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Georgia: European Commission President Praises Quick Reforms

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (file photo) (epa) BRUSSELS, February 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso today held out Georgia's reforms as a shining example for the rest of the region.

"Over the past three years we have seen an impressive program of reforms, which is gradually transforming Georgia into a modern market-oriented democracy," Barroso said.

Barroso said that on the strength of Georgia's reforms, the country is becoming eligible for participation in EU activities, which were only previously open to the bloc's member states. Such cooperation would be limited to fields such as environment, education, and scientific exchanges.

Barroso also said the recently agreed European Neighborhood Policy "action plan" for Georgia would help integrate the country into the EU's internal market and bring with it greater financial and technical support.

Aims Other Than Membership

Saakashvili is using the visit to promote Georgia as a key transit country for EU energy and goods imports. He also met today with the EU energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs.

Rather than dwelling on the chances of Georgia joining the EU at some point in the future, Saakashvili seems to be focusing on tangible, pragmatic aims.

He said he has received assurances from EU leaders that the bloc intends to beef up its presence in Georgia's frozen conflicts of South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

However, there is no consensus among EU member states to send peacekeepers to Georgia's conflict zones. In any event, the EU would only send its personnel or troops to South Ossetia or Abkhazia with the prior approval of both the local authorities and Russia.

At his meetings with EU officials, Saakashvili strove to make it clear that Georgia will not contemplate outside involvement, which could prove detrimental to its territorial integrity. Both Solana and Barroso sought to reassure the Georgian president the EU understands his concern.

Frozen Conflicts

While praising the EU's increasing presence on the ground in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Saakashvili warned EU officials visiting the breakaway regions not to talk to people who have committed war crimes or are guilty of what he called ethnic cleansing. Instead, he said, they should seek dialogue with entire communities.

Barroso today indicated the EU agrees with the Georgian leadership that the path to resolving the "frozen conflicts" passes through Moscow. He said Russia "can and should" help in this endeavor.

Referring to Georgia's strained relations with its northern neighbor, Barroso urged the two sides to bury their differences.

"Regarding the region I also want to say that I very much hope that the remaining difficulties between Russia and Georgia are resolved in a constructive spirit. It is important that that problem is solved," Barroso said.

The Georgian president formally extended Barroso an invitation to visit Georgia. The commission president accepted without revealing the timing of such a visit.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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