This year we launched our “future of Europe” series with an event on the definition of freedom in the member states. The concept of freedom, which we too often take for granted in the West, has a variety of definitions. It is a precious and volatile concept and too easily do those succeed, who want to restrict freedom. A delegation of leading representatives of ALDE member parties and media as well as economic experts from the South Caucasus shared their first-hand experience with representatives of the EU institutions and European liberals in Brussels.
The seminar took place in the framework of the “Potsdam Process”, a regional platform that has been facilitated by the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation for Freedom in order to provide a platform for dialogue to those in the South Caucasus who want to strengthen regional cooperation in order to promote freedom, peace and prosperity in the region.
Following initiatives by the ALDE Party directed towards the South Caucasus, including the party council in Yerevan earlier this year, Philipp Hansen, Head of Political Unit at the ALDE Party greeted the delegation and emphasized the importance of regular communication in order to stay aware of the individual needs of the ALDE Party members. During the meeting with Sir Graham Watson MEP, the group praised the success of the liberal campaign on political freedoms in the context of the Eurovision Song Contest which achieved the release of a number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Sir Graham stressed the need for the intensification of people-to-people exchanges in the region as well as trade and partnership agreements in order to help catalyze change in the region
Hans von Baalen MEP, President of Liberal International, acknowledged the uniqueness of the three states, adding that he appreciates the added value and diversity that the South Caucasian member parties give to the ALDE Party. However, he identified the lack of a coherent idea in the EU about the South Caucasus as one of its primary problems – instead of treating Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia as three independent countries, they are lumped together. This overly simplified approach leads to conflicting messages being sent by the different EU institutions.
Denis Daniilidis, from the European External Action Service and Peter Stano, Spokesman of Commissioner Füle, agreed that the EU must do its best to speak with one voice with regards to the countries in the South Caucasus. They reiterated the importance of hearing frank assessments from the region in order to adapt the EU’s neighborhood policy towards the region in order for it to be truly a catalyst for positive change.
This view was echoed by Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy MEP. As a member of the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly, a parliamentary forum to promote political association and further economic integration between the European Union and the Eastern European Partners, he stressed that he and his fellow MEPs want to help, but rely on trustworthy information to do so. “Delegation visits, such as this one, are an invaluable in that they allow both sides to connect on a personal level,” he said “which allows for continued information exchange between trusted and reliable sources.”
Reliable information can only be obtained through personal networks, Amanda Paul, Expert on the South Caucasus and Programme Executive at the European Policy Centre, confirmed. Also volatile is the topic of Nagorno-Karabakh, which after twenty years is still the greatest threat to security in the region. Particularly the EU must pay closer attention to this issue, but due to its lack of realpolitik- interest, the EU lacks a strategy for the region, Paul explained. It is a shame that the EU does not recognize the three countries in the South Caucasus as the attractive potential market it is, a participant interjected. “We need the EU,” he continued, “since our elites have no political will to promote true change. We live in societies where free speech and liberty are only words without meaning.”
Security and Defense expert, Macin Wróblewski from the Permanent Representation of Poland to NATO, agreed that it is a priority for the region to deal with its unresolved territorial issues, including the issues of internally displaced people and giving a voice to the sidelined Karabak-community.
Paul pointed out that the cases of the Arab Spring countries showed that dictatorships are not sustainable and that the countries in the South Caucasus should not rely on outside pressure, but as in the Arab Spring countries, society must bring change from within and people must go to the streets for what they believe in. One member of the delegation responded that “we [from the South Caucasus] don’t want to be an additional problem for the EU, but we must implore the EU not to shake hands with dictators and make concessions towards authoritarian regimes. Otherwise people will stop believing in European values.”
For more information about the Potsdam Process and our work in the region, please visit the Website of our FNF South Caucasus Office