MEPs squabble over Georgia resolution


The European Parliament yesterday (3 September) adopted a resolution condemning Russia’s actions in Georgia and calling on it to withdraw its troops immediately. But the text triggered protests from Socialist MEPs who objected to wording considered too soft on Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, seen by many as responsible for triggering the crisis.

At the centre of the controversy is the resolution’s failure to mention who started the hostilities. Speaking in plenary, the German leader of the Party of European Socialists (PES) Martin Schulz said his group would have preferred a reference to Georgia’s “inappropriate initial behaviour” at the start of the conflict. He also complained that such a reference did not feature the negotiations on the joint resolution with other political groups. 

But Parliament’s rapporteur on the Georgia resolution Elmar Brok (EPP-ED, Germany) dismissed the criticism. “The conflict started with Russia issuing passports to South Ossetians and Russian troops shooting at villages. It is clear who started the conflict, and Mr. Schulz’s statement is more a message to his own group than anything else,” said Brok, speaking to EURACTIV. 

In spite of the controversy, the resolution was voted by 549 in favor, 68 against and 61 abstentions. 

Speaking to EURACTIV, PES Vice Chairman Jan Marinus Wiersma (Netherlands) explained that his group wanted the Parliament to speak with one voice on Georgia, adding that this was why the Socialists voted in favour of the resolution. “But we are more critical than others on Georgia,” Wiersma stressed. 

He further explained that the draft was based on two major ideas: that the Parliament would support the decisions by the extraordinary EU summit on Georgia (EURACTIV 02/09/08) and that there would be no call for sanctions against Russia. 

Wiersma added that the Socialists had also been careful not to convey a message to the Georgians that the European Parliament was promising them NATO membership. This is why the Socialists objected to a paragraph which “recalls” that at the last NATO summit in Bucharest, it was “agreed that Georgia would become a member of the Alliance, and takes the view that Georgia is still on track eventually to join the Alliance”. 

Speaking to EURACTIV, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Jacek Sariusz-Wolski (EPP-ED, Poland) said that, for his part, the most important issue is that the resolution contains key statements condemning the Russian presence and occupation of Georgia. He also stressed the importance of its call for the implementation of the six-point plan brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and its commitment to a robust EU contribution by sending an ESDP mission and providing generous reconstruction assistance package. 

He also expressed satisfaction that the resolution refers to the Swedish-Polish proposal for an increased cooperation with Georgia, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. 

MEP Hannes Swoboda (PES, Austria) said at the parliamentary debate held on 1 September that mistakes had been made by the West and by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili but that this did not excuse Russia, which had exploited the situation for its own ends. 

In a written statement, the Greens/European Free Alliance group also described Georgia's actions as an "attack". "We request that the OSCE conducts an inquiry into provocations on both sides, into Georgia's attack and Russia's response," the group states. Speaking in plenary on 1 September, the group's leader Daniel Cohn Bendit (Germany) called on Europe to control the actions of Georgian leader Saakashvili. "What the Russians did is unacceptable. But it is also unacceptable to bomb a city," said Cohn-Bendit. 

Francis Wurtz, the French leader of GUE/NGL (the European United Left - Nordic Green Left group), said adopting either a pro-Georgian or pro-Russian position was to take Europe up a blind alley. He criticised Saakashvili who, since his election in 2004, has talked about revenge against secessionist regions and taken his alliance with George Bush to extremes: "This strategy has been disastrous for Georgia and for Europe." On the other hand, Russia has everything to lose if it chooses isolation, he argued. 

On 7 August, Georgian troops invaded the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which is – like the other disputed province of Abkhazia - officially part of the territory of Georgia, but in fact autonomous and largely under Russian influence. Tensions in both regions have been increasing since Kosovo declared independence last February.

Political analysts widely agree that Saakashvili is to blame for having fallen into a Russian trap in an escalating chain of events, ordering the shelling of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, causing many civilian deaths and prompting the Russian military incursion. 

Russia responded with massive military action, invading part of Georgia and prompting fears in the West that it may seek to use the occasion to topple Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-Western Georgian president, and turn Georgia into a vassal state like during Soviet times. 

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, helped broker a cease-fire agreement between Russia and Georgia, in which Russia agreed to withdraw all its troops to their pre-war positions by 22 August. 

At an extraordinary summit on 1 September, EU leaders decided to delay talks on a wide-ranging partnership and cooperation agreement with Moscow in response to Russia's "unacceptable" military incursion in Georgia, delaying possible further steps until a later date. But they stopped short of imposing sanctions on Moscow. 

Subscribe to our newsletters