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Neighbors kick Euro approach into touch

  • 2007-11-26
  • By Mike Collier

SPEAKING OUT: Azeri Foreign Minister Mammadyarov outlines the weaknesses of ENP (Photo: Azeri Foreign Ministry)

RIGA -- Aconference that was supposed to provide some end-of-year self-congratulation toEU decision-makers went off-message in Riga on Nov 23, with a succession of valuedneighbours seizing the chance to kick holes in the EU's European NeighbourhoodPolicy (ENP).

Theconference, titled 'The Baltic States and The EU Neighbourhood Policy' startedwith a slight sense of anticlimax for several reasons. The gathering had largely been an initiative of former Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, but following his resignation, the conference lost some of its raison d'etre. Then delegates from Georgia cancelled in order to grapple with unrest at home - leaving a large display outlining the glories of Georgia looking rather folorn in the foyer.

The proceedings started amicably enough with the first speakers - including new Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins - praising the EU's attempts to spreadcommon values of democracy and rule of law further afield. But then the event quickly morphedinto a checklist of the ENP's inconsistencies and blind spots.

Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister ElmarMammadyarov made the first specific criticisms of ENP, suggesting that somepeople might interpret the development of ENP as a sign of "enlargementfatigue" within the EU. "Neighbours are not members 's by definition they areoutside, which may be seen by some as a strong signal," Mammadyarov pointedout.

In aneloquent address that had some delegates fidgeting uncomfortably, Mammadyarovdrew attention to the EU's inconsistent approach to frozen conflicts and issuessuch as territorial disputes and ethnic cleansing. The EU could not afford tohave double standards, he said, underlining that energy-rich countries such as Azerbaijan are far from poor relations in needof EU handouts. "The ENP is not a one-way street. Neighbours are not comingwith empty hands," he said.

With the ENPball now well and truly rolling, subsequent speakers seized their chance to giveit a good kick.

Lithuanianforeign minister Petras Vaitiekunas claimed a "discriminating policy hasemerged with regard to Georgia and territorial integrity," [referringto the breakaway region of Abkhazia] and voiced Lithuania's strong backing for Ukrainian andMoldovan membership of the EU. "The east represents unfinished business," hesaid while drawing lines for a new polarity between east and west in Europeanmatters that he called "Europe-to-Europe dialogue."

Next up wasBelarus' deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Yeudachenka,who rattled off a long list of grievances including the EU's decision towithdraw Belarus from its list of preferred tradingpartners and the application of "obsolete and forbidden" import quotas at atime when Belarus has been dropping numerous tariffsof its own. "I trust 2008 will be the year when the EU drops import quotas onBelarusian textiles," Yeudachenka said and asked the EU to stop blocking Belarus' attempts to join the World Trade Organization. Belarus is currently excluded from official ENP status.

Theclearest demonstration of the ENP's occasional absurdity came from Moldovan deputyForeign Minister Valeriu Ostalep. "You need a visa to get a visa to the EU," heexplained, describing a situation in which Moldovans wishing to travel to Belgium or Italy first need to apply for a Romanianvisa in order to travel to Bucharest and apply for other European visas.

Ostalep's coup de grace was still to come. After describing how Moldova had established two informationcentres to educate the public about the role of the EU and the benefits of EUmembership, he revealed: "Unfortunately we didn't receive necessary support[from the EU]. The EU information centres were opened using US money."