PM Garibashvili: ‘Riga Summit Success for Georgia’
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 23 May.'15 / 11:53

Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili said that the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga was a “success” for Georgia and claimed that he had received a “very clear message” from the European leaders that Georgia will be the next among EU’s Eastern partners to get visa waiver in the Schengen area.

“For Georgia it was an important and successful summit,” he told Georgian journalists in Riga after the conclusion of the two-day summit of the EU and six Eastern Partnership countries on May 22.

“Of course for other Eastern Partnership members it might not have been successful. Other members were not satisfied with the [Riga Summit] declaration. But in our case it has been obvious and it has been confirmed that Georgia achieved a significant progress – this is obvious and this is noted by everyone unanimously. I spoke with the German Chancellor, the French President today and everyone, including other EU members, note that we have made a huge progress in just several months.”

“I also want to explain for our people; this process related with visa-free regime should have started much earlier; the previous government should have started this process. As you know Moldova started this process in 2010 and now they already have visa-free travel rules [with the EU]. Our government has made really a huge leap forward and I think that for us it was a successful summit,” Garibashvili said.

“Taking into view existing context in Europe, results [of the summit] might not have been ideal for everyone. There is a difficult situation in Ukraine and the European leaders had to take into consideration this situation, tensions between Ukraine and Russia,” the Georgian PM said.

“I think that before the end of this year technical procedures will be completed and I received a very clear message [from the European leaders] that after Moldova, which was the first [among the Eastern Partnership countries to receive EU visa waiver], Georgia will be the next,” Garibashvili said.

“We may not receive [EU visa waiver] simultaneously with Ukraine – there might be decoupling and we can get [visa waiver] earlier [than Ukraine]; I did not want to speak publicly beforehand about it, but a political decision is already made that Georgia will be the next. We do not want to speak openly about it as we do not want to trigger over-expectation, but it has actually been confirmed by the European leaders.”

“We have basis for our citizens to be able to travel without visa to Europe next year; in the meantime we will do everything in order to complete all the technical procedures ahead of time,” Garibashvili said.

United National Movement (UNM) and Free Democrats parliamentary opposition parties have criticized the Georgian government for, as they say, a failure to work more actively with European partners on the one hand and to meet all criteria for visa waiver on the other. Ex-parliament speaker, Nino Burjanadze, who leads non-parliamentary opposition party Democratic Movement-United Georgia (DMUG), said the country’s foreign policy course needs “serious correction.”

“This is a direct result of incompetence of our government,” UNM MP Giorgi Gabashvili said. “On the one hand there is a problem in proper lobbying of our positions with our friends and partners, and on the other there are problems internally in the country. Because of these problems, as it seems we have a seriously setback, but we should continue moving towards Europe, we should address existing problems internally and we should definitely achieve visa waiver with Europe.”

Maia Panjikidze of Free Democrats party, who was foreign minister for two years till November 2014, said: “The government has not worked properly with partners. But the most concerning is that Georgia has not yet fulfilled all the technical [criteria], which actually became the reason that no date for granting Georgia visa waiver was named… Had we fulfilled all the technical criteria by 100%, it would have been much easier for us to get political decision [from the EU on visa waiver]. This is a huge failure of the Georgian government.”

Nino Burjanadze, the leader of DMUG party, said: “Undesirable forecasts, which I have been making about visa-free regime with the EU, turned out to be true. What we see is a complete failure of our foreign policy. We have failed not only to improve our relations with Russia, but we also have a backsliding in our cooperation with the West. We are being told for a long time already that NATO doors remain open for us – but we have failed to enter that door even once. Now we have heard a new phrase from the EU leaders that the Eastern Partnership has nothing to do with EU membership. We see an example of Turkey, which has been waiting for EU membership for dozens of years already.”

“Government’s statement, that a political decision is already made about Georgia’s European integration, means absolutely nothing; it may last for dozens of years. What we see is a complete failure of our foreign policy and our foreign policy course needs a serious correction,” Burjanadze added.

Moldova is now the only Eastern Partnership country, which enjoys visa waiver with the EU. Georgia and Ukraine are in the process of implementing Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP), a document setting out detailed reform targets that have to be met for obtaining short-term visa-free regime in the Schengen area.

Georgian leaders wanted to get “unambiguous endorsement of visa-free regime” at the Riga Summit.

EU said after two-day summit with Eastern Partnership countries in Riga that fulfillment of all reform criteria by Georgia and Ukraine will pave the way for the European Commission to propose visa waiver for the citizens of these two countries.

EU said that the next assessment by the European Commission how Georgia and Ukraine are implementing their VLAPs will be the end of 2015 – the date, which had already been set by the European Commission in its recent VLAP progress reports on Georgia and Ukraine earlier this month. The Riga Summit declaration does not include the date when the countries will become eligible to receive the EU visa waiver after all criteria are met.

Georgia started visa liberalisation dialogue with the EU in June, 2012. The EU presented VLAP to Georgia in late February, 2013.

Moldova launched the visa liberalisation dialogue with the EU in June, 2010 with VLAP presented to the country in January, 2011. After completion of VLAP fulfillment in November 2013, Moldova became eligible to EU visa waiver starting from April, 2014.

Ukraine launched visa liberalisation dialogue with the EU in 2008 and the VLAP was presented in November, 2010.

On the sideline of the two-day summit in Riga, the Georgian PM also held bilateral meeting with some of the European leaders, including with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande, as well as with his counterparts from Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Greece.

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