Select Committee on European Scrutiny Fourth Report


CONFLICT SETTLEMENT IN SOUTH OSSETIA AND PROTECTION OF GEORGIA/CHECHEN BORDER


(a)
(22582)
10286/01


(b)
(22793)
12767/01

Council joint action on an EU contribution towards reinforcing the
capacity of the Georgian authorities to support and protect the OSCE
observer mission on the Georgia/Chechen border.


Council joint action on an EU contribution towards the conflict
settlement process in South Ossetia


Legal base: Article 14 EU; unanimity
Deposited in Parliament: (a) 7 August 2001
(b) 31 October 2001
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EMs of 26 October and Minister's letters of 29 October 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
Adopted in Council: 29 October 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but further information requested

Joint Action on an EU contribution towards the conflict settlement process

15.1  South Ossetia is a province which has broken away from Georgia. In his letter of 29 October, the Minister for Europe and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Peter Hain) comments that the dispute is one of the region's 'frozen' conflicts. He says:

    "The OSCE is leading efforts to broker a political settlement. But negotiations have been dragging, partly because of the parties' lack of capacity to engage. This Joint Action is aimed at speeding up the process by financing the establishment and running costs (for one year) of secretariats serving the two main OSCE mechanisms: the Joint Control Commission, which is mandated to resolve security issues in the zone of conflict, and the Experts Group, which aims to prepare an intermediate political status for South Ossetia. The secretariats will improve the operational ability of the JCC and the Experts Group. The Joint Action, in the form of a grant, will also help fund the Georgian and South Ossetian engagement with the two bodies.

    "This Joint Action firmly supports the Government's policy on working for conflict resolution in the South Caucasus and of drawing Russia into co-operative and collaborative engagement in the region. Of all the frozen conflicts in the region, South Ossetia stands the best current chance of being resolved, but it needs a push. A political settlement on South Ossetia would also provide an example to communities in the other, more intractable disputes such as Abkhazia and Nagorno Karabakh, that negotiation can produce results. It would draw Russia into a successful political engagement in the region, again providing a better model for their engagement in Abkhazia, and would help to improve Russia/Georgia relations. This latter is central both to Georgian stability and Russian security on its Caucasus border, and more widely to stability in the South Caucasus: all key objectives for the UK Government. The South Caucasus is an important transit route for Caspian energy. Instability in the region has produced large numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, and provides fertile ground for criminal and terrorist activity. How Russia deals with the region will be an important test for the development of its wider relationship with the West."

15.2  In his EM, the Minister says that the European Commission will be responsible for implementing the Joint Action:

    "It will conclude a financing agreement with the OSCE for the grant. The OSCE Mission in Georgia will be responsible for setting up the Secretariats and for reimbursing mission expenses. The Commission Delegation in Tbilisi will monitor and evaluate both the correct use of the grant and its impact on the political process."

15.3  The financial reference amount will be _210,000.

15.4  The Joint Action was expected to be adopted at the 29 October General Affairs Council, according to the Minister, who commented that the matter had come up very suddenly.

Joint Action on protecting the Georgia/Chechen border

15.5  The aim of this Joint Action is to extend to 31 March 2002 Joint Action 2000/456/CFSP of 20 July 2000 which provides financial support for Georgian Border Guards to protect the OSCE Border Monitoring Mission on the Georgia/Chechen border.

15.6  The Joint Action of 20 July 2000, which we cleared on 26 July 2000,[44] followed concern at the 1999 Helsinki European Council at the threat posed by the continuing conflict to the stability of the Caucasus region, the possible spill-over from the fighting in Chechnya to Georgia and the effects on Georgia's territorial integrity.

15.7  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 29 October, the Minister says that the OSCE Border Monitoring Mission is:

    "a small but effective confidence-building measure, welcomed by both Russia and Georgia. But it cannot function in this dangerous area without adequate and reliable protection from the Border Guard. The recent deterioration in Russia/Georgia relations following armed clashes involving Chechen rebels inside Georgia, underlines the importance of the OSCE operation in providing an independent assessment of border transit."

15.8  The Minister comments that the UK has played a leading role in developing EU policy in the South Caucasus. He says:

    "The Joint Action will help our objective of developing confidence between Russia and Georgia. It is in the form of very practical support to the Georgian Border Guard which will improve their capacity to protect the OSCE Border Monitoring Mission on the Chechen/Georgia border. Independent monitoring of the border is an important confidence-building measure and more than ever necessary, given the recent armed clashes inside Georgia involving Chechen rebels."

15.9  The financial reference amount for this proposal is _45,000.

Scrutiny

15.10  The Minister regrets that the proposal was not submitted for scrutiny earlier. In his Explanatory Memorandum he says that the Joint Action was agreed on 26 July but "regrettably, because of an administrative oversight, it was not submitted for scrutiny before agreement." In his letter, the Minister says that the UK was concerned not to block the extension of the new Joint Action which is consistent with, and strongly supports, UK policy in the region. It resulted from a recommendation by a retired British General, following an assessment mission to Georgia in May/June.

Conclusion

15.11  We thank the Minister for his full explanation of the significance of these proposals. We accept that proposals for joint actions are frequently dealt with in a speedy fashion by the Council and that it is often in the United Kingdom's interest to assist the process by lifting the scrutiny reserve. In the case of the two documents considered here, we support the proposals and clear the documents.

15.12  However, we have had a number of cases of proposals being agreed before scrutiny has been completed and we now ask the Minister to comment in a letter to us on whether he is content that the administrative arrangements in place in his Department are adequate to ensure that, where it is possible to predict that a proposal is likely to be put to an early Council, an Explanatory Memorandum is sent to this Committee in time for it to be subjected to scrutiny. We appreciate that when there is no official text to trigger the process his officials need to be particularly alert, but it is our impression, which we would be happy for him to dispel, that all too often they are taken by surprise, when they should in fact have been able to cope with the requirements of Parliament.



44  (21430) 10319/00; see HC 23-xxvi (1999-2000), paragraph 23 (26 July 2000). Back


 
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