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Georgia and Moldova Shocked at the Prospect of New EU Plan

Officials in Moldova and Georgia are reacting with concern to speculation that the EU is poised to remove special representatives appointed to their regions.

If confirmed, the change would signal a major downgrading in the EU's strategic interest in both Chisinau and the countries of the South Caucasus.

EU foreign policy officials gave no hint of change on the horizon when they met with the six post-Soviet countries that make up its Eastern Partnership community last week.

Instead, officials from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus were assured that the EU's eastern neighbors remain "main priorities" for the European Union.

So it was with a mix of surprise and anger when those countries learned May 31 that the EU is looking to abolish two of its key posts in the region.

Ashton's bombshell

An assistant to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told EU ambassadors on May 28 that she was looking to eliminate the EU's special representatives to Moldova and the South Caucasus.

Such a move would significantly downgrade the EU's presence on the ground in two regions seen as politically unstable and vulnerable to creeping Russian influence.

There has been no official statement from either the EU or the two affected officials -- Kalman Mizsei, the special representative to Moldova, or Peter Semneby, who holds the post for the South Caucasus.

Iulian Fruntashu, an adviser to Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat, told RFE/RL's Moldovan Service he was concerned about what the move might mean for Moldova's progress toward EU integration as one of the Eastern Partners.

"The circumstances, I think, weren't the best for the work of Kalman Mizsei. But I think the position itself shouldn't be abandoned just because Catherine Ashton wants to simplify the stucture of the EU's diplomatic service," Fruntashu said. "I think that a high representative nominated by the European Council shows that the EU is making a priority of Moldova, Georgia, and other countries in the region. We are interested first and foremost in the Eastern Partnership and Moldova's place in it, and I think that it would have been useful for us to keep a special EU representive in Moldova."

The move -- which will also affect other of the EU's 11 special representatives -- has been defended as an attempt to streamline the EU's diplomatic corps. But a letter from Ashton outlining the plan also offers rationales that have struck some observers as flawed.

Ashton's letter, for one, suggests that the bloc should scrap geographically distant posts. But Moldova and the South Caucasus are both closer than Central Asia or Africa's Great Lakes region, both of which will retain their special representatives.

The letter also suggests the bloc should retain only those seen as most important for the EU -- an alarming wake-up call for countries hosting no fewer than four post-Soviet "frozen conflicts."

Labor pains

News of the proposed change came as EU officials were gathering in Rostov-for-Donu for a summit with their Russian counterparts seen as ushering in less tempestuous relations between Moscow and Brussels.

According to the Ashton plan, Mizsei's current post would be merged with that of the European Commission's representative and eventually brought within the External Action Service, the consolidated diplomatic corps Ashton is laboring to introduce.

Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia would see a similar shift. In addition to losing the oversight of Semneby, who has held the post for more than four years and is widely respected in the region, the change would mean the end of the EU's unified approach to the South Caucasus.

Such a move could be advantageous to Moscow, which has been accused of using regional rivalries to destabilize the strategically important area.

Temur Iakobashvili, Georgia's state minister for reintegration, is a key figure in Tbilisi's battle to regain control of its pro-Moscow breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Speaking to RFE/RL's Georgian Service, he said he believed the decision was not "final," but expressed concern that a change in posts would have a negative effect on conflict resolution in the area.

"The important thing is not what the new position would be called," Iakobashvili said. "It's what would happen to [the distribution of] functions, and I think the Caucasus-wide element of Mr. Semneby's post is an important one."

He added: "Conflicts haven't vanished anywhere. In the case of Georgia, moreover, we're even facing the occupation [of our territory]. Therefore, it's an important to consider the question of how these functions will be distributed."

By. Marina Vashakmadze and Valentina Ursu




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