SUKHUM (Itar-Tass) – The European Union does not recognise Abkhazia as an independent state, but is ready to communicate with it and work on specific issues: in the sphere of healthcare, cooperation with civil society, giving young people an opportunity to join the European programme of student exchange for education, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby said at a meeting with Abkhazian Prime Minister Alexander Ankvab.
During three years the European Commission financed programmes for support of small businesses, agriculture and energy in the Gal and Ochamchira districts of the republic. According to EU officials, today the possibility for their continuation exists. The European Union is ready to provide 4 million euros in aid to Abkhazia, Semneby added.
Alexander Ankvab said for his part that the “non-recognition of Abkhazia by the European Union in no way hinders the development of the Abkhazian state.” It does not mean that “we will not be developing and that you will not be able to participate in this process,” he said. “We are ready to consider specific proposals. It we speak about economic programmes they must be specific and targeted. If we take healthcare here there are questions which you can help us settle,” the Abkhazian prime minister added.
Ankvab cited an example of fruitful cooperation with the Russian Federation in the rehabilitation of the Gal, Ochamchira and Tkuarchal districts. According to him, “last year alone, over 2 billion US dollars were allotted for these districts.” “Despite the financial crisis, in 2009 the sum of Russian investment programmes in the social sphere accounted for 833 million roubles, let alone private businesses that are successfully working in Abkhazia,” Ankvab stated.
According to Peter Semneby’s mission statement posted on the European Commission’s website, the latest enlargement of the EU has brought the South Caucasus neighbourhood even closer to the EU. The new proximity of this neighbourhood along with the region's geographic location between the Black Sea and the Caspian, between Russia, Turkey and Iran, and as a link between Europe and Asia makes the South Caucasus a key strategic region for the EU.
Following the outbreak of open hostilities between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, the EU took immediate steps to secure a ceasefire, stabilise the situation and facilitate political talks between the parties. This engagement demonstrates just how important the EU considers the region to be.
As EUSR for the South Caucasus, I work to further the EU’s agenda in the countries of the region - Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia - as well as to contribute to the development of a comprehensive EU policy for the South Caucasus. Much of this work is undertaken jointly with the European Commission, in particular in support of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) Action Plan for the three countries.
“My mandate includes assisting the three countries in carrying out political and economic reforms, notably in the fields of rule of law, democratisation, human rights and good governance. I work closely with the Commission in this endeavour,” the statement says.
“The EU has been heavily involved in working to resolve the long-standing conflicts over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Following the outbreak of an armed conflict between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, the EU appointed an EUSR for the Crisis in Georgia and deployed an EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM). I work in tandem with the EUSR for the Crisis in Georgia and provide local political guidance to the EUMM. Even after the war, I will continue to support the implementation of the confidence-building measures that have been agreed jointly with the Commission and myself. This work aims to contribute to the efforts for the peaceful settlement of the conflicts,” Semneby stated.
“A key consideration for the EU in Georgia remains the continuation of democratic reforms, in particular in the area of the rule of law. As the elections in Georgia have not resolved political differences within society, I am actively engaged in promoting constructive political dialogue between the government and opposition - a prerequisite for long-lasting political stability in Georgia. I am also involved in promoting the development of free and independent media,” Semneby noted.
The EUSR structure includes the EU Border Support Team, which has been developing a border management strategy and implementation plan for Georgia and is building the capacity of Georgian border guards. The work of the BST has proved successful in moving Georgia towards best European practices and standards for integrated border management, according to the official.
“In Armenia, I promote the ongoing democratisation process, the rule of law and media freedom in order to facilitate the reforms necessary for making Armenia a vibrant and functioning democracy,” he noted.
According to Semneby, “I also facilitate contacts between officials and civil society in Armenia and Turkey with a view to addressing outstanding issues and providing the basis for the re-establishment of relations. Improved bilateral relations between the two countries would contribute to the overall stability and prosperity of the South Caucasus.”