Spring session: addresses by the Prime Ministers of Georgia and Armenia
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will hold its spring session in Strasbourg from 8 to 12 April 2019, with addresses expected by the Prime Ministers of Georgia and Armenia.
The Assembly will hold joint debates on stopping hate speech and acts of hatred in sport - as well as the role of political leaders in combating hate speech - and on strengthening co-operation with the UN and implementation of the sustainable development goals.
There has been a request for an urgent debate on "The budgetary crisis at the Council of Europe".
Other topics to be discussed include promoting parliaments free of sexism and sexual harassment, the implications for human rights of social media, and a report on balancing the rights of parents, donors and children during the anonymous donation of sperm and oocytes.
The Assembly will also look at so-called “laundromats” and new challenges in combating organised crime and money-laundering, and will take a stand on the creation of a new EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights will present her annual activity report for 2018 and take questions, while there will be the usual exchange of views with the current head of the Council of Europe’s ministerial body, Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister Timo Soini, and question time with Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland.
The Assembly will decide its final agenda on the opening day of the session.
Charles Michel calls Azerbaijan and Armenia for urgent de-escalation and full ceasefire
On 16 November, President of the European Council Charles Michel called on Azerbaijan and Armenia for urgent de-escalation and full ceasefire following a new escalation of the situation in Nagorno Karabakh.
Michel had two separate phone calls with Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, and with President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev.
“Challenging situation in region – EU is committed to work with partners to overcome tensions for a prosperous and stable South Caucasus,” President Michel said on Twitter.
Teimuraz Janjalia has met with the Secretary General of GUAM, Altai Efendiev
During his visit to Ukraine, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, Teimuraz Janjalia met with the Secretary General of GUAM, Altai Efendiev.
The sides discussed the activities planned or implemented during the Georgian chairmanship of the organization. They stressed the need for further deepening of cooperation by the member states of the organization in various strategic directions, including the development of transport-transit corridors, and the importance of making full use of the existing potential in this direction.
During the conversation, the sides also touched upon the topic of the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the GUAM member states scheduled for this year.
At the end of the meeting, the parties once again expressed their readiness for active cooperation within the organization.
South Caucasus in the new geopolitical realities
By Zaal Anjaparidze
While foreign policy identities so significantly diverge in the South Caucasus (SC), there is one key common denominator that ties the regional counties together – the interconnectedness of security risks. Those risks together with the opportunities have become more visible and tangible after the latest 44-day war in Karabakh, which entailed new geopolitical realities in the region. What is worth noting part of the risks and opportunities for SC countries largely emanate from the immediate neighborhood. On the other hand, the interconnected and interdependent nature of security in the SC goes beyond its neighborhood, because each country - Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan has its own complex and multilayered geopolitical identity.
In this context, the initiative of a six-nation cooperation platform comprising Turkey, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia initiated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in December 2020, shortly after the end of the war over the disputed Karabakh created a window of opportunity for permanent peace, stability, and cooperation in the region. At the same time, the initiative has stumbled over the existing contradictions between some of the named member-states. The exemplary case was the statement by Georgia’s Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani that albeit Tbilisi finds it “very hard” to join the “3+3 platform,” the country should still seek ways to engage in the prospective infrastructure projects in the region. His statement was promptly disavowed by the other Georgian officials. They underlined that Georgia will not join “3+3 format” because of the presence of Russia with whom Georgia disrupted diplomatic relations after the Russian-Georgian war in 2008 and occupation of Georgia’s secessionist regions by Russia after recognition of their state independence. Georgian Foreign Ministry claimed that the engagement of Georgia in the major geopolitical projects should not be undertaken at the expense of national interests and concessions to the occupier country (Russia).
While Russia-leaning groups in Georgia support “3+3” platform arguing that Georgia must pursue pragmatic and realistic politics reckoning with its neighborhood and geopolitical environment, pro-western forces vehemently oppose it. They consider the engagement of Georgia, the sole ally of the West, in the “3+3” platform where the EU and USA are absent will definitely result in damaged relations with the western partners. Besides, opponents of “3+3” platform argue that Georgia and Armenia will be in this alliance rather as “junior partners” than equitable members as compared to more powerful Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan.
It’s worth noting that recently Russia has decided to revitalize “3+3 format.” Most likely Moscow did so either to pursue its own interests and gain more dominance in the region, or play along with Turkey in order to prevent attempts of the West to reclaim the ground in the region that it has lost after the second war in Karabakh.
However, it’s still unclear how and whether “3+3” format will be able to keep the mutually acceptable balance of political, military and economic interests. The attitude of Iran is exemplary in this context. If the geopolitical order in the South Caucasus before the second war in Karabakh has been relatively acceptable for Tehran, nowadays the situation is different. Iran is sending clear signals to Azerbaijan and Turkey about the unacceptability of the changed geopolitical reality in the region. Thus, Tehran is going to play a more proactive role in the formation of the new rules of the game in South Caucasus and not only politically. Iran has already has announced an agreement between Iran and Armenia for establishing a new alternative transit route for Iranian trucks bypassing the Azerbaijan-controlled 20-km section, where the trucks are required to pay tolls. The northern part of the route will go through Georgia. Like Tehran, Moscow is also not happy with the excessive strengthening of the role of Turkey and Azerbaijan in the region.
However, whatever the plans of the initiators of “3+3,” the initiative largely remains declarative, so far and there are no tangible indicators that it will be “fleshed out” in the near future. Geopolitical contradictions between the key players of the “3+3” format – Russia, Turkey, and Iran, the persisting confrontation between Azerbaijan and Armenia and standalone Georgia, with its pro-western stance, make materialization of “3+3” even more uncertain
Despite various speculations, today the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia seems more realistic because the second war in Karabakh has changed a lot from the geopolitical and geo-economical points of view. Presumably, reckoning with these new realities Armenia perceives the situation in the more realistic prism. Improvement of relations with Turkey, including the opening of borders and new transport communications are the tools that could relieve long-term bilateral confrontation and contribute to peace in the region.
Georgia lacks official military-political allies in difference from Armenia and Azerbaijan. Strengthening the influence of Russia and Turkey around Georgia with the weakening influence of the West in the region leaves Georgia in a vulnerable position. This affects Georgia’s role as a transit country and may leave it on the margins of anticipated grand regional projects.
Russia and Turkey are highly likely to do their best to lure Georgia somehow into the “3+3” platform and persuade Armenia to join the platform despite persisting tensions with Azerbaijan.
It appears that Tbilisi and Yerevan must decide whether the benefits of joining “3+3” in any form will overweigh geopolitical risks. These risks are far greater for Georgia because joining “3+3” may significantly damage its relations with the West. These relations are already strained due to the latest political developments in the country highly criticized by the West.
Fragile peace after the armistice in Karabakh supported by Russian peacekeepers and the Turkish military observers revealed a tangle of problems waiting for settlement. Currently the most notable are the continued tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia manifested in the armed clashes at times and increasing tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran. The latter considers itself unfairly outflanked during the peace talks on the resolution of the latest Armenian-Azerbaijani armed conflict.
By repeated but still less successful attempts to act as a mediator in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict Georgia is highly likely aiming at finding its unique niche in the new geopolitical realities. However, subdued reactions from Baku and Yerevan indicate that none of them is in the mood to see Georgia as a key mediator given the Russian and Turkish factors. Georgia, which perhaps has more at stake in peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia than does any other third country, has ample reason for concerns over the actions of Turkey to say nothing about Russia. Ankara’s new geopolitical assertiveness is a wild card with unpredictable implications for Tbilisi. Possible Turkish-Armenian reconciliation will enhance Armenia’s regional role and will offer the latter a better bargaining position with Georgia with the attendant consequences.
The complex geopolitical theatre of the South Caucasus exerts significant influence on the foreign policy identities of the region’s countries. Intra-regional conflicts make the region highly exposed to the influences of its larger neighbors, which play a significant role in shaping the regional security dynamics.
At the same time, membership within or orientation towards the conflicting alliances strengthens intra-regional rifts, further decreasing the chances of peaceful conflict resolution in the region. To this end, “3+3” platform can be considered as one of the possible but not an ideal tool for keeping a relative balance of powers and interests of the key regional players. But the attempt to supplant the West as a non-regional player, is fraught with risks given the strategic interests of the latter in the regions.
Despite the strong divergence in foreign policy and alliance choices of the three South Caucasus states, strategic multilateral partnerships within the region and with the region’s immediate neighbors, appear to be the best possible option to transform fragile stability into a lasting cooperation framework, which in turn is a path to sustainable peace. However, existing tensions between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia on the delimitation and demarcation of state borders, as well as ownership of historical-cultural monuments in the disputed border areas, don’t contribute to the development of full-fledged partnership.
Vote on 2 October was a missed opportunity for local democracy in Georgia, says Head of Congress delegation
Strasbourg, 4 October 2021 - The Congress concluded its mission to observe the local elections held on 2 October in Georgia. David ERAY (Switzerland, EPP/CCE, R), Head of the delegation, underlined the extremely polarized political environment in the country as well as an increase in verbal aggression, hate speech and fake news on social media during the campaign. “This polarisation had a paralyzing effect on local democracy which, in fact, has been taken hostage of the overall national political situation. Against this background, this poll was a missed opportunity for local democracy in Georgia”, Mr Eray stated. The overall unlevel playing field, pressure on voters and vote-buying were further features of these elections which raised concern of the Congress delegation.
Further to the invitation by the Georgian authorities, the Congress carried out an election observation mission from 29 September to 3 October 2021 and observed the local elections held on 2 October as part of a joint international election observation mission together with the OSCE/ODIHR and the European Parliament. The Congress mission comprised 18 members representing 15 Council of Europe countries who observed elections in 9 regions of Georgia, visiting in total some 120 polling stations from the opening until the closing.
The Election Day was overall calm, orderly, transparent and well organised. Except for some inconsistencies, particularly regarding the set-up of polling booths and finger-inking, the Congress observers did not notice major shortcomings during the voting procedures. Some polling stations in urban areas, mostly in Tbilisi, were comparatively small considering the large number of commission members and domestic observers and thus over-crowded. This led also to some confusion about the different roles of election workers, notably during the counting. Some of the Congress observers also reported violations of the new regulation on the 100-meter-perimeter around polling stations.
Although new regulations were put in place to increase number of women on candidate lists by placing at least one in every three candidates of the opposite gender on the ballot, this legal provision proved insufficient as women were almost always placed as the third, sixth or ninth candidate, thus having much lower chances to get elected than their male counterparts. “In our opinion, this was against the spirit of the law”, Mr Eray stated.
Prior to the Election Day, the Congress delegation held meetings in Tbilisi with various interlocutors, including representatives of the diplomatic corps, domestic and international NGOs, media representatives, the Central Elections Commission and with the Deputy Minister of Justice and Head of Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections, Mr Tornike Cheishvili. Meetings with representatives from different parties including GD, UNM, For Georgia and European Georgia rounded off the preparatory programme of the Congress. The Congress report will be presented at the next Monitoring Committee and adopted during the 42nd Congress Plenary in March 2022.
Congress to observe local elections in Georgia
Strasbourg, 29 September 2021 - At the invitation of the authorities of Georgia, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe will deploy a mission to observe the local elections on 2 October in 64 municipalities. The mission will be headed by David Eray (Switzerland, EPP/CCE, R), and involves 18 Congress observers from 15 countries. It is part of a joint observation together with the OSCE/ODIHR and the European Parliament.
The deployment on the ground on Election Day will be preceded by preparatory meetings in Tbilisi on 30 September and 1 October including representatives of the diplomatic corps, domestic and international NGOs and the media. The Congress delegation will also meet the Chairperson of the Central Election Commission, Mr Giorgi Kalandarishvili, and the Deputy Minister of Justice and Head of Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections, Mr Tornike Cheishvili.
Together with the delegation from the EU Parliament a briefing with the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission Core Team and with long-term observers will be organised. The preparatory programme will be rounded off by meetings with candidates running in the local elections and party representatives, as well as members of the Georgian delegation to the Congress.
On polling day, nine Congress teams will be deployed to different cities, towns and adjacent rural areas across the country.
The mission will be concluded by a joint press conference with OSCE/ODIHR and the European Parliament on Sunday, 3 October 2021, at 15:00, at the Sheraton Grand Tbilisi Metechi Palace.