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". − Mr President-in-Office of the Council, ladies and gentlemen, I firstly want to welcome the European Parliament’s political commitment to Georgia. I also want to start by congratulating the efforts of the French Presidency, in particular the speed of the actions taken at the moment of crisis. The latter agreement will of course also be linked to a readmission agreement and it remains essential to encourage Georgia’s commitment to democracy, rule of law and freedom of expression. It is crucial to speed up the democratic reforms and political pluralism. As regards stabilising security and implementing the ceasefire agreement, we are effectively relying on the civilian observation mission organised under the European Security and Defence Policy, as already mentioned. This must be closely linked with other EU actions, such as reconstruction. Now for some comments on relations with Russia. Russia’s actions raise wider questions about the nature of our relations in both the short and long term. Its failure, to date, to honour the six-point plan brokered by the presidency and its decision to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia are against the basic principles that underpin international relations. We have been seeking to rework our relations into a modern partnership to reflect our growing economic integration. I think fundamental mutual interests are at stake – economic interdependence, the need to find common approaches on non-proliferation or counterterrorism or many other international questions – so keeping channels of communication open with Russia was – and is – vital. However, relations with Russia cannot remain ‘business as usual’ in the light of recent events. Therefore it was important to strike the right balance between maintaining channels of communication and sending a clear signal to Russia. I think the right approach is for our existing joint work and dialogues to continue but for new initiatives to be put on hold. Therefore the Commission will now review all new initiatives under way to deepen our relations, which then will allow the Council to draw conclusions ahead of the Nice Summit in November. Regarding long-term implications, recent events will give new importance to some areas of policy. Our commitment in June to developing an Eastern Partnership and a European Neighbourhood Policy does indeed demonstrate the EU’s legitimate interests in the region. These policies underline the fact that we will not accept new dividing lines in Europe and that partners like Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova can count on our support for their territorial integrity and sovereignty. We are ready to accelerate and also to submit as soon as possible new proposals for a new Eastern Partnership, certainly before the end of the year but maybe even in the late autumn. Secondly – and this is my last point – energy is at the heart of our relations with Russia. What we do on energy inside Europe will directly shape our relations with Russia, so we must keep up the momentum to develop a coherent and strategic energy policy for Europe. In conclusion, recent events have posed a real challenge to the European Union. In the coming months, I think we will need to continue to show that we can rise together to the tasks ahead. Today has been a very important marker. Only through coherent strategy, united positions and concerted action can we defend European interests and values. I applaud Parliament’s commitment, and trust that we will all play our parts in ensuring that the Union maintains a strong and a united front. It is true that the European Union, through the negotiation of a ceasefire and the prompt delivery of humanitarian aid, in particular by the Commission, has proven its efficiency. Today’s European Council was, in my opinion, very important and, given the complexity of the issues raised by this conflict, the European Union must and had to react collectively and define, by mutual agreement, the appropriate responses. I will be brief because a lot has already been said. In my opinion, our meeting today sent out a very clear message on Georgia, aimed at both Georgia and also Russia, in terms of our capacity to respond to crisis situations and the unity of the European Union. That is what we have always demanded. Secondly, our unity is also expressed through the defence of our values. Since the start of the crisis, as I have already said, the Commission has contributed to the EU’s efforts aimed at stabilising the humanitarian and security situation in Georgia in, I believe, a fairly significant way. In terms of humanitarian aid, we immediately made available EUR 6 million which should allow the immediate needs of all the civilian populations affected by the conflict to be met. To this sum must be added nearly EUR 9 million made available in the meantime by the Member States. We have therefore managed to cover all the immediate humanitarian needs. As regards aid for reconstruction, last week we sent a Commission expert mission to make an initial assessment of the needs and, according to our initial evaluations, as Bernard Kouchner has already said, which do not include the areas under the control of Russia, the property damage is much less than anticipated. Around EUR 15 million will be needed for reconstruction and repair. However, the most pressing need is in relation to the fate of the 22 000 people recently displaced by the conflict. Around EUR 110 million will be required to meet their needs. It is important that the European Union shows that it is ready to provide real support to Georgia, as evidence of our political determination to strengthen our relations. First of all, the Council has decided to plan a substantial increase in our financial aid to Georgia, particularly for reconstruction, as I have just mentioned, and for the refugees. We are currently in the process of assessing the reserves that could be rapidly mobilised from the 2008 appropriations. However, there is no doubt that, without an extraordinary budget appropriation, we will be unable to mobilise the necessary funds. I am already delighted at the general political support that we have received today from President Pöttering in this regard. A conference of international donors will also be needed to send out a strong signal of confidence to investors. In my opinion, it is also more important than ever to strengthen the instruments of the neighbourhood policy in order to stabilise Georgia. Based on the European Council conclusions, we will step up our efforts to prepare, once the conditions are met, to create a free trade area and to facilitate the issue of short-term visas."@en1

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