On October 30 and 31, the Armenian Parliament hosted a session of the Inter-Parliamentary Committee EU-Armenia. This was a first meeting since the course of Armenian foreign policy has changed. This new course was announced by the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan on September 3, 2013 when he claimed that Armenia will strive to enter the Customs Union, which was founded by Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. This decision was published after discussions with the President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. However, membership in the Customs Union is not compatible with a free trade agreement which has been negotiated between the European Union and Armenia over the last three and a half years. The President Sargsyan announced this change without consulting it neither with the Government nor with the Parliament. This act has naturally aroused a great indignation among the opposition and citizens.
Milan Cabrnoch has initiated a series of meetings with a Minister of Foreign Affairs Edward Nalbandian who was defending the President's decision and trying to explain that it could not have been such a surprise since Armenia has been cooperating with Russia for a long period of time. That is true, in spring Armenia signed an agreement with Russia on location of Russian troops on its territory until the year 2044. But this act was considered as a necessity otherwise if the country not get any support from the Russian army, within a few days Armenia would loose the area of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was conquered in a war with Azerbaijan in the early 90s of the 20th century.
The meetings were followed by an official lunch with the Ambassador of the EU in Armenia Traian Hristea and later on by a meeting with the Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan (not a relative of the president, same names are only a coincidence) who defended a new foreign policy by a statement that we need to diversify foreign relations as well as to ensure a security of the country which has closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Milan Cabrnoch had an opportunity to meet in the Parliament the Chairman Hovik Abrahamyan who supported arguments of the Prime Minister as well as of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was also negotiating the form of a joint statement with the head of the EU-Armenia Inter-Parliamentary Committee.
In the evening Milan Cabrnoch had an official meeting with the President Serzh Sargsyan who explained that joining the Customs Union and maintaining cooperation with the European Union is the best choice Armenia can make. The first meeting day was concluded by a dinner which was attended by members of the EU-Armenia Inter-Parliamentary Committee. The European Parliament delegation was unfortunately represented solely by its chairman Milan Cabrnoch, as other MEPs did not manage to reschedule their agendas for this important business trip.
On Thursday October 31 Milan Cabrnoch met several representatives of Armenian NGOs. As presumed, they criticised the change in the Armenian foreign policy and considered such change as unconstitutional. Particularly they have emphasised the fact that these changes have not been approved by the Parliament.
Later on followed meetings in the Parliament with several representatives of all political parties represented in the Parliament. The representatives of the opposition strongly criticised not only president's decision but also the fact that he took such decision without any discussion it in the Parliament. It should be also noted that until today the Armenian Parliament does not have any document stating the country's accession to the Customs Union. At the end of the meeting was held a press conference where Milan Cabrnoch and Samvel Farmanyan presented their joint statement, which could be found also attached.
All Armenian representatives clearly declared their willingness to continue in cooperation with the European Union, particularly in the area of sector reforms. Milan Cabrnoch has repeatedly emphasised a need to find a new way for cooperation since the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement is currently outdated and the cooperation between Armenia and the European Union has gone forward since its sign-off in the year 1999.
In the near future it will be very interesting to follow the results of the Summit in Vilnius which will be held on November 28 and 29. This summit should also bring forward discussions on further forms of cooperation between Armenia and the European Union.
October 15, 2013
Dear Mr Panek,
Yesterday I received a soft copy of your undated open letter relating to the presidential elections in Azerbaijan.
I thank you hereby for your interest in my work and for providing your opinions.
Since year 2009, I act as a chairman of the permanent delegation at the European Parliament which cooperates with parliaments in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. At the same time I am a member of the Parliamentary Assembly EURONEST whose members are also parliamentarians of the above mentioned countries, including Ukraine and Moldova. The assembly only misses representatives of the Parliament in Belarus.
Euronest partnership is not a sole activity between Azerbaijan and the European Union. Azerbaijan concluded several agreements with the EU and further ones are being prepared. The aim of these agreements is to improve and enhance cooperation, as well as to promote democratic reforms, including further development of democracy and gaining more respect for human rights in Azerbaijan.
I can only agree with you that some of the recent observation missions on the presidential elections in Azerbaijan came to a different conclusion. For several years I have been taking part in observation missions repeatedly as a representative of the European Parliament and I have already experienced similar situation several times. Furthermore, I led several EP observation missions myself.
Fundamentally, I have to reject that neither myself nor my colleagues, Members of the European Parliament, would let themselves to "become a propaganda tool". Such statement is naive, unwise and shows that the author of such statement does not possess a basic knowledge of the work on observation missions.
I did not notice that some of the media would misinterpret my statements in relation to the presidential elections in Azerbaijan. In order to prevent this situation, I published my assessment, as well as the official statement of a joint report on the observation mission of the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on my website cabrnoch.cz.
Our observation mission commented on real records that we observed during the mission. On the other hand, we did not have the opportunity to observe personally the pre-election campaign unlike the workers on long-term observation mission. Therefore we do not assess it in our report. Furthermore we did not evaluate neither laws in Azerbaijan nor their compliance or non-compliance with European standards.
Given that in the past I had the opportunity to observe elections personally not only in Azerbaijan, I have the possibility to compare. Therefore I evaluate these presidential election, the election day itself and its eve, as a significant improvement. During the observation we have not encountered intimidation of voters or limiting their freedom of choice. The electoral process was transparent, none of the dozens of local observers, including many representatives of opposition political parties or candidates, had complained about any violation of the freedom of elections.
I am aware that the situation in Azerbaijan is far from perfect. We have expressed this opinion repeatedly, not only during our meetings of the Permanent Delegation under my leadership, but also in other documents of the European Parliament. We strive to improve this situation. We continuously support Azerbaijan in its way to democracy. But it also has to be understood that our support cannot be based solely on criticism and condemn.
Regarding your questions:
1 ) I cannot judge why the OSCE report (previously Parliamentary Assembly OSCE and ODIHR ) could potentially be wrong. I can only declare that the European Parliament delegation and a delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted its joint report. In this report we summarise our own observations which in some cases differ from the observation and evaluation of our fellow colleagues from the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE and ODIHR.
2 ) During our observation mission I did not provide any public statement regarding these elections. It would be in conflict with the rules of the observation mission which presents the results of its observations at a press conference on the following day after the elections.
3 ) Our observation mission was organised, financed and logistically secured solely by the European Parliament.
4 ) During the observation, neither before nor afterwards, I did not receive any honorarium or present.
In conclusion, I would like to inform you that all seven Members of the European Parliament participating in the observation mission, have the same opinion on the evaluation of the presidential elections. In the observation mission were involved MEPs elected in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Italy, Germany, Poland and Romania. All in all, these people are respected politicians who are familiar with the Caucasus problematics and who are experienced in observing elections.
I am pleased that you expressed your interest in my work at the European Parliament, particularly in a delegation that I lead myself and also in the observation mission during the presidential elections in Azerbaijan. If you were interested, I would be very happy to meet you personally and we can take the opportunity to discuss this topic. I would be pleased to share my experience and opinions with you.
I wish you a lot of successes for future work in People in Need.
On Wednesday, September 25, 2013 was held a workshop in the European Parliament dedicated to one of the areas of eHealth, to the mHealth. As this term is very recent, most of the languages stick to the English version without any translation. Considering that eHealth represents a use of information and communication technologies, tools and services in health care, we can also claim that mHealth represents a use of mobile technology in health care, especially of phones and tablets.
In recent years mobile phones have become an integral part of our lives. Without any exaggeration, we can assume that majority of people possesses a mobile phone and they actively use it. Moreover we can notice recently a continuous growth in sales of smart phones which enable diverse usage due to its applications.
Use of mobile technologies could provide patients with better access to information about health care, about diseases and their indications, alternatives how to prevent them and also their possible treatments. People can actively participate in their healthcare while having access to information. Moreover they might have a possibility to control the use of funds of their health insurance in more efficient way.
During a meeting, which I chaired, there was a speech given by Joan Cornet, Barcelona, director of the mHealth Competence Center, and Paul Buchanan from the UK. Whereas Joan Cornet described possible usage of mobile technologies in healthcare, Paul Buchanan, an active diabetic, showed particular examples how chronically ill individuals can make use of such devices and he also demonstrated possible obstacles which might occur.
Especially to chronically ill patients, cell phones bring improvement in quality of their life. They allow to monitor a wide range of bodily functions and to share patient's information with his physician. Mobile technologies have a particular importance especially to elderly. It provides them with great security and an opportunity to call emergency services at any time. For instance in case of patients suffering from dementia there is even a possibility to locate them - this option is certainly used only in compliance with all rules of privacy protection.
Mobile technologies, including cell phones as well as tablets, can play an important role. People could have an access to the key information about their disease and treatment, examination results but also to have an overview of the reported health care directly in their electronic health records on their tablets. A use of mobile technologies will be also appreciated after introduction of electronic prescriptions and electronic statements of sick leave.
Part of the discussion held in Brussels was focused on the topic how to support the usage of mobile technologies in healthcare. It is the responsibility of governments and NGOs to explain to people, patients, how to benefit from mHealth and also to pluck up the courage and persuade health professionals to share information with their patients.
The European Parliament (EP) in Strasbourg creates a first impression of a friendly and close atmosphere. The buildings of the parliament are, of course, huge, but one easily navigates within them and has a feeling of human contact. During the plenary meeting in Strasbourg Dr. Milan Cabrnoch brings me along to various meetings, debates and sittings, including whip meetings and the assembly of the heads of the various EU delegations. Although our program is full, on the way we stop to say hello to an MEP from Poland. Only later do I learn that in fact I just shook hands with the former Prime Minister of Poland and former President of the EU Parliament.
When I have a bit of spare time, I go to see the voting in the parliament and then a debate about the US spying program PRISM and the protection of EU citizens on the internet. The debate is quite interesting, nevertheless even here one can find a broad spectrum of opinions about the leaked information and what the EU’s action plan should encompass.
I am also given the task of summarizing a report about tobacco and to translate a upcoming speech for the MEP from Czech into English. The speech concerns the case Mr. Mammadov and breaches of human rights in Azerbaijan. Dr. Cabrnoch gives his speech on Thursday afternoon during the debate on human rights and, although tere is only a handful of MEPs present, the resolution concerning Azerbaijan is fully-legally carried. After handing in my translation, I am told that it is likely that my translation will be printed in the newspapers of Azerbaijan, a sign of how the EU’s resolutions can have consequences far beyond its borders. Perhaps the EP should thus consider changing its protocol to prevent a small number of MEPs who stay behind on Thursday for the human rights debate from voting on and passing resolutions that the full house of 754 MEPs is responsible for.
Two weeks later I find myself on the plane to Brussels. Upon arrival, I immediately notice the lack of such a friendly atmosphere within the EU Parliament, an atmosphere that was very inviting in Strasbourg. There are much more people working for the parliament in Brussels and so one has a more anonymous feeling, unlike in Strasbourg. It might also be due to the fact that the EP complex in Brussels is several times bigger than in Strasbourg, and the same can be said about the two cities themselves. Whilst in Strasbourg I would meet familiar faces from the EP within the city, in Brussels this never happened.
In Brussels I mainly attend the meetings and votes of the employment (EMPL) and environmental (ENVI) committees. This week both committees discuss fairly high-profile propositions, including quotas for female workers and the backloading CO2 permits, and so the committees are full of TV cameras and reporters.
Finally during the first week of July I return to Strasbourg for the last plenary sitting of the EP prior to the summer holidays. The timing of this internship could not have been better, as on the 1st July Croatia entered the EU. Preparations for this memorable event were clearly well under-way in Brussels, but most interesting of all was this week in Strasbourg, where I could see the huge celebrations for the entrance of Croatia into the EU, such as their naval choir. Nevertheless, inside the EP the work ethic continued like before, with the addition of Croatian MEPs.
On Monday I attend with Mr. Cabrnoch the whip meeting for ECR, where the entrance of Croatia into the EU is felt after all as a new MEP from Croatia is welcomed into the political group ECR. The meeting otherwise continues in a similar as during the last plenary sitting, but still gives a great insight into what will be voted upon during the next couple of days and the position of ECR on each of these issues.
On Tuesday at 10 am I have the opportunity to attend a meeting with lobbyists for manufacturers of cigars. Naturally I am trying to anticipate what sort of arguments they might try to use to support their cause, and what goals they hope to accomplish. However, no extreme arguments are expressed during the meeting and the lobbyists do not denounce existing and upcoming EU legislation concerning tobacco. I am no friend of smoking, but their concerns are understandable in that they wish to distance themselves from cigarette manufacturers and prevent future EU legislation from causing the closure of small and family-sized cigar manufacturers.
What was perhaps the most enticing part of this entire experience in the EU Parliament was the fact that often in the evening I could see news reports concerning decisions made by the EP; decisions I had already seen in real-life during the day and knew their outcomes. It is in these moments that one truly realizes how close one really was to the legislative process and, more importantly, to the people involved that one often only knows from TV screens.
On Tuesday May 7, 2013 I had the opportunity to meet the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a French Member of the Parliament Jean-Claude Mignon in Brussels. The reason why this representative of an important European institution came to visit me was to discuss an improvement in cooperation with Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe would like to actively take part in improvement of Nagorno-Karabakh situation. It concerns approximately one fifth of the Azerbaijani area which is nowadays controlled by Armenia.
Both countries involved are regular members of the Council of Europe. The President of the Parliamentary Assembly meets leaders of both delegations and takes concern in organizing joint meeting of these two delegations. By a coincidence these two countries will hold a chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of Council of Europe in near future.
As a Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Armenia, EU-Azerbaijan and EU-Georgia Parliamentary Cooperation Committees I really did welcome President´s interest on an exchange of information and coordination of process in both institutions. Our common objective is to contribute to development of this more than 20-years frozen conflict.
During our debate we also discussed a current political situation in the third country of the South Caucasus, Georgia. There we have witnessed a tense coexistence of a new elected government and a president whose party currently stands in opposition.
The important part of this inter-institutional cooperation is to support democratic elections. Both institutions send their own representatives to both countries in order to observe elections. I also had the opportunity to take part in many of these observations. Recently I observed parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan and Armenia.
In October 2012 I was sent for a mission to Georgia where I acted as a Chair of the European Parliament Delegation which observed parliamentary elections. Due to the same reason I went also to Armenia where were recently held presidential elections. With Jean-Claude Mignon we came to a conclusion that both institutions need to improve its coordination related to these missions.