a settlement will be a longer process. A solution of this issue would present a major contribution to strengthening the security architecture of Europe. At the same time, the participants were informed that the support for the European and especially Euro-Atlantic integration has been tangibly decreasing in Moldova in recent years.
As far as Belarus is concerned, seminar speakers said that the country continues to move towards self-isolation. At the same time, the country’s dependence on Russia is increasing, due to the policies pursued by the political leadership in Minsk and the difficult economic situation. Seminar participants expressed concern about the political and human rights situation in Belarus and strongly supported the call on the Belarusian authorities to release immediately all political prisoners. A potentially positive development is the appearance of a new majority in the Belarusian society which – while still largely apolitical – begins to demand change. However, fast democratisation highly unlikely in the near future, even if economic conditions further deteriorate: as one of the guest speakers noted, the recent events seem to disprove the notion that popularity of the opposition will rise as economy goes downhill. Belarusian opposition representatives differed in their views on whether or not democratic forces should boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections. Participants discussed the ways of supporting Belarus’ transition to democracy, including by offering visa exemptions and European education programmes.
Russia was omnipresent in all discussions. Defence Minister Jukneviciene stressed that it is important that NATO Allies establish realistic picture of Russia, not how they want to see it. Seminar participants heard contrasting views about the domestic developments in Europe’s largest country, ranging from strong criticism of government’s increasing measures to limit personal freedom to acknowledgement of a certain economic and political consolidation of the country. Seminar participants agreed that NATO Allies want a partnership with Russia, but many questions remained including with which Russia the Alliance is dealing and how NATO can proceed with this partnership and on what terms. Keynote speaker Andrei Illarionov, Senior fellow at Cato Institute, questioned the value of the “reset” policy towards the current Russian leadership. Ambassador Linas Linkevicius, National Security Advisor to the Lithuanian Prime Minister, noted that the current agenda with Russia is extensive, adding that the issue of democratic values and principles should not be forgotten in the future development of the NATO-Russia relationship.
Seminar participants agreed that NATO needed to be pragmatic in its approach to the four countries, but the Euro-Atlantic community should also encourage Eastern partner countries to transform towards open, democratic societies. Ms Jukneviciene reminded participants that the Cold War did not simply end but was won by those who lived for liberty and human rights. In a similar vein, Seimas speaker Irena Degutiene warned that if NATO and EU failed to help their Eastern partners, others would step in with the potential risk of creating new dividing lines in Europe. Arguing that Liberty is the natural state of affairs and needs to be defended, Ms Jukneviciene stressed that the completion of Europe whole and free has to be our goal for the next decades.