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European Parliament Debate

EU Relations with South Caucasus - Debate - Sitting of Wednesday, 27th Febuary 2002

"After the First World War, Turkish courts sentenced those mainly responsible – Enver Pacha and many others – to the most severe penalty under the law, partly for their responsibility for the mass murders of Armenians. It is a mystery to me why, 80 years later in Turkey, the attempt should be made to brush all this under the carpet.

All nations have skeletons in their historical cupboards. Those who recognise this and openly come to terms with their pasts command respect, while those which deny and conceal their pasts mostly evoke surprise and disappointment." Per Garhton MEP, (Raporteur for the EU Relations with the South Caucasus Report)

"The report rightly calls in this context for Turkey, which has a partnership agreement with the European Union, to prove itself worthy of its European ambitions by terminating the blockade of Armenia and creating a basis for reconciliation with it in line with the compromise set out in paragraph 15 [genocide reference]of the report, which I urge the House to adopt. Zacharakis MEP

"We hope that paragraph 15, [genocide paragraph] upon which we are going to vote tomorrow, which is in line with the policies of many international bodies, will be a useful step in this direction. If the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy' s proposal is endorsed by the majority, we will henceforth be able to start to look towards the future and leave the past behind."
Volcic MEP

"This blockade [by Turkey] must be lifted unconditionally, and its lifting must not be linked in any way to a requirement that Armenia drop her legitimate demand for international recognition of the genocide committed against the Armenian people. On the contrary, the abandonment of all revisionism by Turkey, in the same way as Germany has done, which would form the basis of a profound reconciliation with Armenia is, as we are well aware, the only means of guaranteeing the establishment of lasting peace in the South Caucasus". Souchet MEP


EU Relations with South Caucasus - Sitting of Wednesday, 27th Febuary 2002 - Full Text

President. – The next item is the debate on the report (Á5-0028/2002) by Mr Gahrton, on behalf of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy, on the European Union's relations with the South Caucasus, under the partnership and cooperation agreements.

Gahrton (Verts/ALE), rapporteur. (SV) Mr President, the South Caucasus, that is to say Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, is a region with which one quickly falls in love, with fantastic people and amazing countryside. At the same time, it is a region that easily causes even its best friends to despair. Only in the last few weeks, preliminary census figures have shown that Georgia and Armenia have each lost approximately a million people since independence. It could scarcely be any clearer that post-Soviet social and economic policy has been a total failure.

The Soviet planned economy has only partly been replaced by a normal market economy. Instead, widespread corruption flourishes, based on clan loyalties and mafia domination. However, the catastrophic situation is not entirely self-inflicted. A study by the Centre for European Policy Studies describes developments during the 1990s as being 'partly a result of liberalisation … caused by transition to a free market system' .

The wretched economic and social situation has exacerbated the political, cultural and national conflicts that characterise the area. Unfortunately, there are no clear signs of solutions to the conflicts concerning, for example, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

Sometimes, there is positive news, such as President Shevardnadze' s appointment of a mediator from Abkhazia considered acceptable to all the parties, the regular discussions between Presidents Alijev and Kocharian concerning Nagorno-Karabakh or Turkey' s recent decision to make it easier for Armenians to obtain visas.

Just as often, however, there are worrying reports concerning, for example, an escalation in Georgian protests on the border with Abkhazia, increased tension on the border between Georgia and Chechnya and the cessation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani discussions at presidential level following the Key West Summit in April of last year. Against that background, it is no exaggeration to state that the South Caucasus is a powder keg that could explode at any moment. The risks are not reduced by the fact that the area is a transport route for the Caspian Sea' s and Central Asia' s gas and oil field and is situated in the vicinity of Afghanistan, a factor which has led to reports to the effect that Al-Qaida members may be found in the border country between Georgia and Russia. That has now in turn caused the United States to send troops to a country which still accommodates Russian military bases.

The South Caucasus can be designated a test case for the EU' s peace policy. At the Gothenburg Summit, a programme was adopted for the prevention of violent conflicts. A civil peace corps could constitute a tool for such an action plan, designed to prevent conflicts. I also propose that the EU draw up a clear strategy for the South Caucasus, benefiting from lessons learned from the Stability Pact for South-East Europe. If it is to be possible to implement this, the EU' s presence in the region must be strengthened by full representation in Jerevan and Baku too, and not only, as at present, in Tbilisi.

The environmental situation in the South Caucasus is alarming. The nuclear power station in Medzamor must, as agreed, be shut down by no later than 2004. For this to be possible, alternative energy sources are obviously required, a need which the EU could help meet on the basis of its experience. The EU must also continue its attempts to get regional cooperation projects under way, especially when it comes to the railway line between Baku and Nakhichevan.

The vast majority of politicians, intellectuals and representatives of independent grassroots movements in the region have expressed a strong desire to be bound more closely to Europe. This has partly happened because the three states are members of the Council of Europe. At the same time, many also have a strong desire to see their countries become members of the European Union. I think that the European Parliament should give the clear answer that the countries of the South Caucasus are, of course, entitled to become Member States of the European Union if they so wish.

With regard to the amendments, I recommend approving all of these apart from Amendments Nos 2, 14 and 16. I would particularly advise against approving Amendment No 2 because such approval would mean a sudden U-turn, unsubstantiated by new arguments, in relation to the position held by the European Parliament since 1987.

I am conscious of the fact that there are Armenian circles that try to exploit the events of 1915 to excuse today' s Armenian politics. It is, however, clear from the report that I have not been influenced by this factor. This report is very critical of the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territory. That does not, however, mean that history has to be re-written. After the First World War, Turkish courts sentenced those mainly responsible – Enver Pacha and many others – to the most severe penalty under the law, partly for their responsibility for the mass murders of Armenians. It is a mystery to me why, 80 years later in Turkey, the attempt should be made to brush all this under the carpet.

All nations have skeletons in their historical cupboards. Those who recognise this and openly come to terms with their pasts command respect, while those which deny and conceal their pasts mostly evoke surprise and disappointment.

Zacharakis (PPE-DE). – (EL) Mr President, may I start by congratulating you and wishing you all the best for your term in office. May I also congratulate Mr Gahrton on a job very well done and on the skill he demonstrated in reconciling the basic positions of the various political groups on the individual issues and setting them out in his report. It was a painstaking task but it has brought about a well-turned, balanced text which, with the members' additional amendments, is a realistic and objective summary of the current situation in the South Caucasus, the problems and the prospects outlined and the various dimensions and parameters which colour relations between third countries in the region and the European Union.

Given the generally-accepted view that the region of the South Caucasus is especially important to Europe and the fact that the European Union has taken various political and economic steps to express its desire to support the process of safeguarding reform and political stability and establishing the rule of law in these countries, I think it is worth pointing out the advisability of reinforcing the role of the European Union in formulating a strategy to resolve the problems in the region, while taking account of the specific national and historical sensibilities of these nations and encouraging neighbouring countries, especially Russia, Iran and Turkey, to make a constructive contribution towards the peace process in the South Caucasus.

The report rightly calls in this context for Turkey, which has a partnership agreement with the European Union, to prove itself worthy of its European ambitions by terminating the blockade of Armenia and creating a basis for reconciliation with it in line with the compromise set out in paragraph 15 of the report, which I urge the House to adopt.

Russia is called upon to play an equally important and pivotal role in averting conflict in the South Caucasus and resolving the highly sensitive energy question, with the countries in the region involved either as power producers or consumers.

I should like to close by stressing that the European Union's interests in the South Caucasus have to be maintained and stated consistently, with active support for the desire expressed by these countries to belong to Europe and with close collaboration between them and the European Union and its institutions in all sectors.

Volcic (PSE). – (IT) Congratulations! Mr Gahrton' s report is an excellent, balanced report calling for a greater European Union presence in a bridge area between Asia and Europe. The southern Caucasus could become a calvary but it could also remain a powder keg. Behind the essentially peaceful facade, tensions are rising which could explode given the right political situation. It would therefore be as well to play down the age-old disputes between the Turks and the Armenians. We hope that paragraph 15, upon which we are going to vote tomorrow, which is in line with the policies of many international bodies, will be a useful step in this direction. If the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy' s proposal is endorsed by the majority, we will henceforth be able to start to look towards the future and leave the past behind.

In addition to the ethical and political issues, major economic interests are at play in the region: there is controversy regarding the exploitation of the Caspian Sea and the routes for the oil pipelines are still provisional; there is the potential for great pressure to be put on Russian policy, which applies different criteria for each of the three countries and in respect of the ethnic minority too. It would appear that the OSCE Minsk Group is exploring a fresh approach to the compromise for Nagorno-Karabakh and the various occupied territories behind closed doors. Let us hope so! Mr Gahrton is right to call for a European Union special envoy to be appointed for the southern Caucasus. A conference between the countries of the southern Caucasus and the European Union could also yield results and make it clear whether it would be better to adopt the 'step-by-step' method or an overall solution.

Schmidt, Olle (ELDR). (SV) Mr President, our fellow MEP, Mr Gahrton, and I usually disagree about most things where the EU is concerned. It is therefore especially pleasing to have the opportunity this evening to praise Mr Gahrton for what is in every respect a well balanced and sound report on the South Caucasus.

The EU must have a clear and well thought-out policy for a region as important as this on the border between Europe and Asia. We are aware of Russia' s significant role, of the opportunities – but also problems – presented by oil and of the region' s increasingly strategic role following the war in Afghanistan.

Today, five American military advisers went to Georgia to train the army there in counter-terrorism. The EU can operate as an active mediator. It has an important task in terms of strengthening the democratic forces and civil society and combating the environmental problems.

Mr Gahrton mentioned the fact that a first important step in strengthening the EU' s presence in the region would be to set up delegations in both Azerbaijan and Armenia, but more money from the EU is also needed for the region. Mr Gahrton and I are in agreement. There needs to be more EU involvement in the South Caucasus too.

Isler Béguin (Verts/ALE). – (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, we should give a very warm welcome to Mr Gahrton' s report, which offers the three republics of the South Caucasus region the prospect of a way out of a situation marked by regional conflicts and a state of uneasy truce, so that they can finally find the path towards the durable peace that each of the republics and their populations desire. We have the political responsibility to help them in their quest. The reflections and proposals contained in the report also give an indication of the potential of the European Union to wage an active diplomatic campaign and to affirm its status and its role, and these are not fine words or empty rhetoric. Be they friends or rivals, these three republics in the South Caucasus are sister nations. The doors of the Council of Europe have been opened to them, and in that forum of discussion and exchange many of the tensions between them have already been eased. This antechamber of Europe must offer them new prospects of even closer fellowship with the European family, so that the Union can ultimately snuff out their age-old tensions. This highlights our responsibility, for the world and our continent are becoming increasingly interdependent. Besides the familiar question of oil, water is now becoming an equally strategic issue for the entire region, and before, on top of all this, an accident occurs in the Metsamor nuclear power station, it is also our responsibility to help these three countries to pre-empt such a threat.

Camre (UEN). – (DA) Mr President, the report contains a long list of good intentions for the South Caucasus, which is undoubtedly an unstable problem area. Europe naturally has an interest in the conflicts in the area being solved, but I must express doubts as to whether the EU is in a position to play such a large role in the area as this report proposes. I therefore wish to emphasise that, even if the possibility of EU membership is only mentioned as a long-term prospect, these countries do not constitute natural candidates for EU membership. All these many fine words are scarcely enough to solve the major problems in the area, and I would venture to doubt whether the Commission has the capacity to implement the desired changes.

I should like to add a few remarks on Amendment No 2 to paragraph 15. I think it wise of Mr Duff to propose a formula that simply talks about reconciling historical differences. I would therefore call for a vote in favour of the amendment. Events during the First World War, which neither the British nor the American governments were then able, following investigations, to characterise as genocide, cannot profitably be discussed in the terms they are discussed in paragraph 15 of the report. That is not the way to achieve the normalisation of economic and diplomatic relations. It is true that the land border between Turkey and Armenia is closed, but there is no question of a blockade in the ordinary sense of the word. There are air links between the countries, and Armenian citizens are able to travel into Turkey. The closure of the road and railway links is a consequence of other unsolved aspects of the political and diplomatic situation. What the EU can do is work towards a combined negotiated solution to the issues that divide the two countries. Reflection and diplomacy are required. The European Parliament will not promote a solution by setting itself up as a judge of events in the distant past. The Union for Europe of the Nations Group will vote in favour of the report on condition that Amendment No 2 to paragraph 15 is adopted.

Belder (EDD). – (NL) Mr President, I cherish very intense, personal memories of South Caucasus. More than ten years ago, I was there as a journalist and followed the process of post-Soviet decolonisation. The hospitality and geniality of the local population have always stayed with me. At the same time, however, inter-ethnic conflicts have darkened the political horizon of the three Transcaucasian republics. The rapid, armed escalation of these conflicts is still a burden upon the entire region. Just think of the explosive centres of crisis formed by Abkhazia and Nagorny-Karabakh.

Mr Gahrton has attempted to unravel the Caucasian knot of conflict, which is a nigh impossible task. The aim is to provide specific recommendations for a constructive European contribution towards the pacification and reconstruction of the region. I would particularly like to underline his appeal for prioritising European support for establishing the rule of law in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. A western Caucasus specialist told me yesterday that this matter of concern requires more coordination between the Member States and the European institutions. The Commission may be able to tell me whether it shares this concern.

More so than with the draft resolution, reading the explanatory statement to the Gahrton report evoked a sense of protest in me. I should like to single out two controversial points. Firstly, Mr Gahrton' s analysis and interpretation of the post-Communist socio-economic collapse of the Transcaucasian republics has no regard for the legacy of the Soviet economy, or the mockery which native leaders made of the privatisation process. Secondly, the rapporteur is very critical of the role of the United States in the region. I doubt whether the republics are in danger, or should live in fear, of 'neo-colonialism' from specifically that quarter.

Meanwhile, the idea of an 'Organisation for Economic Cooperation in South Caucasus' appeals to me greatly. It is a practical step towards establishing mutual trust, turning back the process of regional economic disintegration and re-creating a transnational system of infrastructure. Current European aid projects, including Traceca and Inogate, are ideally suited to these goals and, what is more, prove that European efforts of this kind would be worthwhile in the southern Caucasus.

Dupuis (NI). – (FR) Mr President – I am delighted to see you perched so high up there, if I may say so – Madam Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to thank the rapporteur, Per Gahrton, for the many efforts he has made to try and bring this report up to an acceptable level. He reminded us very clearly in his introductory remarks that we are not there yet, that we still have a very long way to go. Today, as he said, the South Caucasus is a powder keg; as for the North Caucasus, the less said, the better. Today in the South Caucasus there are the unresolved questions of Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Adzharia and so on. All of these issues have been smouldering for years. In thirteen years of transition from Communism to democracy, during which time the European Union has invested a billion euros in the region, I do not believe we can claim that European policy in that part of the world has been a resounding success.

As Mr Gahrton said, the underlying question concerns these nations' future prospects, and the Commission in particular – with the complicity of the Council, as usual – is refusing to offer any enticing political prospects to these countries and seems to reject the view that the only criterion for membership of the European Union is the fact that the people of a particular country feel European at heart. One need only travel to Georgia, Azerbaijan or Armenia to ascertain that the people of these countries feel European, and so we have no reason whatsoever to deny them the prospect of a European future, which we have been doing in countless ways.

The other extremely serious problem, and one for which President Prodi bears the brunt of responsibility, is the failure of the European Union to safeguard its fundamental interests, the fact that it signs agreements, month after month, year upon year, with the Russian Federation. As for the pipelines, all of them have to pass through Poland to reach Russia. No energy-supply lines can pass through the Caucasus. If it were not for the Americans, we would not even have the little pipeline that passes through Azerbaijan and Georgia. This is the sort of policy that breeds dependence rather than interdependence. Commissioner Nielsen evidently believes that the Caucasus is a region with a population density akin to that of Greenland or the Antarctic. That is not the case. The Commission is forgetting that the Caucasus region is the doorway to Central Asia, which will be the chief supplier of the energy of tomorrow. This is the prospect that the Commission and the Council are presenting to us, but we in this Parliament could and should be calling on the Commission to take a decisive step, to make a bold political gesture by inviting these three countries to become candidates for accession to the European Union, to accede in ten years' time, once they are ready. They certainly could be ready by then if this prospect were set before them now. As things stand, the only prospect is that the powder keg of which Per Gahrton spoke is likely to set off a few more explosions.

Schleicher (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, Madam Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, our delegation to the EU-Armenia, EU-Azerbaijan and EU-Georgia Parliamentary Cooperation Committees is most grateful to the Committee on Foreign Affairs for enabling us, with Mr Gahrton's report, to focus in more detail on the South Caucasus region in this debate today. This region on Europe's periphery draws on a wealth of cultural and Christian traditions. It is Europe's gateway to Asia. With the troika initiative and the visit to South Caucasus, the European Union has sent out encouraging signals, but things are moving far too slowly. What is especially alarming, as far as south-east Europe is concerned, is that Russia suspects that al-Qaeda fighters may have taken refuge in Georgia and has announced that it will expand its action throughout Georgia. Georgia, on the other hand, is hoping for support from the US, which is already responding. But where does this leave Europe?

We have already discussed the aftermath of 11 September in the European Parliament in Strasbourg and expressed concerns about the difficulties which might arise if the situation in the region escalates. Unfortunately, it seems that our concerns are justified, for events have now taken a truly dramatic turn.

In recent centuries, South Caucasus has constantly been riven by conflict. Surely, in 2002, it must be possible to stabilise these regions at last and give the people there a future and the chance to live their lives in peace and with some measure of lasting prosperity in their home territories. All three countries are striving to establish democratic structures and assert their independence from their over-mighty neighbours. Yet if we consider that Russian troops are still present in two of these countries, and that while Azerbaijan has been liberated, one third of its territory is effectively out-of-bounds across Armenia, these are issues which are not only of concern to the local population, but could also unleash a new wave of aggression. I therefore address my comments to the Commissioner in particular: oil could undoubtedly become a key issue here, and I wish that as well as America and Russia asserting their interests, the Europeans – in the countries which still count as Europe – would not only take action but would also ensure that stable development takes place in these countries. After all, they are trying to establish democracies, but it is a difficult process. If corruption and crime gain the upper hand here, life for ordinary people will become intolerable. I think that as Europeans, we face an enormous task: to respond as quickly as we can and do our utmost to play a positive role in this conflict in order to give these countries a future.

Kronberger (NI). – (DE) Mr President, the rapporteur has presented an impressive report which makes it clear that the South Caucasus states are of key importance for Europe's security. In particular, the fossil fuels and energy reserves known or suspected to exist in abundance in these countries, and their strategic position as the new 'silk route' for oil and gas, give them a global political dimension. This is both a blessing and a curse for them. At present, promoting social and economic development in these states is undoubtedly the imperative. Against this background, the resources allocated by the EU naturally seem distinctly insubstantial.

It goes without saying that closer ties with the European Union are a desirable objective. The EU must not renege on existing agreements such as the closure of the nuclear power station in Armenia. As regards the fraught historical relations between Turkey and Armenia, we must avoid awakening hopes on either side that the European Union will assume the role of referee in this conflict.

Souchet (NI). – (FR) Mr President, Madam Commissioner, I would like to stress that item 15 of the resolution, which will be put to the House' s vote and which calls on Turkey to create the conditions for reconciliation with Armenia, is highly apt and important. As we know, reconciliation between these countries is one of the key prerequisites for the establishment of peace in the Transcaucasian region, and the international community has every right to expect Turkey, as a major power, to conduct itself in a responsible manner on this important issue. Nobody can understand why the Turkish government continues to reject dialogue and to maintain a policy of systematic hostility towards its small northern neighbour, opposing the establishment of diplomatic relations and maintaining a stringent and damaging blockade that it imposed in 1993. This blockade must be lifted unconditionally, and its lifting must not be linked in any way to a requirement that Armenia drop her legitimate demand for international recognition of the genocide committed against the Armenian people. On the contrary, the abandonment of all revisionism by Turkey, in the same way as Germany has done, which would form the basis of a profound reconciliation with Armenia is, as we are well aware, the only means of guaranteeing the establishment of lasting peace in the South Caucasus. That is why, Mr President, we shall support item 15 of the draft resolution.

De Palacio, Commission. – (ES) Thank you very much Mr President. I am very happy with Mr Gahrton' s report because it makes a timely and useful contribution to our discussions on Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, three countries, currently members of the Council of Europe, which have not reached the level of political and economic development to which they aspire and which we would want them to have.

The conflicts in Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia still represent the greatest threat to the stability and development of the region and of its neighbours. These conflicts, at a standstill today, could tomorrow become new danger zones, and, for this reason, I fully agree with Mr Gahrton' s point that the European Union must make a huge effort to help solve these problems, with a view to promoting the causes of peace and development.

We are not starting with a blank slate, which is why before looking at some of the key points of this report, I shall give a brief summary of our current relations with this region.

The partnership and cooperation agreements that we have signed with each of the three countries provide a unique platform for cooperation in a broad range of fields, from political dialogue, trade and investment, to relations with civil society. The implementation of these agreements, which entered into force in 1999, is gaining impetus.

Furthermore, we are continuing to provide considerable levels of aid to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The European Union has provided some EUR one billion since 1991, the year in which these countries gained independence.

Last year, the European Union sent the region a clear sign of its wish to make a greater contribution to conflict prevention, to conflict resolution and to rehabilitation following conflicts. In February 2001, the first EU ministerial troika for the region conveyed this message, which was later confirmed in the conclusions of the General Affairs Council of 26 February.

In a joint statement adopted at the meetings of the Cooperation Council last October, the three partner countries explicitly expressed their satisfaction with the intentions of the Union.

Mr Gahrton draws our attention to some of the instruments we have used in other places and suggests that we apply them to the southern Caucasus: a common strategy, a stability pact, a special envoy and other measures.

Since we are aware that there are limits to what we can do, let us look at how far we can go and what the new financing needs are.

Instead of creating new instruments, we should focus on maximising the benefits of already existing instruments. In this regard I should like to highlight three aspects of our discussion: firstly, the political will of the participants, above all else, is the key, the aspect most likely to result in progress. In the current situation it is crucial that we maximise our efforts to support our commitments, particularly by means of political dialogue. Difficult choices will have to be made and a culture of commitment to the southern Caucasus will have to be developed.

Secondly, in order for the European Union to be able to participate to the highest possible degree in conflict resolution, we must continue intensifying our common foreign and security policy as well as our role in the measures to promote conflict resolution. I am referring, in particular, to the OSCE Minsk Group, to Nagorno Karabakh, to the friends of the Secretary General of Abkhazia and to the Joint Control Commission for South Ossetia.

We have made progress recently; since last year, the Union European has been participating in the tasks of the Joint Control Commission for South Ossetia, but a great deal remains to be done to ensure that the Union' s voice is heard in certain mediation circles.

Thirdly, we have to ensure that the southern Caucasus has a definitive place on the agenda of our relations with the main players in the region, such as Russia, Turkey, Iran and the United States, and as some of you have said, also in our own interest, amongst other things, for reasons of energy supply.

In conclusion, there is not a single and easy answer to the question of how to improve relations between the Union and the southern Caucasus. The Gahrton report rightly reminds us that we have to work patiently, on various parallel levels, probably for a long period of time, within the limits of available resources and on the basis of the achievements of the last year. The Commission wishes to explore new ways of promoting peace and development in the southern Caucasus.

I wish to remind you, ladies and gentlemen, that at a certain point, there will have to be a limit to European integration, and I should like to point out that in terms of geographical proximity and of historical ties, we are closely connected to countries such as Morocco, Algeria or others on the shores of the Mediterranean.

President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place tomorrow at 11 a.m.

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