Economic Cooperation Key to Caucasus Stability

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–The European Union and the cooperation councils of the three states of the South Caucasus held a meeting that marked the beginning of a new phase in relations between the countries of the South Caucasus and the European Union. The first meetings were held in Luxembourg on October 12. The meetings were preceded by a summit of the leaders of the South Caucasus states in Luxembourg on June 22 and the enforcement of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreemen’s on July 1.

The EU attaches increasingly greater importance to expanding economic ties with the states of the South Caucasus. From 1995 to 1998 foreign trade between the EU and Armenia increased by 30 percent–Georgia by 159 percent and Azerbaijan by 80 percent.

The volume of means received by the countries of the South Caucasus from the EU per capita exceed those obtained by other countries of the former USSR. In 1992-98 these countries–home to 17 million people–received approximately $1 billion.

"The volumes of further assistance are yet unclear–assistance might be dwindling in view of the increasing need to finance other parts of the globe–particularly the Balkans. It’s time countries of the South Caucasus made their own contribution to the development of relations with the EU by resolving the political conflicts (Nagorno Karabakh–Abkhazia–Northern Ossetia) and expediting the pace of integration of their economies into the world economy," Cornelis Wittebrood–Head of the Caucasus Unit of the EC Directorate for External Relations–said recently. European Commission experts say that investmen’s will be economically effective if they are made on the regional level.

The European Commission deems that economic cooperation among the countries may become an instrument for resolving political problems in the South Caucasus. The TRACECA Project is aimed at developing transport infrastructure to ensure a free flow of goods between Europe and Central Asia via the Caucasus. TRACECA managed to involve large international investors.

The European Commission is planning to develop a concept of regional cooperation in the region–which will presumably allow Armenia to get more actively involved in TRACECA. "The European Union is interested in Armenia’s more active participation in TRACECA–in which much of the attention has so far been paid to Georgia and Azerbaijan," Daniel Stroobants–Responsible for the TRACECA Project of the European Commission–said.

Stability in the South Caucasus is increasingly important to the European Union in the light of the Union’s further expansion. In 2002-2015–the 15-member European Union will start admitting Poland–Hungary–the Czech Republic–Slovenia–Estonia–Cyprus–Latvia and Lithuania. Slovakia–Romania–Bulgaria and Malta are also preparing for negotiations. Turkey may become a candidate for EU membership this December (after the recent devastating earthquake in Turkey–Greece has altered its hard-line on Turkey’s possible admission and–probably–will withdraw its veto on condition that Cyprus is admitted to the EU simultaneously).

To ensure stability in the South Caucasus the European Union needs Russia’s assistance. "The European Union must promote Russia’s ability to rely on its own forces–in particular–in the South Caucasus," Javier Solana–the recently appointed High Representative of the EU on Foreign Policy and Security Policy–said in a Stockholm speech two weeks ago. During his recent tour of the region–Solana emphasized the importance of regional cooperation–opening borders–which–according to him–will ensure the region’s stability and prosperity. One doesn’t have to belong to a military organization to raise the level of security in the region.

The EU holds that the establishment of a durable and broad system of relationships between the countries of the South Caucasus through practical cooperation with NATO–political dialogue and trade and economic cooperation with the European Union will automatically enhance their security.

The European Union–demonstrating the advantages of economic cooperation–will assist in the settlement of conflicts in the region. "The role of the European Union may be unique in solving problems in the countries of the South Caucasus and in establishing intercommunication between the three states," said Burghardt–the European Commission Director General for External Relations with CIS Countries.

The importance of cooperation in the region is also being highlighted by the foreign ministers of the South Caucasus states. "Economic cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan may have brilliant vistas," Azeri Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov suggested. According to Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian–economic cooperation between Armenia and Azerbaijan will create a more auspicious atmosphere for resolving the conflict.

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