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Iraq: EU Watching Elections Carefully, Announces New Aid Decision

The European Commission said today it will watch “very closely" the outcome of the 30 January elections in Iraq. Officials in Brussels say the EU is particularly concerned about seeing all of Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities represented in the new government. The commission also announced a major new aid decision, earmarking 200 million euros in aid for Iraq in 2005. Officials say they are confident EU member states will approve the decision when their foreign ministers meet in Brussels on 31 January.

Brussels, 28 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Poor security conditions and internal tensions will in all likelihood ensure that Iraq’s elections on 30 January will not fully meet international standards. But the poll nonetheless received the cautious endorsement of the EU on today.

EU officials have said throughout the week that their main criterion in assessing the elections is whether a properly representative government will emerge.

Emma Udwin, spokeswoman for EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in Brussels today the bloc will be carefully monitoring developments that follow the elections. “We will closely watch what happens on voting day, we will watch with all the resources available to us to see how things play out," she said. "We will then watch the formation of that government, we will watch what decisions are taken within the Iraqis’ own rules about making sure that there is an ethnic balance in the administration. And then, one also has to look at the decisions that will be taken about the composition of the assembly that will have the very important job of putting together the constitution [later this year].”

But EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana told the European Parliament earlier this week that it would be a "disaster" if Iraq’s minority Sunnis are for any reason denied representation.

But Udwin today expressed optimism, saying, “Where there is a will to make sure there is full representation, ways can be found.”

EU officials acknowledge that the legitimacy of the elections and the new government may be open to question as a result of the difficult security conditions and the absence of international observers. But Udwin said what is important is the potential role of the elections in putting Iraq on the path towards democracy.
Udwin said the elections are seen by the EU as “the best that can be done” under the circumstances.

She underlined the point that the 30 January elections are the first time in decades that the people of Iraq have had the opportunity to exercise the right to vote freely. “This not about watching to give marks out of 100. This is about -- well, what alternative is there? We have the beginnings of a democratic process in Iraq, obviously under very difficult security circumstances. We have to support that process and we have to support the further steps in that process,” Udwin said.

Udwin said the elections are seen by the EU as “the best that can be done” under the circumstances. She also said she is not describing the poll as free, but added that it is “as democratic as possible.” Nevertheless, Udwin made clear the earliest the EU would seek closer relations with Iraq -- as well as begin negotiations for a cooperation agreement -- would be after the December elections that will follow the approval of the new constitution.

Meanwhile, EU member states are mulling sending a “rule of law” mission to Iraq to help the new government train police and civil servants. An advance EU expert team has already been to the country and reported back to Brussels. Privately, officials say any EU presence in Iraq is likely to remain very small for the foreseeable future. It is likely that any training of Iraqi personnel will initially take place outside the country.

Udwin today also announced the size of the European Commission's aid budget for Iraq for this year. “We are proposing 200 million euro [$261 million] for Iraq in 2005," she said. "We’re trying to take our decisions very early in the year to make sure the money funnels through to the Iraqi people as soon as possible, and what we’re trying to do is to indicate that we intend to be a significant partner for the government -- whoever it is who is elected -- on [30 January].”

Udwin said the EU wants to send the message that it is keen to help the new government. Some 130 million euros of the aid money will go toward boosting essential services and jobs. Another 15 million will be given in technical assistance to help build capacities in the areas of energy and trade, and 10 million to support the political process, growth of the civil society, and possibly to help draft the constitution. The rest of the funds will stay in reserve.

So far, the EU has allocated 320 million euros ($417 million) to Iraq since 2003.

Today’s aid decision will need the approval of EU member states. Udwin said today the commission is confident that the decisions will go through. As before, the bulk of EU funds will be disbursed through a multilateral fund run by the United Nations and the World Bank.

[For news, background, and analysis on Iraq's historic 30 January elections, see RFE/RL's webpage "Iraq Votes 2005".]

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