By Armen Zakarian
The November “revolution of roses” and drastic anti-corruption initiatives by President Mikhail Saakashvili are earning Georgia greater support from the European Union than neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan can boast, a senior EU diplomat confirmed on Monday.
Heikki Talvitie, the special EU representative to the South Caucasus, indicated that Georgia will likely benefit most from the recent inclusion of the three regional states in the bloc’s European Neighborhood Policy.
“The focus has been on Georgia because of the rose revolution and the initiatives President Saakashvili has taken,” Talvitie told RFE/RL in Yerevan. “They are so active and enthusiastic about reforming their society that nobody can be expected to stay cool with respect to what is happening in Georgia.”
“As long as they try to change the course of their history from corruption to good governance we will really back them. Armenia and Azerbaijan are different from Georgia and I do not expect the same kind of developments there. In order to get a positive international response to your problems it will take some efforts from your part,” the envoy added, implying that the two arch-rivals are lagging behind Georgia in political reform.
The EU initiative, also known as “Wider Europe,” does not make participants automatically eligible for membership of the union. Still, it paves the way for free trade, more aid grants and extensive political dialogue. EU officials admit that the Georgian revolution served as the catalyst for the South Caucasus countries’ inclusion in the scheme. Talvitie effectively reaffirmed their view that the current reform-minded administration in Tbilisi deserves star treatment.
Each of three ex-Soviet republics now has to negotiate with the EU separate “action plans” on economic and political reforms which will determine the extent of their future integration into the bloc. EU officials say each will be free to decide how far it wants to go in complying with pan-European standards.
Talvitie was speaking at the start of his first regional trip since the South Caucasus’s formal inclusion in “Wider Europe” approved by the foreign ministers of the EU member states earlier this month. “The EU has very high expectations from Armenia,” he said. “The Armenian side needs to make real efforts to meet those expectations.”
Unlike the United States, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the EU has not officially reacted to the recent dramatic events in Armenia which were sparked by an opposition campaign for President Robert Kocharian’s resignation. Its position on the Armenian authorities’ controversial handling of the crisis remains unknown.