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Georgia: EU Officials Say Relations With Russia Key To Long-Term Stability

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Addressing the European Parliament yesterday, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and the bloc's external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, gave a positive account of reforms in Georgia. They underlined the important role the EU has played in supporting President Mikheil Saakashvili. However, both acknowledged that resolving the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia are decisive to Georgia's long-term success. And both Solana and Patten promised EU help in securing Russia's cooperation, which they say is essential.

Brussels, 14 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Both Solana and Patten had high praise for the performance of the Georgian government since the so-called Rose Revolution last November.

Patten said both the presidential and parliamentary elections at the beginning of 2004 had been the "fairest and freest" in Georgia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Patten also said Georgia has met with some success in undertaking reforms.

"A good start has been made in addressing the structural problems facing Georgia, tackling, for example, endemic corruption, which has harmed every facet of life in Georgia," Patten said. "Georgia's state finances have been put on a more stable path to recovery. Revenue collection has increased, allowing the Georgian government to pay salaries on time. Reform of the law enforcement agencies has begun, and a new tax code has been presented to parliament."
Solana noted the economic situation in Georgia remains bleak. The country's gross national product has contracted by 60 percent, while 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. There are still 300,000 displaced persons in Georgia waiting for various regional conflicts to be settled.


Listing the EU's contributions, Solana said the bloc has been "absolutely engaged" with Saakashvili's government.

He said the EU's main achievements in the region have been the appointment of a special representative for the South Caucasus, Heikki Talvitie; the inclusion of the three South Caucasus countries in the EU's European Neighborhood Policy; organizing a high-yield donors conference for Georgia; and the-first ever EU-sponsored "rule of law mission" in another country, which he said is working well in Georgia.

The EU this year doubled its financial aid to Georgia to 137 million euros ($169 million) for the years 2004-06.

However, Solana noted the economic situation in Georgia remains bleak. The country's gross national product has contracted by 60 percent, while 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. There are still 300,000 displaced persons in Georgia waiting for various regional conflicts to be settled.

Both Solana and Patten highlighted the role of Russia in determining Georgia's future.

Patten said Georgia in an important part of EU-Russia relations at every level: "It is essential if we're to solve conflicts and if we're to secure Georgia's long-term stability to see a serious improvement in the relations between Georgia and Russia. We hope that the presidents and governments of those countries can work to find solutions to the bilateral differences in full respect of each country's sovereignty. From our perspective, the South Caucasus is an extremely important part of the common neighborhood of the European Union and Russia. We'll continue to place this region high on [the agenda] of our bilateral dialogue with Russia."

Patten said the EU's view is that "strong and prosperous neighbors make the best neighbors." He said he hopes this is also the view of Russia.

Patten praised Saakashvili's recent pledge before the General Assembly of the United Nations to address regional conflicts solely by peaceful means. Patten stressed the importance of confidence building, and pointed to EU-run rehabilitation programs in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Solana noted that Saakashvili solved the conflict with Ajara relatively easily. But he warned that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be more difficult, will take a long time, and will require Russian cooperation.

But, he said, resolving both conflicts is essential for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In this context, Solana praised Saakashvili's public assurances that no other country will be allowed to station forces in Georgia once Russia withdraws.

"President Saakashvili has made a good statement, saying that he would not accept forces from any other country on his territory," Solana said. "Therefore, that will give guarantees to the Russian friends that they can leave without any risk of forces from any other country appearing in Georgia."

But, Solana said, Georgia faces difficult times ahead, and he said Tbilisi will need all the help it can get from its friends. He said the EU is such a friend.

Patten said the main domestic challenges facing the Georgian government are sustaining the current pace of reforms and turning promises into reality. He said this is a hard job because the country's institutions have been "hollowed out" over the years.

Patten said the European Neighborhood Policy must be used to its fullest effect. The onus is on Georgia to demonstrate genuine commitment to political and economic reforms, which, he said, are the only guarantee of Georgia's long-term stability.
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