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Interview: Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy

By Messenger Staff
Wednesday, February 6
An EU delegation, including Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner of Austria, is in Tbilisi for a South Caucasus conference.

Ferrero-Waldner gave a brief interview to a handful of journalists yesterday, commenting on local elections, the breakaway regions and the significance of the European Neighborhood Policy.

Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

The Georgian political opposition, which claims the president was illegitimately reelected in rigged elections, is warning about the fairness of upcoming parliamentary elections. How can fair elections be secured here?

There were competitive elections [on January 5] and we considered ... them as free and fair. And therefore we do think that President Saakashvili is a legitimate president. Recommendations [for parliamentary elections] should be implemented as quickly as possible in order to clearly show the opposition that all the legality is also to be followed for the next elections. I know the government has started the dialogue [with the opposition] and it’s important both sides work together for the better of their people.

You called on the authorities to investigate complaints regarding the elections. What would be your recommendations for parliamentary elections? What would be the main challenge?

The main challenge would be that all the parties that participate in parliamentary elections will accept those standards that we hold up as European standards.

How does the European Neighborhood Policy affect ordinary Georgian citizens?

I think a normal citizen [benefits from the ENP] already, because if there is more economic development, if there is more business climate, if there is a better chance for the Georgians to export to EU, this is all because of the Neighborhood Policy. If there is less corruption, better judiciary, more reform on democracy and human rights, and, for instance, better election laws, in the end all that comes together and is part of modernization and reform program of the government, but of course highly supported by us.

What can you say about the conflict resolution process in Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

I think we should continue helping in finding solution and ENP should create a right environment for that. We are ready to do confidence-building measures in South Ossetia, in Abkhazia, but of course in accordance what the government wants.

What is the status of the natural gas pipeline projects the EU is working on?

Nabucco is a priority project for EU, so we are working with Azerbaijan and other countries in order to get resources, but at the same time if there are more pipelines, we can only say—this is complementary.

The opposition demand an investigation into the events of November 7. Do you think that’s needed?

We always think if there are doubts, their principle should be checked and investigated. At the same time, there always has to be a dialogue… There were violent clashes in the forefront of the elections, but the elections themselves were held peacefully. We say there were shortcomings, but at the same time there were elections contested in a free and fair way. We do hope many of the lessons may be learned for parliamentary elections.