Brussels, 27 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Building on gradually lessening Russian sensitivities about the conflict in Chechnya, the European Union is on the brink of acquiring a formal role in post-conflict rehabilitation of the region.
A team of European Commission experts visited the North Caucasus on 9-16 April and met with the political leaders of Chechnya, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia.
Emma Udwin, a spokeswoman at the European Commission, told RFE/RL today that the team is advising EU authorities that while humanitarian assistance must continue, the bloc could "add value" to local efforts at social and economic reconstruction.
Udwin said health and education are key sectors where the EU may become involved.
"Part of the mission was to hold discussions with the ministries of health and education in each case, and we are looking at how we might be able to, for example, help expand the administrative capacity of those ministries to improve services in those key areas -- that might be one example," Udwin said.
The European Commission feels reconstruction work can start before a formal end to the conflict in Chechnya, provided the security situation remains favorable.
Udwin said it was too early to specify what precise projects the EU may propose.
Speaking privately, an EU source told RFE/RL the European Commission feels reconstruction work can start before a formal end to the conflict in Chechnya, provided the security situation remains favorable.
Udwin also appeared to say a formal end to the war is not an absolute precondition for EU involvement in rehabilitation efforts.
"It is clear that the assistance, the support we give will be more meaningful if it takes place in the context of a political solution that has the broad consensus of the local population," Udwin said.
The anonymous official quoted previously said the EU intends to conduct its reconstruction projects in "close contact" with the Russian authorities, but indicated that the bloc will retain full control over undertakings it finances.
The official also indicated that budgeting for projects may start before the next EU budget cycle 2007-13, that is, next year or earlier.