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Georgia: Brussels Welcomes Election, But Remains Cautious About Closer Ties

The European Union has joined other international bodies in welcoming 4 January elections in Georgia, in which opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili swept to power in a landslide victory. Officials say further emergency aid to the impoverished country is in the offing. At the same time, however, they say Saakashvili's team will have their work cut out for them if closer ties with Brussels are to be achieved.

Brussels, 6 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union yesterday expressed satisfaction at the conduct of the presidential elections in Georgia over the weekend.

Diego de Ojeda, a foreign affairs spokesman for the European Commission, told RFE/RL the bloc now expects the winner of the poll, Mikheil Saakashvili, to put his landslide victory to good use.

"We're happy that the elections took place in an orderly fashion. Seemingly, there has been a large degree of support to the new authorities, we hope that the new authorities will form a government soon and that this government will be in a position to tackle the very urgent issues that they need to tackle in order to improve the living conditions of the Georgian people," de Ojeda said.

De Ojeda said the EU will need to await the official report of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) monitoring mission before it can formally agree that the elections met international standards. He said the EU, which fielded observers of its own within the OSCE team, would fully support the assessment of the organization.

An EU diplomat, who asked not to be named, told RFE/RL that officials in Brussels agree the elections were "much freer and fairer" than the parliamentary elections last autumn, the fraudulent nature of which led to the overthrow of longtime leader Eduard Shevardnadze.

The EU last month gave Georgia 7 million euros ($8.9 million) in emergency food aid and in support of the elections. And de Ojeda says the EU is ready to do more.

"We have provided help for the organization of the elections in association with the [United Nations Development Program] and the OSCE, and we're handling the international observation of these elections. We are prepared to provide further help, in particular in the context of the parliamentary elections that should follow if and when this is deemed appropriate," de Ojeda said.
We're happy that the elections took place in an orderly fashion.... This government will be in a position to tackle the very urgent issues that they need to tackle in order to improve the living conditions of the Georgian people

An EU official said the election results increase the likelihood of the EU offering Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan membership in its so-called "Wider Europe" program of building ties with its new neighbors.

However, the official said the decision -- which, in his words, could take "weeks or months" -- would amount to only a symbolic political declaration. The official said none of the three countries at this stage is able to profit substantively from inclusion in the "Wider Europe" scheme.

He said that while a "Wider Europe" action program would aim at the signatories adopting a large percentage of EU law, none of the South Caucasus countries is currently capable of negotiating or implementing such an agreement at this point.

The official said the EU will carefully monitor the reform program promised by Saakashvili and judge the country accordingly. He said more substantial EU aid is possible, but it remains conditional on the progress of reforms, corruption-fighting, and Georgia's efforts in building relations with the European Union, the United States, and Russia.