Armenia Signs European Neighborhood Policy Plan

BRUSSELS (RFE/RL)–The EU Tuesday signed European Neighborhood Policy action plans with the South Caucasus countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The agreemen’s offer aid, improved trade, and more political cooperation in exchange for political and economic reforms. But EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told RFE/RL, they don’t even mean what the EU would call a "membership perspective."The neighborhood policy is not for membership. I have to say that very clearly. But at the same time, this is the policy of today. Therefore, the future is clearly not prejudged," Ferrero-Waldner said. "But these countries have to use this momentum now to do everything to get the experience that we have, the knowledge, the possibilities of cooperation. We want to help them, because best practices are there already. And the easiest thing is to look at what others have done in order to become successful." Brussels wants a "ring of friends," which eventually could include countries such as Israel, Jordan, Moldova, Morocco, and Ukraine. Those countries would get access to the EU’s vast internal market. In return, Brussels would get the promise of reforms–and, ideally, the regional security that successful reforms would ensure. Under the agreemen’s, the EU offers economic help and help in reforming the justice, energy, education, health and other sectors. Brussels has also said that the accords should help defuse separatist disputes in the three South Caucasus countries. The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan met Tuesday to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process is moving in the right direction. In recent years, the South Caucasus has gained greater strategic significance for the EU and the West. Since its 2003 Rose Revolution, Georgia has pursued a more pro-Western course. It has made good headway with political and economic reforms–although the problem of implementing legislation on the ground still remains. And in September, Georgia was offered an "intensified dialogue" with NATO. Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili praised closer ties with Brussels. He called for deeper EU involvement in Georgian political and strategic issues. "At every negotiation, let’s say on the conflict issue, everywhere there should be EU representatives present," Saakashvili said. "Georgia is certainly strongly in favor of EU involvement. We should make sure that in every energy issue [EU representatives] should be present, in a conflict issue they should be present, because energy is a European issue, a conflict issue is a European issue, wider economic cooperation is a European issue." While Armenia has made some successful economic changes, questions remain about Azerbaijan’s rampant corruption, dubious electoral practices, and rights abuses. Drunk on oil and gas, its detractors say, Azerbaijan can act with virtual impunity. And with the EU always ready to diversify its energy supply to avoid dependence on Russia, critics have said the union is prepared to compromise its own standards in exchange for access to Azerbaijan’s vast energy reserves. In an interview today with RFE/RL, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana denied the charge: "Most of [the EU’s] energy doesn’t come from Azerbaijan. For us Azerbaijan is not a source of energy as other countries are. We would like Azerbaijan to develop because it’s an important country and we would like Armenia to develop because it’s [also] an important country." The EU has defended its stance, saying that the countries in the South Caucasus are coming from different starting points–and must be judged accordingly. The EU’s special representative to the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, said it’s better to embrace these countries than to leave them out in the cold. "The problems would be larger if the two countries were left outside completely. That would mean that developmen’s would be totally unpredictable; there would be immense dangers. The two countries are now included in a cooperative framework with the European Union which also includes a perspective for the future," Semneby said. "It would be much easier to control the risks in the short term, and in the longer term to find a solution based on mutual benefits in a new reformed neighborhood that will look very different from the one we have today."

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