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Parliamentarians from Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine Meet at Marshall Center To Build Trust and Regional Cooperation

Parliamentarians from Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine pose with faculty and guest speakers during a break at a two-day conference at the George C. Marshall European Center. The conference was organized to foster communications between neighboring countries and to create an opportunity to enhance their ability to engage in strategic dialogue. (Marshall Center photo by Karl Heinz Wedhorn/RELEASED).
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By George C. Marshall European Center Public Affairs Director James Brooks

Parliamentarians from the nations of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova met this week at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies for a two-day conference on common security challenges facing each other, June 28-29, 2016.

“Our main objective with tailored seminars like these is to foster communications between neighboring countries and to create an opportunity to enhance their ability to engage in strategic dialogue. We hope to do this by facilitating an exchange of information and by building professional networks in each country and between the neighboring countries,” said George C. Marshall European Center Deputy Executive Director Ben Reed.

The main topics discussed during the two-day conference were parliamentary oversight of defense and security institutions, defense reform, Euro-Atlantic integration, corruption and good governance. Topics were presented by Marshall Center faculty and several keynote speakers who have dedicated a large part of their professional lives to these topics.

One of those speakers was Davor Stier, member of the European Parliament from Croatia who found the conference a valuable tool for increasing understanding between European neighbors.

“I think it is important we exchange and share our experiences and I think it’s important we also understand that we are from different countries but sharing also a ‘community of values’ based upon democracy that we want to advance in our interests. The situations could be different but this is what brings us together and it's good to learn from each other,” said Stier.

Conferences with parliamentarians are carefully planned says Marshall Center Black Sea and Eurasia Program Director Valbona Zeneli who was responsible for this seminar. Discussions can be intense and disagreements occur. That is anticipated when planning the agenda.

“Topics are very carefully thought out in the planning process, and this is done in cooperation with the country teams and the parliamentarians. Certain topics generate a great deal discussion, sometimes it gets animated. This seminar was no different. But this discussion is important and it has to take place if you want regional leaders to understand each other and build lasting, working relationships,” said Zeneli.

The format of this conference was also very important to its success.

“This was the first time we invited parliamentarians from three nations and everyone was quite pleased by the trilateral format. This not only helped each nation individually but also fostered regional cooperation to similar challenges. Some of the parliamentarians even came up with the idea of exploring more formal and regular cooperation between each other. The Marshall Center is already planning a trilateral outreach event to engage our alumni in these countries in the same way,” said Zeneli.

Parliamentarians who came to this conference are often referred by the U.S. and German embassies in the respective countries, although some officials are alumni from the Marshall Center’s ten resident programs. It’s not unusual to have U.S. embassy officials actively participate in tailored conferences like this one to better improve communications and understanding with the host nation which they are assigned.

James Stewart is a U.S. foreign service officer assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Chisinau Moldova. He said the opportunity to participate in this seminar was extremely valuable.

“This seminar has given me the opportunity to spend time with parliamentarians from Moldova which we work with frequently. This venue gives me the opportunity to hear what is on their mind and get an understanding of what is important to them,” said Stewart.

“I hope that when they leave here, they will not only continue the discussion with us but also with their European neighbors that they met here,” Stewart added.

Former Estonia military representative to NATO and the European Union and now a member of Estonia’s Parliament retired Lt. Gen. Johannes Kert shared his perspectives on being a military leader and a parliamentarian. He led a discussion about the role of parliamentarians overseeing their national security institutions. But at the end of the conference, he shared what he thought was most important to him.

“Last night when we were at dinner together, a speaker challenged parliamentarians to return home and become the person who forms public opinion in their country and not just listen to public opinion. That was most important to me. The parliamentarians here at this conference are now loaded with new information and they should take the initiative. They are the future leaders and they are concerned about the developments in their neighborhood,” said Kert.

More information about the George C. Marshall European Center can be found online at: www.marshallcenter.org.