By Ahto Lobjakas in Brussels
The outcome of Sunday's Georgian presidential elections increases the likelihood of the European Union offering Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan membership in its so-called "Wider Europe" program of building ties with its new neighbors, an EU diplomat told RFE/RL this week.
However, the official, who asked not to be named, said the decision could take "weeks or months" and would amount to only a symbolic political declaration. He argued that none of the three countries at this stage is able to profit substantively from inclusion in the Wider Europe scheme.
The official added that while a Wider Europe action program would aim at the signatories adopting a large percentage of EU law, none of the South Caucasus countries is currently capable of negotiating or implementing such an agreement at this point.
Unveiled by the European Commission last summer, the Wider Europe offers Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus -- among others -- closer cooperation. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are currently not covered by the initiative.
EU sources told RFE/RL shortly after the bloodless overthrow of President Eduard Shevardnadze in November that the “revolution of roses” in Tbilisi has prompted the EU to consider sending an "explicit" signal to the three countries that their inclusion remains a possibility. They said the EU is keen to show that the three countries are not neglected and that a statement could be issued in a few months' time indicating all three can join "Wider Europe" "within a given timeframe."
The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, has joined other international bodies in welcoming the elections in Georgia, in which opposition leader Mikhail Saakashvili swept to power in a landslide victory. It indicated that further emergency aid to the impoverished country is in the offing, while stressing that Saakashvili's team will have their work cut out for them if closer ties with Brussels are to be achieved.
An EU official said separately that Brussels will carefully monitor the reform program promised by the new Georgian leader and judge his country accordingly.
(Eye of Georgia-Photolur photo: Saakashvili casting a ballot in Sunday's vote.)