European neighbourhood policy and its values

Instead of Introduction

As a student and young scholar of International Relations, I tend to be very perfectionist and in some of the cases it plays a negative role for me. Last year, right after the brutal suppression of the demonstration in Minsk, I wrote an article on the corrosion of our European values, but it has never been published as I was not sure it was worth it. In the course of time, some things have changed: Armenian government has released its political prisoners, Azerbaijani journalist Eynulla Fatullayev has been pardoned (yet another civil society activist(s) got arrested), the EU has introduced new “rules of the game” towards countries included in the Eastern Partnership programme – “more freedom, more money”. However, this piece of analysis did not become too obsolete to publish.

The EU foreign policy or national foreign policies of its members states as you might say have always been a shaky balance between values and economic interests. A Slovenian case is just one more example that some form of corrosion is taking place in the form of greed:

Fellow EU countries have blamed Slovenia for denigrating the rights of political prisoners in Belarus in order to protect a business deal on a luxury hotel in Minsk. The country's foreign minister, Karl Erjavec, on Monday (27 February) in Brussels blocked the EU from adding the name of Belarus oligarch Yuriy Chizh to a new list of 21 jurists and policemen to be put under a visa ban and asset freeze. Diplomats from other EU countries say [Slovenian Foreign minister] Erjavec took the step to protect a business deal between Chizh and Slovenian firm Riko Group to build a five-star hotel for Swiss chain Kempinski in the Belarusian capital in 2013. EU Observer

The European Council on Foreign Relations in its recent annual assessment of Europe’s performance in dealing with the rest of the world tagged Latvia as a slacker in defending human rights and supporting the rule of law in the countries of Eastern neighbourhood. Here I tend to agree, but will not go into details. However, it is a very interesting topic to reflect upon – Latvian foreign policy: values vs. economic interests. Instead I’d like to quote only one of the greatest statesmen of our region, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, saying : “the closer you get to home, the less attention we pay to human rights violations in our neighbourhood.” “(…) I would say that one of the things, of course, we remember very well is what I used to call – when I could say these things – the „Olaf Palme school of human rights‟, which is that the concern for human rights violations is proportional to the distance from Stockholm, because nothing was said about Latvia or Estonia, but Chile, Cuba  – Cuba not either  – but anyway... The problem is that now Brussels has supplanted Stockholm, that is the attention paid to human rights violations justifiably in the case of Myanmar is very noble, but the closer you get to home, the less attention we pay to human rights violations in our neighbourhood. There the whole idea of stability, pragmatism and all of that comes into play.” T.H. Ilves, Lennart Meri conference 2011

Without any doubts, we all want to live a happy and prosperous life, and in this Hobbesian world, it seems that it is even more than logical to do everything in achieving this goal. Yet here I’d like to quote Mr. Ilves again:

“Values are the only framework and groundwork in this rather Hobbesian world we live in. To have some kind of framework – otherwise it’s only raw power.”

For some (nations, people) EU is seen as a pole of attraction not because of the prosperity level we enjoy, but because of the values our nations are built upon. When we do not live up to them, they get disillusioned and take a bit more realistic approach (the case of Georgia) in conduction of their foreign policy. Some of them, like civil society activists in Azerbaijan, lose their faith in this European value project and blame our governments for the double standard approach and even hypocrisy.

I am not propagating the imposition of the values we have or the style of governance, because that would be too arrogant and would resemble so notorious Orientalist approach. However, I totally disagree that we should keep our mouth shut only because we have invested quite heavily and also economically in the stability of a certain authoritarian regime (what actually we should not do). Artificial stability might be a cause for the instability and I hope the Arab spring has been a waking up call for many of those who are responsible for making EU’s image abroad, including diplomats and officials of the member states

January 2011, Riga

Erosion of freedom = corrosion of values

More than five years ago the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, in his open letter posted by the Washington Post, called for the creation of an association of new democracies to „extend the reach of liberty in the Black Sea region and throughout wider Europe”. He urged the international community to increase a pressure on dictatorial regime in Belarus stressing that “the world can do much more to aid the Belarusian people in their quest for freedom.” Five years later the President of Georgia joined the company of the leaders of “non-free” countries like Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in congratulating “the last dictator of Europe” Aleksandr Lukashenko even before the official announcement of the election results. The elections were condemned by European countries as undemocratic but the brutal dispersal of a demonstration along with the imprisonment of presidential candidates from the opposition led to the new sanctions against Belarus. The era of romantic idealism has ended, the pragmatic realism is back. And we should not be blaming Georgian leadership for supporting freedom oppression instead first we should look at ourselves.

The recent change in Georgian approach towards Belarus and its unchallenged leader has its own logic. Since Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 Lukashenko has been under constant pressure by the Russian leadership to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A dispatch from the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn disclosed by the WikiLeaks showed us that in October 2009 Lukashenko had been complaining to Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet that he might be forced to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia in winter for a cheaper gas deal from Russia. However, no recognition followed. The conflict over gas prices between Russia and Belarus had reached its highest peak in June 2010 when Russia started to reduce gas deliveries to Belarus requesting to pay out $ 187 million debt. Belarus economy was saved by the President of Azerbaijan Ilkham Aliyev, who within 24 hours lent $ 200 million. And again no recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia followed. Having a territorial conflict with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan has its own interest in non-recognition policy of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Georgia had nothing else to offer but to show its support to Lukashenko and legitimize his “re-election”. This move  caused an outcry among the civil society activists from Central and Northern Europe but got a backlash. As one former Georgian official commented in a private conversation: “Should we have criticised Belarus for the violation of principles that many in the EU no longer stand to support? We used to be the leading democracy promoter in the region and all we got was a war that the EU only “condemned” and was “concerned” about. And why should one expect irrationalism from us but reserving pragmatism for themselves?!” The fourth wave of democratisation proclaimed by some scholars five years ago is over; the pragmatic realism is back.

The recent report published by the Freedom House on the freedom in the world says that “in a year of intensified repression against human rights defenders and democratic activists by many of the world’s most powerful authoritarian regimes, Freedom House found a continued erosion of freedom worldwide, with setbacks in Latin America, Africa, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East.” This erosion of freedom and setbacks in democracy indicate not only the diminishing influence of the West and its political model, but also the fact that we have contributed to this erosion themselves by supporting authoritarian regimes and overlooking violation of human rights and basic freedoms if it is in our interests.

In their December article entitled “Lukashenko the Looser”, Foreign Ministers of Sweden, Czech Republic, Germany and Poland lashed out against Aleksandr Lukashenko claiming that there can be no business-as-usual anymore between the EU and Belarus. The ministers stated that “the European Union is founded on values of human rights, democracy and the rule of the law. It will not stand indifferent to gross violations of these values in its own part of the world. (…) The best test of our own values is what we do on behalf of the powerless. Europe must not be mute.” Perhaps the crucial phrase here is “in its own part of the world”. The EU is very much concerned about violations of human rights in “its own corner” – Belarus, but is not so much worried about similar violations in other post-Soviet countries of South Caucasus and Central Asia.

The recent meetings of European Commission President Jose Manuel Borroso with rulers of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan known for their bad human rights record clearly showed that Europeans have very pragmatic approach towards the values the EU is founded upon when it concerns economic interests like direct deliveries of fossil energy resources. By shaking hands and making profitable economic deals with the leaders of these countries, top EU officials and heads of the governments alleviate previous criticism on the lack of the rule of law, violations of basic freedoms and human rights. Moreover, such moves send a clear message to the civil society groups that EU’s “democratic agenda” is just a tool to earn economic concessions. Current leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia did exactly the same in previous years what Aleksandr Lukashenko did last year. The election results have been rigged and disproportional force used against peaceful demonstrators (2008 in Armenia, 2003, 2005 in Azerbaijan). But none of them faced sanctions and such criticism from European leaders. Instead they are both welcomed at European capitals and called friends by European leaders.

Armenian leadership openly disregards calls of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to release all political prisoners (“all persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges” in the aftermath of the March 1-2, 2008 demonstrations), but Azerbaijan mocks at the ruling of the European Court on Human Rights in a case of a detained journalist Eynulla Fatullayev. However, it would be fair to mention that all South Caucasian republics have issues of non-compliance with the court rulings.

Up to now the EU has been engaged in a “sincere and very friendly talk” over violations of human rights and basic freedoms setting no preconditions in granting its financial assistance and participation in the EU programmes. Instead, back in 2008 the European Commission in the framework of the Eastern Partnership programme proposed to have “exchanges of best practices and dedicated workshops on such issues as electoral standards, regulation of the media, the fight against corruption, transparent management of public goods and civil service reform”.

Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are the core values of the EU, being enshrined in its founding documents. Respect towards these core values should be the basis of cooperation with the third countries especially if a country has committed itself to uphold these values by joining respected international treaties or organisations. No financial and technical assistance should be given without any preconditions. The Eastern Partnership programme envisages many “carrots” like deep and comprehensive free trade area, visa facilitation, labour mobility etc. These “carrots” should have not only technical preconditions but also political – guarantee of the rule of law, observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, free and fairs elections. These political preconditions should be upheld by respective rhetoric and messages delivered not only by EC/EU officials, but also by every leader, MP or civil servant of the EU countries.

What kind of message do we send, when former Bulgarian Foreign Minister, former OSCE Chairman Solomon Passy, who represents one of the EU countries, is stating that “elections in Azerbaijan are like the elections in all European countries”? Moreover, the comments given by the representatives of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission on the last parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan even sparked uproar among Azerbaijani civil society groups. Nineteen non-profit organisations of Azerbaijan appealed to PACE, OSCE, European Parliament and European civil society organisation accusing international election observers by whitewashing falsified elections.

In such case Mikhail Saakashvili was right to congratulate Lukashenko with a “victory” according to the national interests of Georgia – to seek support in non-recognition policy of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In highly contested presidential elections in Georgia in 2008 European leaders did absolutely the same. Despite the fact that the opposition pointed to the numerous violations during the pre-election campaign and on the election day itself (also reported by the International Elections Observation Mission (IEOM) led by OSCE), European leaders rushed to congratulate Mikhail Saakashvili. The IEOM preliminary report highlighted that while elections were “in essence consistent with most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards for democratic elections, significant challenges were revealed.” Serious violations of democratic electoral process were named as “challenges” listed in more than 10 pages.

Without any doubts Georgia made a tremendous progress in the modernisation of the country, but the democratisation process is still lagging behind – uneven human rights record, violations of freedom of assembly, police violence, unbalanced media environment etc. Although it would be fair to say that Georgia is doing far more better than its neighbours.

To have free and fair elections in Georgia that time was a “must” for many Western countries. As Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Friedman pointed in late December 2007, “Georgia’s strategic weight derives not principally from its geography, important though that is, but from the example Georgia can set as a thriving democracy, inspiring freedom throughout the region and beyond”. Georgia was a part of the “freedom and democracy agenda” of the West whose primarily aim was to exert influence over the whole region but in a crucial moment the West failed to support Georgia.

Publicēts 26. februāris, 2012

Autors Irina Kuzņecova