I’m not always the most prepared person in the world, especially when it comes to meetings. Usually, that doesn’t matter, because I’m surrounded by people who are prepared. But what happens if they don’t turn up on time?
The sun was shining in Armenia’s capital, in the shadow of Mount Ararat, and whilst one of the delegation’s Parliamentarians was meeting ‘Our Man in Yerevan’, I was off to attend the Resolution Working Group, where resolutions on a Common Consolidated Corporate tax base for Europe and on Cyprus were to be debated. On arrival at the Congress Hotel, our venue for the meeting, I discovered that most of our delegation were still on their way from Tbilisi, in neighbouring Georgia, making their way across mountain passes in bad weather and on bad roads. They would arrive eventually, but for now, I was on my own. Luckily, I’m the resident corporate tax expert, and I had read the policy, and I had been to both sides of Cyprus, to the North as part of a semi-official visit, so I wasn’t out of my depth.
The Cyprus discussion went well, with additional language added to make reference to the 2004 referenda, and the inclusion of a call for the European Union to fulfil its obligations under the Cypriot accession treaty, a reference to the failure to enact the trade and access elements that would allow direct flights to Northern Cyprus and open up markets to goods, services and products from the area. As for the Common Consolidated Corporate tax base, I’m afraid that I was moved to trash it, partly on the grounds that the United Kingdom would certainly opt out, partly on the grounds that harmonised tax rules would reduce national fiscal sovereignty to an unacceptable extent, and the resolution fell as a result of that, and other critical interventions from, amongst others, the Dutch, Danish and Cypriot delegations.
By lunchtime, we were back at full strength, and the Council meeting began with welcomes from Sir Graham Watson, chairing his first ELDR Council since becoming President last year, and from Aram Manukyan, Leader of our hosts, the Armenian National Movement. Aram had been elected to the National Assembly earlier in the week, despite the best efforts of the ruling Party. Reports from the President and Treasurer, Roman Jakic, came and went, before we discussed friends old and new.
ELDR Council voted to accept a membership application from Darbo Partija of Lithuania, and agreed changes of membership status for Centro Democratico Liberal of Spain, the Liberal Democratic Party of Bosnia Hercegovina and the Partit Liberal d’Andorra. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Parti Radicaux de Gauche, France (failure to pay membership fee), New Union, Lithuania (merger) and Latvia’s Way/Latvia’s First Party (disappearance).
A brisk debate followed on fiscal discipline for Europe, proposed by the Free Democrats of Germany, although in truth it merely emphasised what had been agreed at last year’s Congress in Palermo.
It was confirmed that this year’s ELDR Congress will take place in Dublin on 8-10 November, and it was decided that an invitation from the Istrian Democratic Assembly, to host 2013’s Spring Council meeting in Pula, Croatia, would be accepted.
And with that, ELDR Council was done. All that was left was to enjoy the hospitality of our hosts, whose generosity and enthusiasm for Europe and for liberalism in one of Europe’s toughest neighbourhoods was a reminder as to why so many of us do what we do for our communities. When your neighbours are Turkey (border closed due to genocide), Azerbaijan (border closed due to war), Iran and Georgia, the temptation towards authoritarianism is strong. But if we are to build a stronger, more liberal Europe, Armenia is exactly the place we should look to nurture liberalism…
*Mark Valladares is a directly elected member of the Liberal Democrat delegation to ELDR Council, and blogs further on his visit to Yerevan at ‘The View from Creeting St Peter‘.