ALDE chief: Only the EU can be a peace broker in Georgia

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The EU is in a unique position and now needs to follow up on its six-point ceasefire plan in the Georgia conflict, perhaps by setting up a task force, according to Graham Watson, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), speaking to EURACTIV in an interview.

Graham Watson MEP was elected as leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European Parliament in January 2002. He became first British Liberal Democrat to be elected to the European Parliament in 1994. 

What is your view on the way the six-point peace plan for Georgia was negotiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy? Some have criticised this plan, for example for not specifying the territorial integrity of Georgia. 

My view is that Sarkozy got the best he could get. And he deserves to be given credit for having reacted so quickly and so firmly. He sent (his foreign minister Bernard) Kouchner immediately to Tiblisi, went himself to Moscow. He did something that would have been unthinkable five years ago: to pull European Union leaders very quickly into agreement on – of course the lowest common denominator – but into agreement on something that could be negotiated. And although in my view, the six-point plan is not sufficient as a basis from now on, nonetheless he got us on a common position and he got the Russian troops by and large out of Georgia. 

What do you expect from the extraordinary EU summit? 

One of the jobs of this summit is to look how to take the process forward. Everyone will agree on reconstruction and aid for Georgia. They reckon the cost will be 1.4 billion euros. In a country with a budget of two billion, that is very substantial. 

Number two will be to agree on a person with a small task force to deal with taking the peace process forward. 

I think number three will be to have a very serious look, perhaps by setting up a task force, at energy policy, because this whole situation has thrown into sharp relief how very dependent some countries feel they are on Russian energy supplies, which limits their freedom of manoeuvre when it comes to foreign and security policy. 

And I think, this is a personal view, [that] number four should be to look at what sanctions might be used, short of a commercial war or a diplomatic cold war. And one might look for example at the fact that we have now the visa facilitation agreement with the Russians, but not with the Georgians. So we are encouraging the middle classes in South Ossetia to take Russian passports, because they know they can visit the EU more easily. Either we extend the arrangement to Georgia, or we cancel it for Russia, which sends a pretty strong message to Russia’s middle class of disapproval of what their country has done. 

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has been rather invisible recently, don’t you think? 

I’ve been surprised he’s not had a higher profile, but I believe there may have been discussion between Paris and the Council on this and the French may have expressed a very strong desire to lead the diplomatic charge. 

Do you fear that Russia will be offended if the EU gives too much to Georgia, in that what they see as their aggressor would be rewarded? 

I think there is a danger that Russians will continue to feel aggrieved as they felt aggrieved after the end of the Cold War. There is no doubt that the end of the Cold War had a big impact on Russia’s reaction, both on their politicians and their people. 

But I think also we have to look very carefully at what America’s neo-cons are doing with the Georgians. Because Saakashvili should have been able to foresee what the consequences would be of the actions that Georgia took. 

And then perhaps the EU is in a better position to be an honest broker in a peace settlement than anyone else. Because everybody knows that we have a nuanced position. Everyone knows that opinion is divided. The Americans cannot be peace brokers, nor can the Russians. Perhaps we can. 

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