Caucasus Elections Watch has interviewed Evgeni Kirilov MEP, Rapporteur of the European Parliament on developing a strategy for the South Caucasus and asked him for his views on the current election trends in the South Caucasus.
CEW: This month we have seen the start of an election cycle in the South Caucasus, with important elections in all the three countries scheduled over the next two years. What are the expectations of the European Parliament from this process?
E. Kirilov: The European Parliament has always followed very closely the democratisation processes in all the three South Caucasus countries. A special focus is given particularly on the electoral process as a corner-stone of any functioning democratic system. Therefore the European Parliament expects from its three partners in the region to continue with the democratic reforms and to ensure that the forthcoming important elections in the next three years will respond to the European standards and will be free, fair and transparent.
CEW: Why are these elections important for the future relations between the region and the EU?
E. Kirilov: As you know the EU and the three South Caucasus countries have recently started negotiations on association agreements. This shows the interest of the partners to come closer to EU values and standards, and the willingness and commitment of both sides to increase their cooperation and to enhance their political and economic relations with special emphasis on democracy building.
It is in the interest of the EU to have stable and democratic states in this strategically important immediate neighbourhood. For the EU, democratic elections mean stability, and investment in a more peaceful and more prosperous future for the whole region. More reforms and progress towards further democratisation will lead to more technical and financial support in accordance with the principle of “more for more”.
CEW: How can the European Parliament support the election processes in the South Caucasus?
E. Kirilov: The European Parliament sends election observation missions to all the three countries in the region. It follows very closely the pre-election situation, the conduct of the elections, and the post-election developments. The Parliament adopts resolutions in which it lays down its concerns and recommendations regarding the respective electoral process. It is particularly vigilant with regards to the freedom of media and expression, the rights and representation of the opposition, and the role of civil society in scrutinising the electoral process and making it more transparent.
We are aware that democratization is a long process that requires efforts and dedication on behalf of the people and their leaders. We recognize that some progress is achieved in many areas of all the three countries. There are of course many challenges that remain, and where we would like to see results during the forthcoming elections. So it is very important not to backslide from what has been already achieved. I hope that political maturity will prevail and this will not happen.
The European Parliament is also very active in the region through its relations with the national parliaments. These are the bilateral partnership and cooperation committees (PCCs) and the multilateral EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly which, among other things, discuss issues related to democratic standards and the need for freer and fairer elections in the South Caucasus.