Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner, is currently on a tour of the South Caucasus countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
Speaking on January 21 with Nino Gelashvili of RFE/RL's Georgian Service in Tbilisi, Ferrero-Waldner talked about the role of EU monitors in the wake of the August war with Russia, as well as Georgia's prospects for Western integration under the new Eastern Partnership plan.RFE/RL: Could you please explain the European Union's position on the recognition by Russia of the self-declared independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?Benita Ferrero-Waldner:
We do not accept the recognition of those two entities. Indeed, we are in favor of the territorial integrity of Georgia. And we keep this position. Having said this, political talks are being maintained in Geneva. They have started. There were three rounds. The next round will be there in February. And at this round, indeed, the European Union will try, of course, to enhance the position that has been brokered
by [French] President [Nicolas] Sarkozy, together with and accepted by [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev.RFE/RL: Georgia is asking for more activities from the EU, like adding police functions to the EU monitoring mission. What do you have to say about the prospects of this issue?Ferrero-Waldner:
First of all, Georgia should be very happy that the European Union monitoring mission has come here very, very quickly and is doing an excellent job. I visited them today. I got a brief of the monitors. And I must say, it is very important now that they get to come into this situation.
It is most important that there are no more incidents -- no more shootings -- and that both sides respect each other. This, then, is a good basis for the political talks that will be difficult and complex. That is clear, too. So I don't see why there should be more monitors [and more functions]. There is a reason for that.RFE/RL: Let's talk about the new initiative on the Eastern Partnership. What is the difference between the Eastern Partnership and the European Neighborhood Policy? So far, we've heard about visa facilitation, about increasing financial support, and about an association agreement. Could you please give us a more clear picture about the difference between the two initiatives?Ferrero-Waldner:
The Neighborhood Policy is a whole framework -- a framework that offers countries in the East that are our neighbor countries, and to the south, possibilities to come closer to the European Union. Our idea was always that this should be a bilateral process of the European Union and each country. And Georgia, for instance. We have provided action plans in this Neighborhood Policy. Now, when the action plans will be fulfilled -- and this is not yet the case with Georgia, but Georgia is working with us on that -- then, we said we would do a sort of upgrade of our relationship. And that is the Eastern Partnership.
Only when, really, all the things will have been done that we need to see -- like free media access, free assembly. There are many, many things that still are missing. Then we will be ready to go for the next step.
The Eastern Partnership is an offer that we give to the six Eastern countries [Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine]. At the moment, Belarus is not yet there because, indeed, there were lots of things missing on the democratic side. But for the other countries, in principle, the offer is there. But only when, really, all the things will have been done that we need to see -- like free media access, free assembly. There are many, many things that still are missing. Then we will be ready to go for the next step.
The next step would indeed be the possibility for each and every one of these countries to have an Association Agreement with the European Union. That is a very deep and broad political agreement that, at the same time, could have a Free Trade Agreement for those who already aremmembers of the World Trade Organization. This, of course, takes time to do. But this would bring those countries much closer to the European Union.
Secondly, indeed, it is about the question of visa facilitation. These negotiations always go hand in hand with readmission agreements, with securing the borders, with border management. So there is a conditional approach, so to say.
We know that [Georgia] needs energy security. But also, [the European Union] needs energy security. So there would be a memorandum of understanding on energy together with [Georgia]. And we would work on energy questions with [Georgia]. It would be on the renewable energy. On energy efficiency. But also on flash projects -- like, for instance, the South Corridor or, in the future, also working on [the proposed] Nabucco [pipeline], where, indeed, Georgia is a very important transit country.
We think, and we have seen, that in our countries, prosperity has come only when we work on the socioeconomic development. And therefore, this is one of the items that we offer in principle. Naturally, all that can never hold if there are not additional funds. So therefore, for the moment, I have offered -- and this is an offer that now the member states will have to accept -- from the year 2010 to the year 2013, additionally to what we already have, 350 million euro[s] for all the six countries in order to be able to finance other additional projects.
We also have found this bilateral approach alone -- Ukraine-European Union, Georgia-European Union, and so on -- will not give the whole spectrum. It would be very important if all the countries of the East also work together among themselves. And therefore, we will create platforms where we will invite the six Eastern Partnership countries -- plus, indeed also, the 27 [members] of the European Union. And then, on different topics -- like good governance, like energy security, like economic integration -- there can be exchanges: "What did you do here with the electricity grid? How can we get together?"
We did something similar in the Balkans with the Stability Pact. And we think, in the end, this has brought a great interconnection. This is also what we would like to create. And, of course, we are offering as a tool also, a sort of broad mechanism that gives also a team of experts where we
see weaknesses and deficiencies. Because, indeed, deficiencies can be overcome if everyone one works together.
That's the idea. But again, this offer is there at the right moment when the right conditions will be there in each and every one of these countries.