By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
The newly appointed representative of the European Union for the South Caucasus revealed in a RFE/RL interview on Friday that he has “a slightly stronger mandate on involvement in frozen conflicts.”
Peter Semneby, who succeeded Heikki Talvitie in the office earlier this year, said vaguely: “Unlike my predecessor who had the mandate to assist in the resolution of the conflicts, I should support them.” But added: “It should be seen as a political signal from the European Union that the frozen conflicts are now higher on the political agenda of the EU.”
According to Ambassador Semneby, the number one priority on his agenda will be the frozen conflicts. “These conflicts consume so much political energy that they have become a serious obstacle to normal development of societies in the three countries,” he said to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
Semneby also responded to the recent call of the International Crisis Group that the European Union should have a more active involvement in the resolution of conflicts in the South Caucasus. “In the case where the existing formats work, I don’t see any strong reason for the EU to force its way into these frameworks. What is important is to link up closely with those that are involved to make sure that we support their efforts. In the cases where the existing frameworks don’t work, then of course one should take a look how they cane be made more effective. And in that case I think the EU will play a role,” he said.
Semneby said he doesn’t share the pessimistic views and comments that the Karabakh negotiations at Rambouillet failed. He underscored that the Karabakh conflict still can be settled and that some kind of agreement can still be signed this year.
“Settlement will require serious efforts on the part of all sides. I think it is a very positive sign that even after what was labeled a failure at Rambouillet the discussions are still going on,” the Swedish diplomat added.
The EU representative acknowledged that both Armenia and Azerbaijan are facing serious difficulties in terms of their domestic opinion. “What may be necessary is to try to work with public opinion in the two countries to convey the message that neither side has anything to gain from playing on time,” he said. “Armenia will continue to be isolated if a solution is not found. And in the case with Azerbaijan where there are forces that argue that the country will gain economic strength and thereby also military it is necessary to send a clear message that an attempt on the Azeri side to resolve the conflict by military means will have very serious consequences. It may not be successful in the first place, and it will also seriously damage Azerbaijan in terms of its investment climate and reliability as a partner.”
Regarding the democratic processes in Armenia and the EU’s attitude towards them, in particular to elections in Armenia, Semneby said: “Literally speaking, it is the number one priority in the action plans not only with Armenia, but also with all three countries in the South Caucasus that the strengthening of democratic structures and rule of law are the fundaments for building closer relationships with the European Union.”
The EU special representative for the South Caucasus has already visited Georgia and Azerbaijan. He plans a visit to Armenia in early April.