Exclusive interview of Trend with the European union (EU) special representative for South Caucasus, Peter Semnebi
Question: How do you estimate the last visit to the South Caucasus countries? Did you manage to achieve any accord during the talks?
Answer: The purpose of my first visits to the South Caucasus was not to achieve accords but to see how the EU can later be useful in supporting a settlement of the conflicts. I was encouraged by the depth of discussion on conflict resolution among experts in Azerbaijan and Armenia. But I was also discoraged by the harsh public discourse. In Georgia, the conflicts have to be seen in the context of the problematic relation between Russia and Georgia. There is much more that could be done on the part of both countries to enhance dialogue and resolve problems. But there have been some positive signs recently of a mutual willingness to at least discuss the problematic issues. The EU is prepared to engage where it can be helpful. Russia has a special responsibility because of the difference in size: any move on the part of Russia may be seen as an existential threat in tiny Georgia, but the opposite is obviously not true.
Ultimately, it has to be in Russia's interest to help resolving the conflicts in order to make sure that it has a stable and friendly neighbour on its border.
Question: At which stage are the consultations on the preparations of the Act Plan on the implementation of the EUs New Naborhood Policy?
Answer: The negotiations are almost finished with all three countries, although there are some issues that are still open. The European Neighbourhood Policy does not involve a membership perspective, but if Azerbaijan and the other countries take the Action Plans seriously, they will be able to move very close to the EU and to European standards in most areas of society. This will not be an easy path, but I am certain that the trip along this path will ultimately be rewarding. The trip itself will be an important learning experience for the individual countries as well as for the EU. This learning experience will inevitably bring us closer together. At the end of the road, I am convinced that there will be a strong sense of common identity. The Neighborhood Policy is also supposed to strengthen regional cooperation. I have seen from my previous job in the Balkans how this became much easier within a larger European framework based on certain common principles and values.
Question: How is the mandate of the Special Deputy of EU on South Caucasus countries practically enlarged?
Answer: The participation of the three countries in the European Neighbourhood Policy means that the EU has a direct interest of prosperity and stability in the region. As a result, the interest of the EU for the conflicts is growing.
The EU marked this interest in a subtle way by reinforcing the mandate of the EUSR when I was appointed. While my predecessor was supposed to "assist" in conflict resolution, I am supposed to "contribute" to conflict resolution. This change is particularly important as a political signal.
Question: Are any recommendations on the issue on the settlement of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict on Nagorno Karabakh supposed to be prepared to the governing body of EU?
Answer: The EU is not involved in the actual negotiations, which are the responsibility of the OSCE, and more specifically of the OSCE Minsk Group. But the EU supports and follows the work of the Minsk Group, and one EU country is involved in it as co-chair. The main EU role is likely to come after a settlement. The EU will, of course, help to ensure that a settlement is implemented. In addition to a strong sense of responsibility for two countries that have suffered because of war and ethnic conflict, there is also a growing notion that it is in the self-interest of the EU to support a settlement.
A settlement will create the conditions for stability and prosperity in an important neighboring area of the EU, which is becoming tied more closely to the EU and which is embracing the fundamental values of the EU. After a settlement, it will be self-evident for the EU to make a major contribution to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the war-torn areas. The EU may also consider a peacekeeping engagement, but I have to mention that there are other options for peace-keeping as well.
Question: Do you think that there is still a chance to settle Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in 2006?
Answer: I'm neither a pessimist nor an optimist. For too long the pessimists have been proven right over and over again. I will stretch so far as to say that I hope the optimists will be right this time. I also hope that those who look upon the conflict in a rational way will prevail in both countries. The advantages of a settlement for both countries are obvious. The reopening of contacts between the two countries and particularly in the conflict area will finally create the conditions for long-term stability and prosperity. By contrast, if the conflict continues, there will always be missed opportunities. Societies that live on a war footing will always devote a large amount of resources to purposes that could have been used in other ways if there had been peace. A settlement will require bold and statesmanlike decisions on the part of the political leaders of the two countries. The fact that both countries have exceptionally capable leaders gives me reason to hope that this is possible.
Question: What do you think about collaboration in the energy field between Azerbaijan and the EU?
Answer: There is already collaboration in the energy field with EU companies active in Azerbaijan. As the EU is continuing to diversify its energy resources, not only in terms of types of energy, but also in terms of suppliers and supply routes, Azerbaijan will have a growing importance. But again, the full potential of this collaboration will only be realized if there is lasting peace.