Georgian, EU flags outside the European Commission building in Brussels, November 17, 2014.
At the first meeting of the EU-Georgia Association Council, a highest formal body overseeing implementation of the Association Agreement, the EU noted Georgia’s “important progress”, but warned against use of the prosecution for political purposes and called for avoiding “political retribution, confrontation and polarization.”
PM Irakli Garibashvili led the Georgian delegation at the meeting in Brussels on Monday evening, which was chaired by EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, was among the EU officials present at the meeting. The three appeared jointly before the press to make statements, but they did not take questions, citing that they had to continue with the meeting.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini noted in her statement Georgia’s progress in visa liberalisation dialogue with the EU, expressed appreciation for Georgia’s contribution to the EU mission in the Central African Republic and hailed Georgia’s “further important progress in its democratic development” following 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections, and added that EU stressed the need for the Georgian authorities to follow recommendations by the OSCE international election observer mission.
“In this regard the EU underlined the need to improve the political climate. Political retribution, confrontation and polarization should be avoided and space for opposition and cross party dialogue should be ensured,” Mogherini said.
“We spoke about the need for Georgia to continue efforts to reform the judiciary and to ensure the rule of law. Criminal investigations and prosecutions should be evidence-based, transparent, free of political motivation, impartial, and adhering strictly to principles of due process in line with the commitments undertaken by Georgia in the Association Agreement itself,” she said.
“Any form of instrumentalization of the prosecution for political purposes must be avoided and prosecutors should follow legally based procedures strictly and prepare evidence professionally. Politicians should refrain from comments on ongoing investigations and on cases in the court and the executive must respect decisions of the judiciary,” the EU foreign policy chief said.
She said that the EU welcomed adoption of the national strategy on human rights and its action plan, as well as of the anti-discrimination law by Georgia.
“We urge Georgia to pursue further reforms to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including of persons belonging to minorities and vulnerable groups,” Mogherini said.
“Partnership between the European Union and Georgia is the strong one and it will become even stronger, I believe, in the coming years as we work to implement the [Association] Agreement,” she said.
Also on November 17 the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament recommended to the European Parliament to ratify the Association Agreement with Georgia in its vote planned in December. The foreign affairs committee gave its go-ahead to the ratification with 48 votes to 1, with 3 abstentions. The committee also endorsed a draft resolution, which welcomes Georgia’s reforms to strengthen democratic institutions, but also notes the need for transparent prosecutions free from political motivations and warns against misuse of judicial system for political purposes.
The EU foreign policy chief also said that issues related to Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were also discussed. “Far-reaching treaty”, which is currently negotiated between Russia and the authorities in breakaway Abkhazia, is a source of “mutual concern” for Georgia and the EU, Mogherini said, adding that reports of a similar undertaking with South Ossetian de facto authorities was also a source of concern. She said that such steps do not contribute to the de-escalation of situation in the region.
Reiterating EU’s support to Georgia’s territorial integrity, Mogherini also said that the EU will “continue to raise the issue pro-actively in our contacts with the Russian Federation.”
PM Irakli Garibashvili said that the EU-Georgia Association Council meeting provides an opportunity to assess already made achievements and to set agenda for the road ahead towards the Riga Summit – the Latvian capital will host the Eastern Partnership summit next year as Latvia will be holding EU’s rotating presidency for the first half of 2015.
PM Garibashvili said that the Association Agreement is “a master plan for Georgia’s Europeanization and modernization.”
“The Association Agreement is not a final goal in our cooperation,” he said. “I have an ambition to make my country a success story in the region, using the transformative power of the European integration process. We regard the Association Agreement as the essential basis to build the truly European, stable, functional and pluralist democracy with effective checks and balances and strong democratic institutions.”
The PM also said that Georgia is committed to meet “all the benchmarks” of the second phase of visa liberalization action plan by the time of Riga Summit.
The EU said late last month that Georgia fulfilled first-phase requirements under the visa liberalisation dialogue with the EU, which paved the way for the launch of the second phase. The first phase benchmarks included the overall policy framework, involving adoption of relevant legislation, and the second phase benchmarks involve putting into practice effective and sustainable implementation of these relevant measures and legislation. Experts from EU-member states will make evaluation mission to assess implementation of second phase benchmarks on November 24.
EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy, Johannes Hahn, said that the signing of the Association Agreement demonstrated EU’s recognition of Georgia’s reform efforts and its European aspirations.
“The focus should now be on implementing the necessary reforms so that Georgia’s aspirations can come closer and closer to reality,” Hahn said.
The Association Council meeting, he said, focused on challenges and also added that the implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, which is part of the Association Agreement, is “so far going smoothly.”
“Georgia continues to be in the forefront of the Eastern Partnership – the fact recognized not only in words, but also with the additional financial support,” he said.
The Georgian delegation at the meeting also included new Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili; new State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Davit Bakradze; Economy Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili; Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, and State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Paata Zakareishvili.
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