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EU foreign policy

September 15, 2009

European Union foreign ministers have discussed a number of issues including the recent Afghan elections and forming closer ties with nations in the Southern Caucasus region.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says the Afghan vote must be legitimateImage: AP

High on the agenda at the EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Tuesday September 15, was last month's presidential election in Afghanistan. The foreign ministers are faced with increasing public skepticism within the bloc about EU involvement in Afghanistan and, thus, a credible outcome to the election is seen as crucial for future support.

"We cannot ignore allegations of fraud and we will insist among the European foreign ministers that these will be scrutinized. It is crucial that the newly elected president has the respect of the whole Afghan population," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Currently, incumbent president Hamid Karzai is ahead in the vote count and he may have enough of a lead to avoid a runoff. However, the UN-backed Election Complaints Commission (ECC) has postponed plans to publish its findings in order to investigate the more than 2000 allegations of electoral fraud.

Adding to the concerns, the EU's own election observer mission in Afghanistan said on September 8 that it had evidence of "large-scale ballot stuffing" which amounted to "hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes."

The EEC has ordered a partial recount of approximately 10 percent of the polling stations in the country. Depending on the outcome, a second-round run-off between Karzai and his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah could become necessary.

All EU foreign ministers believe it is crucial for the next elected government in Afghanistan to appear legitimate.

"The desirable thing would be to have the least bad, least corrupt, most credible government possible," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

Even if the elections are proved to be badly flawed, the EU cannot abandon the government in Kabul and the process of reconstruction which is costing both money and lives. And even as the Taliban insurgency shows no sign of letting up, the EU ministers know that their options are limited and that walking away now is not an option. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said as much to reporters as he tried to paint a positive picture.

"We're engaged in a long-term effort to build some kind of stability in the country. It's not going to be easy, it's not going to be fast, it's not going to be cheap, but I think it's essential," said Bildt, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Closer ties sought with Southern Caucasus

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt
Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is not worried about RussiaImage: AP

The Southern Caucasus states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have all indicated that they want better relations with the EU. At Tuesday's meeting in Brussels, the EU foreign ministers authorized the EU executive to begin working on the details of talks with these states, a move which is sure to provoke the Russians.

Ever since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has seen the Caucasus as falling within its "sphere of influence." However Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, speaking at a press conference, does not see it that way.

"They have the right to choose their own destiny, they have expressed the views for a close relationship with the European Union. They have the right to choose their own future, not to be restricted by anyone," said Bildt.

Relations with countries in the region and Russia have been problematic and a brief five day war that Russia and Georgia fought last year did nothing to improve the atmosphere.

The EU's negotiations will be about setting up agreements under which the Southern Caucasus states will promise to work toward reforms in the areas of human rights, politics, economics and trade, in return for assistance from the EU in such areas as tariff-free access to EU markets, and technical and financial assistance.

Central America also on EU agenda

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya
The EU says Honduras government must return Zelaya to powerImage: AP

The continuing political crisis in Honduras also prompted the foreign ministers to issue a statement insisting that a solution be found to the situation that saw President Manuel Zelaya ousted from office in a coup.

"Until a peaceful settlement is found, the EU will stand ready to take further restrictive measures including targeting those members of the de facto government who are seen to be blocking progress on a negotiated solution," said the ministers in a statement released on Tuesday.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, the ministers also expressed their support for the mediation efforts of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and the Organization of American States (OAS) and urged all parties to work toward a peaceful resolution.

In Geneva, the United Nations also made its voice heard when it barred J. Delmer Urbizo, the Honduran envoy from attending the meetings of the UN Human Rights Council.

The 47-member council was informed by the council's Belgian president Alex Van Neeuwen that Urbizo would not be permitted to attend.

"I received a letter yesterday afternoon, dated August the 20th, indicating that the permanent representative of Honduras in Geneva is not the accredited representative of President Zelaya's government," said Van Meeuwen.

Honduras does not have a voting seat on the Human Rights Council but wanted to observe the proceedings as many nations do.

In Brussels the EU foreign ministers said that the 27 EU member states would continue to keep contacts with the government of Honduras to a minimum.

The ministers also expressed concern about reported abuses of human rights such as detentions, deportations and a clamp down on peaceful demonstrations.

"The resolution is important because it means a zero tolerance towards the coup in Honduras and against the authorities that participated in this coup or against the people that are now an obstacle to coming back to normality," said Diego Lopez Garrido, Spain's junior minister for EU affairs.

Editor: Susan Houlton