Hennadiy Maksak, Executive Director at the Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”
EU Parliamentary Assembly – Eastern Neighbors (EURONEST PA)
The Eastern Partnership provides a wide range of institutional and thematic dimensions for cooperation between the EU and partner countries. The level of inter-parliamentary cooperation is important for the formation of a common political vision and the exchange of best legislative practices on reforms and integration with the EU.
The declaration of the 2009 Eastern Partnership Summit, held in Prague, states that inter-parliamentary cooperation will take place through the EU Parliamentary Assembly mechanism, namely Eastern Neighbors (EURONEST PA). As defined in the procedural documents, the Parliamentary Assembly is a forum for promoting and creating necessary conditions for accelerating political association and further economic integration between the EU and the EaP. This platform for inter-parliamentary cooperation should contribute to the strengthening of the Eastern Partnership and its development as an institution responsible for parliamentary consultations, EaP oversight and monitoring.
The EP delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly was formed in 2009, but discussions on procedures and forms of Belarus’ involvement (against the background of human rights violations during the 2010 presidential election) postponed its launch until May 2011.
Internal PA regulations were adopted on May 11, 2011 at the preliminary session in Brussels. Since then, quite often it was subject to revision (in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2018), and they have a permanent working group on procedural issues within the assembly itself.
The PA consists of 60 members of the European Parliament, as well as 50 parliamentarians from 5 partner countries (Belarus is not included in the Assembly), with national delegations equally represented, 10 delegates in each one. Two Co-Presidents of the Assembly are elected from the delegations’ members: one from the European Parliament and another from EaP countries. Although they have equal status, the procedures for their elections differ in the European Parliament and in the component of the 5 partner countries.
Together with the vice-presidents (at the moment, there are 8 such positions, 4 positions for each part of the PA), the Co-Presidents form the Bureau responsible for getting the PA ready for work, monitoring, and establishing relations with other EaP institutions and bodies. In 2012, for example, they introduced the practice of inviting the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum representatives to join the meetings of the PA standing committees, following the Bureau’s decision.
Plenary sessions take place once a year, on a rota basis in Brussels and the EaP countries. So far, one preliminary and 8 regular plenary sessions took place. In 2020, they had no regular session due to restrictions on movement caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to PA regulations, they formed 4 standing committees, thematically corresponding to the direction of the Eastern Partnership intergovernmental platforms: the Committee on Political Affairs, Human Rights and Democracy; the Committee on Economic Integration, Legislative Convergence and Convergence with the EU Policy; the Energy Security Committee; and the Committee on Social Affairs, Education, Culture and Civil Society. In addition to the standing committees, they set up a Working Group on the situation in Belarus, a Working Group on Procedures, and an ad-hoc Working Group on Association Agreements. The committees’ meetings are held twice a year, at a time in parallel with the PA plenary session.
The PA Regulation also provides for the possibility of inviting representatives of the Association’s bilateral parliamentary committees (PCAs) as well as parliamentary cooperation committees (PCCs) established in the framework of bilateral agreements between the EU and the partner countries to participate in Euronest sessions.
Ukraine in the Euronest PA
It should be noted that, in general, Ukraine uses this parliamentary platform quite effectively to promote its national interests. Members of the Ukrainian Permanent Delegation have systematically passed their resolutions and statements on countering Russian aggression and the need for stronger EU support for reforms in EaP through the Assembly’s procedures.
Active developments of the ad-hoc Working Group on Association Agreements, initiated by the Ukrainian side and formed in 2017, are another evidence of the volition to introduce a differentiated approach to partner countries.
In 2017, a plenary session of EURONEST PA was held in Ukraine for the first time, and it was used to inform foreign parliamentarians about the progress made in the implementation of reforms and the Europe-oriented aspirations of Ukrainian society. In December 2018, Borys Tarasyuk, the Head of the Permanent Delegation of the Verkhovna Rada to EURONEST PA, was elected Co-President of the inter-parliamentary forum.
In October 2019, the 9th convocation of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada held a preliminary meeting of the Permanent Delegation of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to the EU Parliamentary Assembly – Eastern Neighbors.
During the meeting, MP Ivan Krulko was elected the head of the Ukrainian delegation; in 2019 he was also elected the PA Co-President of the Eastern Partnership component. Lithuanian MP and former Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius was elected Co-President from the European Parliament, newly elected in 2019.
On December 8-10, 2019, during the eighth EURONEST PA plenary session in Tbilisi, the Permanent Delegation of the Verkhovna Rada joined the adoption of a resolution in support of the new Trio Plus 2030 Strategy, which can be considered a strategic vision for a differentiated approach within the Eastern Partnership.
It is also important that the Ukrainian delegation representative actively uses his position as the PA Co-President and a member of the Bureau. In 2020, this was reflected in a number of reports from the PA Bureau, as well as some letters from co-presidents on the future of the EaP, in particular, against the background of preparations for a video conference of the Eastern Partnership heads of state and government in June 2020.
The joint statement of the EURONEST PA co-presidents on the EU assistance to Ukraine for alleviating effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and continuation of the reforms necessary for economic recovery can also be positively assessed.
Ukraine-EU Association Parliamentary Committee
The Verkhovna Rada and the European Parliament, within the provisions of Article 467 of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, formed a Parliamentary Association Committee at the bilateral level. This important platform is used to discuss the dynamics of AA / DCFTA implementation, including the terms of legislative support for this process. The PCA can prepare recommendations for the Association Council, the highest bilateral body within the AA, and this turns final statements and recommendations made at the meetings into important political documents.
As a rule, PCA meetings take place twice a year, although this frequency can be adjusted by the committee members themselves. In February 2015, they had the first inaugural meeting in Brussels, with the participation of the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada V. Groysman and the President of the EU M. Schultz. In October 2019, Vadym Halaychuk, the First Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Integration with the European Union, was elected the Co-Chairman of the PCA from the Ukrainian side. The former Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski became the EP delegation head in the committee.
As of December 2020, PCA has had 11 offline and online meetings. Such meetings are of great symbolic importance in the process of the Ukraine’s European integration and implementation of the EaP’s policy, as they make a room for European partners’ discussion not only on the implementation progress of the reforms related to the AA implementation, but also on the EU support for a number of international security and humanitarian initiatives in the region. For example, during the 11th meeting in December 2020, they discussed the political situation in Belarus, while the EU had to drastically reduce the level of cooperation with the country and increase its political pressure.
Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova
Establishment of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Parliament of Georgia, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine should be considered a step in the right direction. The Ukrainian side made significant efforts for this inter-parliamentary platform buildup. The main preparatory work took place in 2018, supported by the participation of the three parliaments’ leaders and relevant committees.
As it is stated in the joint statement of the Speakers of the Parliament of Georgia, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on the establishment of the IPA, signed in Kyiv on June 9, 2018, one of it goals is to coordinate efforts to implement association agreements with the EU, including DCFTA and energy security. Of course, the joint efforts agenda was defined more broadly than the joint integration into the EU. They also covered the Euro-Atlantic course and countering Russian aggression.
In October 2018, the Inaugural Session of the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Parliament of Georgia, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine was held in Tbilisi, where they approved the IPA Statute. Unfortunately, in 2019-2020, a number of political transformations in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia reduced political interest in this inter-parliamentary cooperation instrument.
However, the European direction could become one of the priorities for Assembly activities, given the dominant concurrence of interests and efforts of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova in implementing the Association Agreements provisions and joint advocacy of the EU membership prospects. Even in the absence of European partners in the IPA, the coordination of the efforts of these three “associated” states with each other could significantly strengthen their voice at the level of European institutions and capitals.
Recommendations for improving the parliamentary dimension
To the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine at the level of permanent delegations to the PA and IPA, in cooperation with other delegations:
- 1. In May 2021, the EURONEST Parliamentary Assembly will mark the tenth anniversary of the official launch of the parliamentary dimension of cooperation under the Eastern Partnership. This can be a good opportunity to audit the activities and organizational approaches to the Assembly buildup. Obviously, the committees’ work needs to be reorganized according to the transformation and expansion of thematic cooperation of intergovernmental platforms. In their choice of themes, the committees should take into account the changes taking place at other levels of the EaP. For example, according to the position of the European Council, the European Commission and the EEAS, strengthening of the countries’ and societies’ resilience should be treated as one of the new priorities of cooperation with the EaP countries. It is reasonable to start discussion about creating a standing committee on strengthening the resilience of the EaP countries.
- The Belarusian track in EURONEST activity has always had its specifics, given the state of human rights in the country. In the framework of activities of the Working Group on Belarus, it looks reasonable to propose the rapporteur role, responsible for preparing a report on the situation with the human rights and democratic procedures in Belarus. It is also reasonable to invite the leader of the Belarusian opposition Svitlana Tikhanovska to take part in the Working Group meeting.
- The current parliamentary crisis in Georgia, as well as the ongoing process of resetting the Moldovan parliament, do not allow for resuming active work of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Parliament of Georgia, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, and the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. However, the first best opportunity should be used to resume active inter-parliamentary dialogue. The joint statements of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova indicate a wide range of common interests that parliamentarians should collaborate on.
- Active developments in the international regional initiative of the Lublin Triangle raise the issue of resumption of work of the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, and the Seimas and the Senate of the Republic of Poland. Poland and Lithuania are active participants in the process of the new EaP horizons formation. Therefore, at the preparatory stage for the next Eastern Partnership Summit, it would be reasonable to hold an IPA dedicated to the promotion of joint initiatives (for example, the Trio Plus 2030 Strategy).
 Euronest Parliamentary Assembly Rules of Procedure, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/euronest/en/home/rules-&-decisions.html
 Decision on the creation of the ‘Association Agreements ad hoc Working Group, of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, Chisinau, 23 May 2017, http://www.epgencms.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/upload/cc0931c4-38c5-432c-b9c9-a10adc1166e9/Euornest-bureau-decision-working-group_Association-Agreements_28_09_2017.pdf
 Message of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly Bureau of 12 June 2020 submitted on the occasion of the Video Teleconference of the Leaders of the Eastern Partnership to be held on 18 June 2020, http://www.epgencms.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/upload/7fb1b4f7-7eab-4783-9db1-fb6b05a65df8/Letter_of_Euronest_PA_Co-Presidents_to_the_Leaders_of_the_EaP_VTC_on_18_June_2020.pdf
 Statement by Mr Andrius KUBILIUS, Co-President of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, Member of the European Parliament and Mr Ivan KRULKO, Co-President of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, Member of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, 2020-05-08, https://elpnariai.lt/en/on-the-eu-assistance-for-ukraine-to-mitigate-the-effects-of-covid-19-crisis-and-continue-reforms-necessary-to-sustain-the-economic-recovery/