EurasiaNet, NY
March 11 2006


SOUTH CAUCASUS: SLOW PROGRESS ON PLANS FOR CLOSER EU TIES
Ahto Lobjakas 3/11/06
A EurasiaNet Partner Post from RFE/RL

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Officials from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia were in Brussels in
recent days for another round of talks on "action plans" for closer
EU links. Although it is now a year since the European Commission
first proposed the "action plans," there is no end in sight to the
process. EU officials say the talks have proven complex. It also
appears Azerbaijan must overcome a spat with Cyprus over its ties to
Northern Cyprus before the "action plans" can be formally approved by
the EU.

The Commission tabled its proposals for the "action plans" for the
three South Caucasus countries in March, 2005. The plans detail the
assistance the EU will offer Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan over the
next few years.

All three countries are keen to pursue closer ties with the EU. Yet
their second round of talks with the EU this week did not prove
conclusive.

European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin told RFE/RL that the EU is
moving as quickly as possible.

"We are hoping to be able to conclude consultations on the action
plans for all three countries of the South Caucasus as rapidly as
possible, and consultations up to this point have gone very well,"
Udwin said. "We've just completed the second round -- the first was
held just before Christmas -- and we are making very good progress.
We are narrowing down the number of topics that still have to be
tackled."

However, Udwin said a third round of talks will be needed. Commission
sources say these may take place in the second half of May.
Commission officials refuse to elaborate on the details of the talks,
saying it could have a negative impact.

Udwin said there was no political motive behind this extension of the
"action plan" talks, and no technical difficulties holding things up.

"There is no delay as such; we started a little later than some had
hoped, but the consultations, now they are under way, are going
extremely well," she said. "It's important to understand that the
action plans that we're talking about cover a very wide range of
policy areas and each of the difficult chapters has to be tackled and
they have a number of very precise points within them."

Georgia's Many Goals

Georgia's Deputy Foreign Minister Valeri Chechelashvili told
journalists in Brussels two days after his round of talks on March 7
that there is agreement with the EU on about three-quarters of the
contents of the "action plan." He said the round of talks in May
could prove to be the last.

Chechelasvili said Georgia would like the "action plan" to contain a
reference to the prospect of free trade with the EU. He said Georgia
is preparing to unilaterally give up trade restrictions for the
entire world, but understands that the EU is not keen to tackle the
issue within the framework of the present talks. Georgia would also
like the EU to ease its visa regime, having itself unilaterally
lifted its visa requirements for EU citizens.

EU sources have told RFE/RL, however, that the bulk of Georgia's
diplomatic energy is currently focused on securing greater EU
involvement in conflict resolution -- something the "action plans" do
not encompass beyond a reference to the EU's readiness to assist with
postconflict rehabilitation.

The Georgian minister for conflict resolution, Georgi Khaidrava, was
also in Brussels in recent days. According to diplomats, he was
lobbying EU member states to join the Joint Control Commission --
which is tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian
conflict zone and is comprised of Georgia, the breakaway republic of
South Ossetia, Russia, and the Russian republic of North Ossetia --
to contribute peacekeepers for the breakaway republic of South
Ossetia, and to agree to set up a border monitoring mission.

Azerbaijan-Cyprus Spat Delaying Matters?

The EU itself is at the point of dispatching a formal reply to an
earlier letter from the Georgian government for assistance.

Armenia's main sticking point in the "action plan" talks appears to
be the future of the Medzamor nuclear plant. Yerevan is keen to
secure more financial EU support for the decommissioning of the plant
and securing alternative energy supplies.

Azerbaijan's main problem regarding the negotiations is with Cyprus.
The EU member state has, in the course of the past year, put the
brakes on EU-South Caucasus progress over Baku's apparent willingness
to pursue ties with Northern Cyprus. The internationally unrecognized
government of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus relies on
backing from Turkey. Ankara is also a close ally of Baku.

EU officials say Azerbaijan has only allowed one commercial flight to
take place in violation of the policy of isolation followed by the EU
with regard to Northern Cyprus, but refuses to commit itself
unequivocally to ruling out any further flights. Similarly, Baku
refuses to take steps to close down a cultural exchange center in
Northern Cyprus, which it says is operated privately.

The Azerbaijani-Cypriot spat may partly account for why the EU is
content to put off the conclusion of the talks on the "action plans"
by a few more months.

EU officials say that Cyprus is likely to prevent the South Caucasus
action plans from coming into effect unless Azerbaijan clearly
renounces links to Northern Cyprus.