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Georgia: EU Official Calls On Tbilisi To Address Election Shortcomings

Three top EU officials -- Slovenian Foreign Minister Dmitrij Rupel, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and Special Ambassador for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby -- traveled this week to Azerbaijan, Georgia, and then Armenia. RFE/RL Georgian Service's Nino Gelashvili interviewed Ferrero-Waldner in Tbilisi on February 5.

RFE/RL: You personally and also several international leaders congratulated Georgian people on the fact that the [January 5 preterm presidential] election passed off "peacefully." Why was that?

Benita Ferrero-Waldner: Well, because we of course could have feared that there might be violence, because there was a great competition going on, and the most important [thing] is indeed that elections take place in a free and fair way, but also without any violence, and this is what I think we have clearly said.

RFE/RL: You also called on the authorities to investigate all complaints and appeals concerning the January elections. In the OSCE interim report it is said that a considerable number of appeals was not investigated fully or adequately. What would be your recommendation?

Ferrero-Waldner: My advice would be that exactly those issues have to be tackled now for the parliamentary elections [tentatively scheduled for May]. It would be very important that there is a body that really goes and checks the complaints. Because this is the normal thing in an election.

RFE/RL: What's the main challenge for Georgia now?

Ferrero-Waldner: The main challenge should be that indeed all the parties that will participate in these elections will accept those standards that we hold up as the European standards. And here, I think, the OSCE/ODIHR has really established very good rules and norms and they should be followed through.

RFE/RL: The European Neighborhood Policy -- people have heard about that in Georgia. We know how it is financed, we know you care about that. But where could an ordinary citizen of Georgia touch it, this "neighborhoodness?"

Ferrero-Waldner: I think the normal citizen can touch it already. Because if there is more economic development, if there is a [more open] business climate, if there is a better chance for Georgians to export to the European Union, this is all because of the European Neighborhood Policy. If there is less corruption, if there is a better judiciary, if there is more democracy and human rights, for instance, better election laws, in the end all that comes together and is part of the modernization and reform program of the government, but of course highly supported by us.

RFE/RL: How optimistic are you about resolution of the conflicts, about moving the process from the "frozen" point?

Ferrero-Waldner: I think we have to go on. We have to continue trying to help you finding solutions, and the Neighborhood Policy should create the right environment for that. That means we are ready to doing confidence-building measures in South Ossetia, in Abkhazia. But of course, always in accordance what the government wants. But it's most important that the people understand that also those regions are not far away. These are regions in Georgia and of course, they should benefit from all the possibilities that we can offer. So, that's what we are doing.

RFE/RL: One question pertaining to energy. The Nabucco, South Stream, and White Stream [gas-export pipelines]: what is the correlation of these projects and what is the EU's attitude toward each of them? Could all of them exist and operate in the future?

Ferrero-Waldner: The most important, I think, is what do we want. We want diversification of resources and diversification of routings, of pipelines. So, these different pipelines -- they are complementary with each other. Of course, Nabucco is a priority project of the European Union. So, we are working with Azerbaijan and with other countries, also with the Mashriq countries, in order to get the resources and the sources there, but at the same time, if there are more pipelines, we can only say this is complementary to each other.

RFE/RL: Some of your [EU] member states cooperate with Gazprom, and some experts deduce from that cooperation that the EU does not have a common energy policy and that there is a problem within [the EU]. Is that true? What would be your comment?

Ferrero-Waldner: My comment would be the more we can be united on our international energy policy as well, the better. But of course there are existing contracts and of course this also has to be honored by the member countries. But, you know, this is a policy that will be taken forward in the direction of more and more unity.