Fri, Nov 21, 2008 - Page 6 News List

ANALYSIS: EU gains influence in Georgia as US steps out of view

AFP , BRUSSELS

Europeans gained great influence in Georgia by negotiating the end of its August war with Russia, but five years after the “Rose Revolution” they remain divided over Tbilisi’s NATO and EU aspirations.

The French EU presidency, personified by President Nicolas Sarkozy, played a “courageous” role as mediator in the conflict, pushing for the rapid deployment of an EU mission to observe the ceasefire and launching talks between the two sides in Geneva, said Sabine Frazier of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Previously the Europeans had remained in the shadow of the strong US influence on Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

But now, with the outgoing Bush administration “out to lunch” on the issue for several months, Europe has stepped forward, she said.

The key EU role did not stop with the fighting. It went on to organize a donors’ conference for Georgia late last month, garnering 3.4 billion euros (US$4.3 billion) in pledged help for the small Caucasus nation.

Europe is now “a far more important guiding light” than it was back in November 2003 when the bloodless Rose Revolution brought Saakashvili to power, said Thomas Gomart the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

However the influence is still limited, the analysts say, with Georgia — along with fellow ex-Soviet republic Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova — kept at arm’s length as part of the EU’s ambiguous “neighborhood policy.”

This policy covers nations bordering the EU, which has made great eastward strides since 2004, though not the Balkan nations who are being lined up for full membership in the bloc.

The neighborhood policy encourages economic reforms and democratization through substantial economic carrots.

“But in reality it’s just a lot of window-dressing. There’s not a lot of substance,” Frazier said.

Nicu Popescu, of the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, is even more scathing saying the EU “does not keep its promises” made under the neighborhood policy.

He cites “blockages” on issues ranging from talks with Georgia on visa facilitation, with many EU nations worried about an influx of illegal immigrants.

“Georgia well illustrates the limits, the impasse, of the neighborhood policy, which consists of trying to exert maximum influence over other countries without responding clearly,” to their aspirations for eventual EU membership, Gomart said.

He said that the EU should reinvent the whole policy, regardless of what NATO decides.

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