Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Decision time looming for EU's Georgia mission

The EU and the UN must reach a decision on the future of Europe's monitoring mission at the borders of breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a leading MEP told EurActiv.
Returning from a visit to Georgia on Friday (27 February), Richard Howitt MEP, UK Labour spokesman for foreign affairs and enlargement in the European Parliament, said any decision to extend the mandate of the EU mission needs to be coordinated with the UN.

The visit came a week after Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer had predicted that Russia would "finish the job" this summer by launching further military strikes against Georgia.
After meeting with the highest Georgian authorities, Howitt said that Tbilisi was putting pressure on the EU to "do more" about Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"There is no doubt that they [the Georgians] want the [EU] mission extended and expanded. Some commented to me that their ideal [scenario] was for the Europeans to come with guns and fight their way back into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which is never going to happen," said Howitt.

The MEP explained that EUMM's formal mandate runs out in September, adding that one of the purposes of the Parliament mission was to see whether an extension should be recommended.
There is an argument in favour of extending the EU mission, Howitt argued, because the monitors can still objectively report on any outbreaks of violence, acting as a deterrent for anyone to restart the conflict. On the other hand, he said it was not possible for the EU to send observer missions to all the world's trouble-spots.

"My message to the Georgians is not to make the future of the police mission the 'be all and end all' in relation to the EU, because they may be, inadvertently, sending the wrong message to the Russians," Howitt said.

"The Georgians should point to the nearly five billion dollar financial commitments made by Europe and the international community last year, together with the creation of a new relationship by the EU with its 'Eastern partners', as a far stronger commitment to the future peace and stability of this country than the fate of this one specific mission," Howitt insisted.
Recalling that a UN mission in Abkhazia has the advantage of patrolling inside Abkhazia itself, which EUMM monitors cannot do, the MEP called for a pragmatic solution.

"Perhaps it's less important who does the job, as long as the job is done. If the United Nations mission can do it, perhaps the EU mission doesn't need to do it," he went on, hinting that the EU might decide not to extend its mission.

But Howitt warned that in the event that Moscow vetoes the extension of the UN mission, the EU should keep its own team, as the Union's decision in September will be taken after the UN decision in June.

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