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EU-South Caucasus : The Gahrton Report

EU-South Caucasus : The Gahrton Report

Speech by The Rt Hon Chris Patten, External Relations Commissioner. Source: European Parliament, Brussels, February 26, 2004.

The Commission welcomes this timely and thoughtful report. Its evolution over a number of years demonstrates the Parliament's commitment to ensuring that the region attracts the attention it requires and has allowed the report to be refined and focussed to provide an extremely useful policy tool.

The Commission shares the analysis of the dangers and difficulties facing the region and is pursuing policies that will encourage stabilisation there. To that end, our country strategies place the fight against corruption, and support for institution building and poverty reduction at the heart of our assistance. For the region, we have programmes dealing with drug trafficking, border management and environmental issues. Unless these key issues are tackled the chances of achieving stability in the region will be greatly diminished.

We have pursued these objectives since the Southern Caucasus countries achieved independence in 1991, and have devoted over €1 billion of EC assistance to the region. We will continue to be ambitious in our efforts though, while working within the constraints of our resources.

Time prevents me from covering all of the many issues highlighted in the report in detail, so I hope I can be excused for focusing on two key points, namely the relationship between the South Caucasus and the European Neighbourhood Policy, and the role of the Commission in assisting conflict settlement.

On the first, the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 26 January, in discussing how best to support the new leadership in Georgia, concluded:

"The Council invites the Commission, in consultation with the High Representative, and taking account of the EU Special Representative's proposals, to bring forward a recommendation on the relationship of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to the European Neighbourhood Policy. The Council looks forward to considering this recommendation before the end of the Irish Presidency."

I welcome that commitment. Accordingly, the EU is closely monitoring developments in all three countries to see whether there is continued progress towards democracy and in the economic sphere. We want to see a credible and sustained commitment to reform, clearly reflected in concrete steps forward, for example in fighting corruption.

Secondly, on the issue of conflict resolution and reconciliation, the European Commission continues to provide its full support to the OSCE and United Nations in their efforts to solve the region's frozen conflicts. We stand ready to assist post conflict reconstruction following peace settlements, or to assist measures agreed between the parties to the conflict which would reduce tensions and raise confidence between the two sides. I am pleased to say that the Commission has recently been able to implement a third phase of post conflict rehabilitation activities to the Georgian South Ossetian conflict zone, to assist the return of internally displaced people and refugees and the restoration of infrastructure, which will help to build confidence between the two communities.

The appointment of the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus in 2003 was an important step for the EU. The Commission is pleased to be fully associated with his work, and has valued his close co-operation. The Gahrton report rightly identifies the need further to develop EU policy for the region. The European Commission looks forward to participating in this important process.

The European Commission takes note of the call for a Stability Pact for the region. When the issue was first raised a couple of years ago there seemed to be little support for the idea. I am not sure that the time is yet ripe to return to it.

Let me conclude my rapid overview by commending the Rapporteur on his report and to thank him for what I am sure will be an important contribution to the debate on EU policy for the South Caucasus region.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).