When planning the recent EU enlargement, we were aware….

02/01/2005 06:45 Tbilisi

«When planning the recent EU enlargement, we were aware of building tensions
between those countries – the countries joining EU and the new neighbors » –
Torben Holtze [EU]

By Célia CHAUFFOUR, François GREMY in Tbilisi
On 31/01/2005

At the head of the European Commission delegation to Georgia and Armenia
since fall 2001, Torben Holtze comes back on the absence of any of the three
South-Caucasus countries in the first Action Plans implemented by the
European Union (EU), in the framework of the New Neighborhood Policy.

Moldova, Ukraine, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian
Authority will soon benefit from the first Action Plans under EU’s New
Neighborhood Policy. The South Caucasus is strikingly absent from those.
Would this mean that Europe does not really know what to do with the three
South-Caucasian countries?

The Action Plans are coming. Everything takes time. It is only two and a
half years ago that EU began to think about the role and the function of
future Member States. And at this time, there was not yet any political
desire nor any decision to invite other neighboring countries.

When planning the recent EU enlargement, we were aware of building tensions
between those countries – the countries joining EU and the new neighbors. So
we had to offer those countries also a form of integration. Indeed they are
also to become EU members.

Let’s consider the example of Norway. Obviously the situation is totally
different. But Norway is economically fully integrated in the EU. It has
also adopted most of the European legislation and integrated numerous
European committees. It even payed money into EU.

However this requires that the country has reached a development similar to
the one of other European countries. And for some countries this process
will be achieved only over time.

On the other hand, this form of integration is clearly not EU membership.
That’s why, in the framework of this integration process, the EU adopted a
specific system, the so-called New Neighborhood Policy.

Even if the New Neighborhood Policy offers to some countries a special form
of integration to the EU, it is not about future membership.

Regarding the first steps for this New Neighborhood Policy, one of the
concerned countries, Belarus, will have to wait for a transition toward a
more democratic regime. As for Russia, although it was not considered as an
ordinary neighbor, but rather as an equal to the EU, it did not want to take
part in the New Neighborhood Policy and is more enclined to become a
strategic partner for the EU.

It’s true that, in some way, the South-Caucasus countries got left out. This
happened because of a combination of several factors, but definitely it was
not we not considering them as neighboring countries. Most of EU Member
States were not satisfied with the situation within those countries.

For they were being temporarily set aside, what was the reaction of the
South-Caucasus countries?

Naturally, they protested – especially Georgia: `Aren’t we a European
neighbor country? Aren’t we going to become one after the possible
membership of Romania and Bulgaria via Black Sea, and also after Turkey’s

We have to recall that at the beginning, Brussels didn’t wish to include the
South Caucasus countries in the New Neighborhood Policy. These three
countries exerted an important pressure, via the European Parliament which
was in favor of their request, and via some Member States. Some countries,
notably Belgium and Netherlands, regularly broached this subject during
European summits.

EU’s change of position toward them was triggered by the Roses Revolution,
but also in some way, by the elections of 2003 in Azerbaijan. In spite of
some persistent problems, these elections were considered to be fairer than
the previous ones. And under the pressure of some Member States of the
European Parliament, the EU agreed to include these three countries in the
New Neighborhood Policy.

Is the EU able to develop efficient Partnership and Cooperation agreements,
especially with Tbilisi, when most of its Member States have diverging
interest in this zone?

The Member States’ policy in South Caucasus is not that different from each
other. If you take a look at most of the European countries, you will see
that their do not have vital interests in Georgia and Armenia, with the
exception of Germany and its presence in Georgia. But despite strong
German-Georgian relations, you won’t find here massive German investments.

In this region, the large States are more especially interested in the BTC.
That’s why there are large foreign companies, such as BP. The EU also got
interested in South Caucasus for it is a transport corridor : for oil and
gas, but also for humans and goods coming from Central Asia. And this is
clearly a common position of EU and its Member States.

The EU in Georgia, reality or theory? Are the actions programs of the EU
delegation in Tbilisi implemented as you would like those to be?

In 2002, the Commission proposed to the Member States to elaborate a country
strategy paper for each one of the South-Caucasus countries. That’s when we
evaluated the situation within those countries so as to define what should
be the approach of the European Commission.
The projects that we identified together with the Georgians as the ones that
should be supported through the TACIS (Technical Assistance to the CIS
countries) program and other programs, can be divided into three fields of

The first one is based upon the Partnership and Cooperation agreements. In
the framawork of those agreements, the Georgian authorities committed to
establish a democracy and a market economy. As for the European authorities,
we committed to help them to change their economic, social and
administrative structures so as to get the closest possible to the European

The second field of action is the economic development, since there is still
a part of the population suffering from poverty. Thus there are social
programs in each one of those three countries, via the EU Food Security
Program, which come up to 10-15 million euros a year.

The last field of action is rule of law, human rights and elections. There
are still problems, but by signing an agreement the local authorities
committed to work toward democracy, the respect of human rights and the rule
of law.

What do you think about the Georgia of Mikhail Saakashvili?

In the middle of the 1990s, the Georgian population was starving. The
country was largely depending on humanitarian aid, alike the other
South-Caucasus countries. Then Georgia had to go through a long process.
Tbilisi notably adopted a legislation that was drafted with the help of our
consultants. But in order to change a system, you also have to change
mentalities. And this cannot be done overnight.

The EU tries to help these countries as much as possible and to establish a
legislative system near the closest possible to West-European standards.
Through training and information, mentalities are changing, and getting
gradually closer to ours. But this is not yet the case today. If the
government was to adopt the right clauses, the process could go very fast.

Do you assume that the government did not comply with EU directives?

Not all of them. One just has to look at the way privatizations are done.
And yet, I’m deeply optimistic about Georgia’s future and evolution,
otherwise I would not be here.

Translated by Marie Anderson.