Brussels urges more financial aid for ex-Soviet states

14:28, 23 February 2009
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"We have a crucial strategic interest..."

The European Commission on Monday called for increased European financial aid to ailing former Soviet states, despite the insistence of some E.U. members that the Mediterranean region should continue to receive greater help, AFP reported.

"We have a crucial strategic interest in their (Eastern Europe`s) economy and political stability," E.U. External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero- Waldner said on the margins of an E.U. foreign ministers` meeting in Brussels.

The European Commission, the E.U.`s executive arm, has proposed granting some EUR350 million in extra help between now and 2013 to the European Union`s six ex-Soviet neighbors, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, on condition that they make significant democratic progress.

The proposal is part of an "Eastern partnership" scheme that is to be approved at an E.U. summit next month and launched in May.

However France in particular, which championed the E.U.`s Mediterranean Union project launched last July, has expressed reservations about the Eastern partnership.

"The E.U. nations which are more attached than others to the Mediterranean will be on their guard," a French diplomat said recently, stressing that the European budget for 2007-2013 foresees giving the Mediterranean partners two- thirds of the funding available for Europe`s neighbors.

However, Ferrero-Waldner said that in view of the tensions to the east, "it is even so justifiable" to increase help to the former USSR members.

Europe has been watching anxiously as Russia has flexed its muscles towards its former fiefdoms.

Recalling the short Russia-Georgia war last August and the gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine in January, which shut off a key gas tap to Europe, she said Europe should seek to prevent conflicts in the region.

She also insisted on the importance of their "economic stability," as Ukraine in particular in faced with a serious economic crisis.

The Eastern Partnership scheme is aimed at boosting cooperation between the European Union and the six eastern neighbors, including energy issues under its "neighborhood" program that allows it to fund economic and political reforms.

AFP via Nasdaq

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