- ‘Timing of trade talks in Georgia’s hands’;
- ‘EU does not recognize occupation’;
- Calls for Georgia to apply for Energy Community membership;
- Saakashvili: 'no alternative for Georgia, but to be in Europe';
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that although “significant progress” had been made on legislative and regulatory measures, Georgia needs “more efforts” on their implementation to launch talks on deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with EU.
Speaking to reporters after meeting with President Saakashvili in Brussels on November 17, Barroso said, that timing of launch of talks “is very much in the hands of our Georgian counterparts.”
“I count on their determination to begin quickly,” he said at a joint news conference with President Saakashvili.
Saakashvili thanked Barroso for helping in finalizing EU-Georgia visa facilitation agreement and expressed hope that “one day we will get to visa free travel, as well as what is more important [to] the free trade agreement.”
“We hope, that we’ll do our homework, do our deep, free trade agreement opening already within the next few months, provided the negotiations proceeds well,” Saakashvili added.
Saakashvili, who frequently reiterates in public speeches that Georgia wants to be “European, democratic Singapore”, also said at the news conference in Brussels: “Georgia’s choice is Europe; there is no alternative for Georgia, but to be in Europe and hopefully Europe will appreciate that and will more look at Georgia not just as a neighbor country, but also eventually as a future integral part of this great Union.”
He, however, also said that there was a long way towards that goal and that Georgia was “taking step-by-step approach.”
Barroso hailed President Saakashvili for “number of achievements during recent years in bringing forward an agenda of political and economic reforms.”
“We encourage Georgian authorities to continue efforts to increase political pluralism and consolidate political institutions,” he added.
He said that the European Commission would continue to implement its post-August war assistance package of EUR 483.5 million of which, Barroso said, about 97% was already committed.
EU does not ‘Recognize Occupation’
Barroso reiterated EU’s support to Georgia’s territorial integrity and said that EU’s position was “quite clear” that it did not “recognize the occupation of any part of Georgia”.
“It is of course a very sensitive issue. We have always kept a position of principle. President Saakashvili just said, we defend on a matter of principle, the integrity, the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of Georgia and we have made it clear that we do not recognize the occupation of any part of Georgia, this is quite clear and we will keep that position,” Barroso said while responding to a question asked by a Georgian journalist.
Mentioning of the term “occupation” by Barroso became a top story of the Georgian nationwide broadcasters in their morning and noon news bulletins on November 18.
At one point, while reporting on the matter, all three major Georgian television stations - public broadcaster’s First Channel; Rustavi 2 TV and Imedi TV - have used the similar wording: “Importance of this fact [mentioning of the term ‘occupation’ by Barroso] is further demonstrated [in the fact], that the term ‘occupation’ has never been mentioned by former French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner; as it seems, the EU has reviewed situation in Georgia once again after his [Kouchner’s] resignation from the post.”
The same wording was used in a statement posted on the Georgian President's website, but later this part was removed from the statement.
‘Georgia’s Crucial Energy Transit Role’
Barroso also said that diversification of energy sources, in particular through developing Southern corridor was “a key priority for the EU.”
“We attach great importance to the crucial transit role played by Georgia. I encourage Georgia to formally apply for membership to the Energy Community,” Barroso said, referring to a group, created in 2005 to ensure close cooperation within the EU and neighboring countries in energy sector.
The European Commission President’s these remarks calling on Georgia “to formally apply for membership to the Energy Community” were interpreted by the Georgian television stations as a call to make a formal appeal to join the EU; the similar misinterpretation was then also picked up by some Georgian news agencies.
Barroso said that joining the Energy Community, which was established with an objective to create a stable regulatory and market framework in energy sector, would enable Georgia to reinforce its “attractiveness for energy investments.”
Georgia, like Norway, Turkey and Ukraine, has a status of “observer” in the Energy Community.