Eastern Partnership

Interview with Wilfried Martens

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European Union will no longer accept authoritarian regimes

The President of the European People's Party (EPP) and former Prime Minister of Belgium, Wilfried Martens, visited Georgia in mid-December to “observe the progress made by Georgia” and to assess the regional situation. In Batumi, Mr. Martens hosted a trilateral Eastern Partnership meeting of EPP and like-minded Ministers or chief negotiators for the association agreement from Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. In an interview with Tabula, Mr. Martens shared his thoughts about EU-Georgia relations, the Eurozone crisis and other important developments.

- What is the aim of your visit?

This is my third visit to Georgia. I first came here in 2006 on a fact-finding mission to prepare the membership of UNM (United National Movement), the party of the President, to the European People’s Party. I came again after that in 2008, and this is my third visit. There is no urgency for this visit. I only want to observe the progress made by Georgia. I am aware of the enormous positive evolution in Georgia and, secondly, I also think that my friends and responsible people here can inform us about the evolution of the whole region: Six [post-Soviet] countries are now members of what we in Europe call the Eastern Partnership, and there is also the relationship with Russia. So this visit is to observe, to appreciate the positive evolution in Georgia, and also to be informed about perspectives for the Eastern Partnership, for EU Association Agreements and about the political evolution of the whole region.

- How would you evaluate the relationship between the European Union and Georgia?

There is a very positive evolution, and I will give two important examples. The European Parliament accepted, on 17 November, a very important resolution recognizing and reaffirming fundamental facts: first, that Georgia is a European country; second, defense of territorial integrity – and there are lot of points on that issue; third, also to reaffirm the European orientation of the country and to open prospects not only for the [EU-Georgia] Association Agreement but also for membership in the EU. So regaining enormous credibility for Georgia after some controversies in 2008 is the first important example. The second example is recognition. At the beginning of December, during the congress of the European Peoples’ Party in France, in Marseille; there was also an EPP summit of heads of state and government. As I have for the past three years, I invited not only President Saakashvili, but also the Prime Minister of Moldova and for the first time the President of Armenia. And French President Sarkozy in addressing them said – and it was a very important statement – “Your countries will one day be Members of the European Union.”

- Georgia strives toward Euro-Atlantic integration. What should Georgia do to accelerate this process and what are the challenges it faces toward this goal?

Well, Georgia has enormous enterprise. I spoke about an Association Agreement. There are negotiations now about the Association Agreement, and a lot of progress has been made, so this Association Agreement will be concluded and implemented. That does not mean that this is the final goal. The Association Agreement is a transition to, preparation for, membership in the European Union. During my first visit, I was impressed with what had happened here in Georgia with all of the important reforms. And then the President told me about the police reform. I was a witness to that today – I visited the service centre of the Ministry of Interior and I had a discussion with the Minister and one of the deputy ministers. Also enormous are the [successful] struggle against the corruption that existed, reform of the justice system, reform of the system of organization of prisons, as well as political reforms. It is extremely important, especially for the political leaders in the European Union, to acknowledge the political reforms that Georgia has made. I mean, it is fundamental to create a new electoral law in cooperation with the Council of Europe and especially with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. The Parliament [of Georgia] is now discussing and debating and voting on the new electoral law. That is also extremely important. In fact, Georgia has become at all levels a very democratic country, with separation of powers and independence of the legislature, the executive government and the judiciary. Georgia is also implementing important rules of the EU such as, for instance, fair and corrective actions. Welcoming the implementation of what is called acquis communautaire [European Community laws] is also an element of the Association Agreement. I really think that Georgia is a model for the region.

- Negotiations on the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement will start soon between EU and Georgia. Georgia pursues a deregulation policy while the DCFTA requires tougher regulations which would make life more expensive for the population of such a low-income country as Georgia. How can these two policies be reconciled so that EU requirements are met and, at the same time, a hard blow to the population can be averted? How will the EU and Georgia each benefit from this agreement?

Preparing a country or a state to be a Member State of the European Union via an Association Agreement means accepting the rules and fundamentals of the European Union. The prospective is open. At the end, after you realize these conditions, these criteria, you will have access to the single market of the European Union which will give you enormous potential. So that is the goal you have to come to. But you have to, as I said, realize conditions and criteria. Technically, it is the entire legislation of acquis communautaire; it is thousands of pages and, for every candidate country, it means an effort to implement acquis communautaire legislation. For example, with the environment, you have to accept certain criteria, you have to realize reforms and accept certain rules to realize the criteria, such as conditions concerning environmental policy and food safety. That can take effort, but you will also realize the fundamental goal for the future of your country. This is not only about restriction, not only about regulation. These criteria and regulations will empower you to become a member of the very powerful common market, the modern common market, a single market with potential for your country.

- You mentioned the European Parliament resolution adopted in November which calls on the EU to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as “occupied territories.” Russia played down the importance of this resolution with President Dmitri Medvedev saying that it does not matter. What more can be done on the part of the EU to push Russia to honor that resolution and, eventually, the so-called Sarkozy-Medvedev six-point agreement signed in August 2008?

I will answer this question in the broader sense, a broader answer that is responsive to your question. The attitude of the leadership of the European Union concerning Russia is becoming stronger. We have experience, and the leadership of the European Union has learned that accepting some regimes, authoritarian regimes, for reasons of what is called “stability” were mistakes. Some countries, Member States of the European Union, accepted authoritarian regimes in Northern Africa, in Arab countries, in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Libya. They later recognized this was a failure, this was a mistake. So they can no longer, they will no longer, accept authoritarian regimes. And they will no longer accept what we call “to play with democracy.” You cannot play with democracy. You cannot accept falsification of the results of elections – respect for free and fair elections is fundamental. For example, I was an observer several times of elections. When free elections were held for the first time in South Africa in 1994. I will never forget the conviction of all those voters who for the first time in their life were able to express free votes. So this is fundamental. One cannot support democracy in the Southern Mediterranean, while tolerating authoritarian regimes at its Eastern borders. The leadership of the EU is becoming more vigilant, cautious and stronger vis-à-vis RussiaSo also in the case of the ceasefire which President Sarkozy realized in 2008, the promise and the engagement of President Saakashvili not to use force and the negative response of Russia, and also what happened in the last election in Russia. These are all very strong indications for the leadership of the European Union that it must take a critical, stronger attitude vis-à-vis Russia. It has been said that Russia is not preparing for a confrontation, that it is concerned about its respectability. My conclusion is that they are sensitive about critical attitudes and Russia also needs the European Union. The way in which the leadership of the European Union is adopting, implementing a stronger attitude of democracy is critical vis-à-vis authoritarian regimes. That is the same attitude vis-à-vis Russia. Russia will have to take this into account.

- What do you think about public protests currently taking place in Russia after the parliamentary elections there? Will they have any effect in the short-term?

I think Mr. Putin will be elected as President. There are two possible outcomes: They will understand the enormous evolution in Russia and accept changes, or they will not do that, in which case I am convinced that evolution, awareness, the conscious will to change will continue. The best way is to accept – to accept an evolution comparable to developed countries and to accept changes. But I am not sure that [Putin] will do that. But the fundamental things which he has to do are to combat corruption and to accept true democracy with fair and free elections.

- A lot of people have blamed the Euro for the economic crisis. Some critics have argued that the system itself was flawed when it was created. One can even hear voices in some countries calling for the reinstatement of national currencies. A recent joint initiative of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy concerning stricter control and coordination of national budgets was not supported by Britain and was also criticized by the U.S.A. What is your stance on that and how can this crisis be overcome?

The crisis will be overcome. I was one of the negotiators of the treaty for an economic and monetary union in 1990-1991 as the Prime Minister of my country. After the creation four years earlier of the single market, it was of enormous importance also to have a common currency which would become a single currency. But we attempted to fulfill it with an economic union and a political union, and that did not happen. My successors did not realize it. And Germans were concerned about it. Helmut Kohl was still the Chancellor and Theo Waigel was still the Finance Minister in Germany, and they proposed what is called a stability pact controlling the implementation of each member state of the monetary union, the Euro union, on budget deficit, on inflation and on stabilization of the debt, national debt. Enormous mistakes were committed then by two major countries – Germany and France, which both did not respect the stability pact in 2005. Those countries were in favor of flexibility, which had no practical consequences in the first period. That was the first failure. The second failure was to accept certain countries – for instance, Greece – without requiring fundamental criteria to become a member state of the monetary union. And that also passed without consequences in the first period. But then came the financial crisis, beginning in 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It was at that moment that the consequences of not implementing fundamental criteria for the Eurozone had dire consequences. Since May 2010, since then, Greece, Ireland and also Portugal have been victims of this international financial crisis. So we have to organize budget discipline; that is called a fiscal union, a budget union. The [European] Parliament has established rules, legislation and, at the last meeting of the European Council, a treaty on that was decided. We also need coordination of economic policies and, finally, we need a political union. If after the treaty on the Euro – that was in 1991, 1992 – if the political union had been created than, we would not have the problems we have today. So there is a strong awareness that we must realize the criteria and that we need to maintain the Euro. I do not believe that there will be a fundamental crisis with the Euro. My belief is a reflection of the following: I compare it with the Cold War. During the Cold War, the nuclear measure or initiative also never happened because it was deterred. For the Euro to disappear is the same; the consequences are so enormous that nobody would want to propose that the Euro disappear. This is the deterrent, and that deterrent needs to follow necessary steps to restore confidence in the Euro – and that will happen. But the Euro has also enemies in a large part of the United Kingdom and in the United States also. Even the British, the British Prime Minister says we have to maintain the Euro because the consequences would be enormous, and also President Obama insists that the Euro be maintained. The possibility of the Euro disappearing will be deterred.

- How could the relationship between Georgian and Russia be normalized without prejudicing the sovereignty and national interests of Georgia?

Georgia did a lot. The President of Georgia pledged himself and his country not to use force. Georgia accepted that Russia could be a member of WTO. That was important concerning relations with Russia, and I think that the credibility of Georgia, for that reason along with all the reforms, was strengthened. In fact, as I said, your country is a model for the neighboring countries – it has a separation of powers, democracy and has realized success in combating corruption. This is perhaps the most challenging factor for Russia, the positive growth, positive evolution of Georgia.

 

 

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