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EU: Conflict Fears Overshadow South Caucasus 'Action Plans'

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> Ferrero-Waldner said “defense expenditure in the region is going through the roof” (file photo) (epa) BRUSSELS, August 29, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- European Commission officials today confirmed that European Neighborhood Policy “action plans“ have been successfully negotiated with Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia and now await member-state approval.

The “action plans” establish the priorities the EU and the South Caucasus countries involved want to jointly tackle in the course of the next five years.

However, the announcement of the completion of the action plans was overshadowed by a stark warning from the commission to Georgia and Azerbaijan to stop increasing their military budgets.

Strong Sentiments

In an unusually strongly worded speech, delivered at a conference in Slovenia on August 28, the EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, observed that “defense expenditure in the region is going through the roof.”

A commission official who asked not to be identified said the particular objects of EU concern are Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Ferrero-Waldner noted in her speech that increases in defense expenditure send a negative message in terms of resolving the region’s conflicts. The commissioner also says such increases are unjustifiable in countries that are “in desperate need of investment in education, health, and small businesses.”

The commissioner also criticized leaders in the region for their “inflammatory rhetoric.” She also noted there has been “little or no progress” toward settling the conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

EU On The Way

Ferrero-Waldner, together with representatives of the EU’s current Finnish presidency, will visit the Caucasus in early October to mark the adoption of the “action plans.”

A commission official said the delivery of the plans would not in itself be conditional on defense cuts.

But the official underlined Ferrero-Waldner’s concerns, noting her speech also says “resolving or at least de-escalating the conflicts must be the first priority” for the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy.

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