April 6 2004
Georgia key to Europe’s security interests
Europe’s security and progress in the fight against terrorism depends
on forging closer ties with Georgia, the country’s President Mikhail
Saakashvili said on Tuesday.
Speaking to the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee,
Saakashvili said only Georgia’s `unequivocal membership’ of Europe’s
new `neighbourhood’ policy, with possible future EU membership, would
guarantee stability in the region.
A new strategy for stronger relations with the an expanded EU’s new
neighbours will be unveiled in May and the future status of the
former Soviet state and other Caucasus countries in the plan is not
`Europe can only guarantee its future when it embraces its
neighbours,’ Saakashvili told MEPs.
`A safer and more prosperous union cannot be done by creating new
borders or dividing lines.’
As well as providing Europe with greater energy security and new
markets, Georgia was a `frontline partner in the fight against
terrorism’ and a `net contributor to lasting European stability,’ he
Saakashvili, who has built himself the reputation of a crusader
against corruption and a champion of economic recovery and market
reforms, was given a warm welcome by MEPs.
The 36 year old US-educated lawyer, currently the youngest president
in the world, has also won the praise of US President George W Bush
for vowing to turn his poverty-stricken nation into a western-leaning
As one of the leaders of the `rose revolution’ – a series of public
protests that forced former President Eduard Shevardnadze to resign
in November – Saakashvili swept to power in January with 96 per cent
of the vote.
Since coming to power, he told MEPs, his administration had cracked
down on criminal bosses and mafia-like structures within the
government, evicting five corrupt ministers from their posts.
`Fighting corruption is a top priority of my government and I am
confident we will succeed,’ he said.
And the pro-Western leader stressed that EU membership was not
outside of Tbilisi’s radar screen, arguing that there was not much
difference between Romania and Bulgaria – who hope to join the EU in
2007 – and Georgia.
`Perhaps we should wait two or three years before seriously debating
future membership of the EU…but we must keep an eye on that
possibility,’ he said.
`European identity is very clear. We are Europeans and we understand
that we should behave as Europeans in a peaceful fashion.’
But European Commission chief Romano Prodi was less committal about
Georgia’s prospects for future membership.
Following a meeting with President Saakashvili, Prodi said the EU
would concentrate on developing ties under a political and
cooperation agreement (PCA) but made a point of refusing to comment
on membership possibilities.
He said the commission in May would make recommendations to EU
leaders on relations with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia under its
new neighbourhood policy.
The EU was also commited to pouring in financial aid to the country,
he stressed, pointing to a 30 million programme to assist reform,
with 3.6 million dedicated to reforming the judiciary.