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EU: Foreign Ministers To Launch Georgian 'Rule Of Law' Aid Mission

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg today, are expected to give the go-ahead to a "rule of law" aid mission to Georgia to help the country reform its criminal justice system. EU officials say the move is intended to support the country at a delicate moment in its reform process. The mission will also be the first test for the EU's civilian crisis-management capabilities, which form part of the bloc's evolving defense policy.

Brussels, 14 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- EU officials in Brussels make no secret of the fact that Georgia continues to ride a wave of political goodwill in the wake of its "Rose Revolution."

Today's decision to launch a "rule of law" mission in Georgia -- which officials say will be adopted by EU foreign ministers without a debate -- is another sign of the hopes associated with the country's young president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

The mission will see the EU send 10 civilian experts from member states to advise Georgian judicial and police authorities. Its duration will initially be one year, with the possibility of an extension.

The mission follows a high-profile anticorruption drive launched by Georgia's new authorities this spring. That effort has already featured a string of arrests of highly placed government officials.

Emma Udwin, a European Commission spokeswoman, told RFE/RL the mission follows a specific request for assistance from the Georgian government. She said the mission is part of a wider EU support program for Georgia.
"The focus of this mission is to help Georgia make the reforms it itself wants to make." -- Emma Udwin, European Commission spokeswoman

"The European Union is already helping Georgia in the process of reforming some of its key institutions in the field of rule of law. For example, its ministry of justice, its penitentiary and probation service, and we're contributing about 10.5 million euros already in this area, supporting the reforms that the Georgians themselves are trying to make," Udwin said. "This 'rule of law' mission will support that in new ways, with some experts from our member states going out --- over a period of a year -- to contribute to the reform process. Obviously, Georgia's at a particularly delicate moment, trying to leave behind its past and ring itself in line with European standards. So, the focus of this mission is to help Georgia make the reforms it itself wants to make."

The mission will provide the EU itself with an opportunity to test its civilian crisis-management procedures, which are being worked out as part of the bloc's European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). The ESDP puts a strong emphasis on the prevention of potential crises -- or the consolidation of the situation once the crisis is overcome -- through civilian means.

In this instance, officials say, EU member states are expected to commit judges, prosecutors, penitentiary experts, and others to help Georgia strengthen its law-enforcement structures.

They will provide support in addressing what EU officials say are Georgia's most urgent challenges in moving to adopt EU and international standards. One aspect will be to help the government in Tbilisi develop a coordinated overall approach to the reform of the criminal justice system. The EU experts will help plan new legislation relating to criminal procedure. They will also assist in fostering international regional cooperation in the area of criminal justice.

An EU summit later this week will approve the inclusion of all three south Caucasus countries -- Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan -- into the bloc's European Neighborhood Policy. However, Georgia is likely to continue to receive star treatment on the assumption that reforms there will continue.

Udwin told RFE/RL the European Neighborhood Policy will create a wide variety of opportunities for all target countries. However, she said, a lot will depend on the political will on the ground, adding that not all will benefit identically.

"We have just invited those countries along with Georgia to take part in what's called the European Neighborhood Policy, so we're opening a whole range of possibilities to them," Udwin said. "I think, what this mission to Georgia shows is that where countries show that they themselves are interested in reform, we will find ways to help. It is not always the same for every partner country, but for those who're interested in the same kinds of things that we are -- human rights, democracy, the rule of law -- we will find ways to support [them] if we can see that the desire for change is genuine."