APThe European Union's executive office said Friday it would open new diplomatic missions in Armenia and Azerbaijan as part of efforts to bolster ties and boost European influence with nations in the Caucasus region.
The two missions run by the European Commission will be opened during a high-level visit by top EU officials including EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel to the two countries next week.
The EU officials will also visit Georgia with the aim of smoothing out implementation of new partnership pacts with all three countries that now neighbor the 27-nation bloc. Their visit to the region next week will also address numerous frozen conflicts in the area, officials said.
Ferrero-Waldner said the opening of the delegations "is a confirmation" of the EU's commitment to cooperate more closely with the countries, "supporting reforms with a view to bringing the whole region closer to Europe."
The three Caucasus countries have all signed up to so-called neighborhood pacts, offering the 16 countries that neighbor the EU aid, expertise and easy access to EU markets in return for commitment to across-the-board reforms. The EU offers help in resolving regional conflicts, shoring up weak frontiers, increasing free trade, helping neighbors raise product norms and standards to the EU level and cutting red tape. It also provides assistance in energy, transport, the environment, rural development, research cooperation, public health, financial services and migration or maritime affairs.