BRUSSELS, March 6, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --
Recent events in Ukraine have highlighted the shortcomings of the country's readiness for the further EU integration. They have also put a spotlight on where these issues have really stemmed from - and that is partly due to the EU's Eastern Neighborhood Policy (ENP).
The ENP was initially formed on values, the commitment to the principles of international law and to fundamental values, including democracy and the respect for human rights and democratic freedoms, yet serious problem areas remain in most of the member countries such as Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Ukraine.
There is a growing concern and urgency that the Eastern Partnership countries need to improve in many areas of reform including corruption, the rule of law, an independent and strong judiciary, human rights records, specifically in regards to human trafficking (also known as modern day slavery).
At a timely roundtable taking place in the European Parliament in Brussels entitled 'Eliminating Modern Slavery', the discussion outlined the need for these countries to implement necessary reforms to prevent the trafficking of persons and called on the EU to analyse the anti- trafficking measures needed and explore relevant issues in the current debate concerning the signature of further Association Agreements.
Hosting the roundtable, MEP Fabrizio Bertot, discussed the need for a different approach for each country rather than the current 'one glove fits all' approach. Highlighting the EU's inadequacies in terms of the current human rights record, he said "there is a clear lack of respect to these issues within the European Union. Therefore, there is a huge failure of the EU towards ENP countries in regards to demonstrating these policies. A solution should be a concise monitoring system to help ensure humanitarian law is improved. The EU is not united by this policy at the moment."
Phil Woolas, Former UK Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, made clear that there needs to be a greater consideration of policies and a much greater need for identification capacity. "This global problem is just growing due to the globalization of movement and communication. Human trafficking is a problem for these countries as it could also resort to further issues if not recognized. We need to identify there are great concerns on all sides."
Although the main topic of the event was focused on human rights, the discussion steered towards the Eastern Partnership programme itself, and the consequences of the policy following the Vilnius Summit.
During the race on way to the Summit, the Eastern Partnership and the EU's push for countries to sign Association Agreements is what led to the beginning of the Ukrainian turmoil. The growing concern is should countries like Moldova be similarly pressured, a domino effect may be likely and could set off a reaction across the participant countries. However, while all eyes are on Ukraine, the situation in Moldova has been put on the back bench. In the meantime in Moldova, the autonomous areas of Gagausia and Transnistria, which are historically tied to Russia, have already voiced their disapproval of this policy.
James Wilson, Moderator and founder of the International Foundation of Better Governance reiterated this by saying, "the policy of pushing ahead to sign these agreements without first prioritizing the necessary reforms, has led to events in countries such as Ukraine. The motto "Festina Lente" should apply here."
Gaik Vartanen, assistant to Ion Ceban MP from Moldova, highlighted the lack of improvement in countries such as his own. He provided an overview of two key issues that lead to problems such as modern slavery: corruption and lack of prevention.
"The EU should push the Moldovan government to do more to fight corruption. The Moldavian government needs to understand the priorities. Furthermore, The EU has to pay attention that the only thing the current Moldovan pro- European government has achieved has been a visa liberalisation programme in the last 5 years."
To illustrate this, he mentioned that "in 2008, 75% of population were in favour of the EU, now it is only 45%, the reason being the EU has given a billion euros to the country yet there is no trace of where this money has gone."
He further maintained that "the European commission needs to create a mechanism to act as a monitoring system to understand where people are when leaving the country (with this visa liberalisation programme)."
James Wilson made the point that ENP states need to deal with the problems which Ukraine failed to deal with internally and to "do their homework prior to Europe' embracing them unconditionally.'
He added that the rush for signing the Association Agreements may be going too quickly, and questioned whether there may be some key reforms in respect of human rights that should be in place before signature.
Phil Woolas further highlighted, that the ENP was intended to dictate certain standards prior to countries joining the EU, which mainly focused on economic aspects but also included human rights. However, this was changed to a system where countries are encouraged to join prior to these being implemented. This approach does not work. The EU has been too aggressive and arrogant in regards to understanding what happens in these countries on ground.
Ariane Couvreur, Representative of NGO ECPAT Belgique, described the specific issues faced in Ukraine and suggested that a recommendation for targeting these issues should primarily be aimed at legislation which does not comply with European standards in ENP countries.
Closing the debate, Bertot also emphasized, "you cannot exercise the same attitudes towards each countries as laws in each member state are different." This has been one of the main failures of the programme.
"We need to encourage the EU to stay away from a one size fits all approach and encourage organizations like the Council for Social Justice to reach out with other bilateral initiatives," said James Wilson summarizing the event. "Secondly, in respect to the ENP countries, we should recommend that we need to see reforms and performance delivered before signing agreements in haste. Mistakes need to be put right."
Other participants of the event included Lucy Maule, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Social Justice in London, April Simpson, Representative of Breaking Chains Network, Sarah Hickey, representative from CARE for Europe alongside other NGOs and diplomatic representatives of Embassies.
The International Foundation for Better Governance is an International not for profit organisation registered in Brussels for the purpose of promoting and lobbying for the rights of citizens, and defending their freedoms and rights enshrined in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.
SOURCE International Foundation for Better Governance