The need for an EU strategy for the South Caucasus
Delivered in Plenary - 29th May 2010
As the Kirilov report makes clear, the countries of the South Caucasus are strategically important to our Union, not least in terms of energy security, e.g. Caspian oil and gas production and transit through the countries of the region. Sadly, however, this region remains paralysed by frozen conflicts, the most recent of which is, of course, Russiaís de facto occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which, in our view, are Georgian sovereign territory. We cannot, in terms of EU-Russia relations, simply pretend that this did not happen.
Through the mechanisms of the ENPís Eastern Partnership, we must now, of course, redouble our efforts to reward Georgiaís determined efforts to realise its Euro-Atlanticist aspirations, and I and my group fully support an FTA eventually, visa liberalisation and association agreements for all the countries in the South Caucasus. As a strong friend of Armenia, I am glad that the final version of the report is more balanced than the initial ones. However, I still remain concerned about elements of the report which appear to contradict the EUís official position on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue and the Minsk Groupís position in particular.
Armenia has now made courageous efforts to resolve this long-standing impasse over Nagorno-Karabakh. It has also sought to normalise relations with Turkey, a move which should stabilise the South Caucasus. If only Turkey itself would respond in a similarly constructive manner without preconditions. If this border could be reopened, it would not only relieve the embargo on long-suffering Armenia, which has gone on far too long, but also allow economic prosperity in a very poor and underdeveloped region of Eastern Turkey. So there is enlightened self-interest for Turkey to move on this issue. It is not credible in my view that Turkey can justify the permanent closure of this border with Armenia because of its so-called solidarity with its Turkic brother, Azerbaijan, over the unresolved NK dispute. This is as logical as saying that Greece should shut down its border in Thrace with Turkey in solidarity with the Greek Cypriots over the Turkish occupation of Cyprus. We in the EU believe in open borders and free trade as a sine qua non for peace and stability on our continent and also in the South Caucasus.