Georgian and EU have made “a very good progress” on the foreign, security and justice matters in talks over Association Agreement, EU’s chief negotiator on Association Agreement with Georgia, said on May 18.
Georgia and EU launched talks on Association Agreement, a treaty designed to set out comprehensive framework of cooperation in areas ranging from political, economic issues to culture, in July, 2010.
Fifth round of EU-Georgia Association Agreement was held in Tbilisi on May 17-18.
Speaking at a news conference on May 18 Gunnar Wiegand, a senior official from the European External Action Service in charge of Russia, Eastern Partnership, Central Asia and regional cooperation, said that Association Agreement talks was “an ambitious and complex” process.
“This is a very complex exercise with serious commitments from both sides. It’s like a long-term marriage… we are in the engagement phase now,” said Gunnar Wiegand, who is EU’s chief negotiator with Georgia.
He said that the sides “to a large extent” reached an agreement on key principles which should be pursued by the Association Agreement.
It, however, remains to be decided whether and if so when talks on free and comprehensive free trade treaty – one of the key aspects of the Association Agreement – will be launched.
“I hope that there will come, in not too distant future, the time when we also may be able to start negotiations on a deep and comprehensive free trade area,” Wiegand said.
He said that a joint trade and investment sub-committee would meet on May 25, where the European Commission would present its assessment to which degree Georgia finalized its preparations to properly enter into negotiations on deep and comprehensive free trade agreement (DCFTA).
Critics say that EU is insisting on “a hugely demanding set of preconditions” before agreeing to open negotiations with Georgia on DCFTA.
“The steps, which have been taken so far, are not only in order to prepare properly negotiating team for deep and comprehensive free trade [talks], but it is first and foremost in order to make sure that those commitments, which Georgia would enter into, can then in fact be implemented and monitored,” Wiegand said.
In other areas of Association Agreement talks, Wiegand said, that the sides have closed 15 out of 27 chapters on economic and sectoral cooperation, including in areas such as environment; industrial policy, banking and financial services; technology. Areas, which still need to be negotiated, remain transport, employment and social policy; health; cross-border cooperation; management of public finances and taxation.
Unlike the market access area, where accepting European standards is an obligation, Wiegand said, EU was applying “pick-and-chose approach” in other areas of economic and sectoral cooperation, meaning that each partner country has the possibility of choice on how much of European norms it is willing to take.
But that principle is not applied to free trade talks, where standards are common for every partner country, he said.
“You will not engage in market access without taking over European norms,” Wiegand said. “A product [imported into the European market] should be up to the technical norms in the EU single market in order to be able to be marketed… The more this harmonization of rules goes, the more attractive this country will become for investors.”
He also said that EU was taking a differentiated approach to each of the Eastern Partnership country, to which Georgia is also part of along with five other former-Soviet states.
“We can do more for those who do more; that means those who have higher democratic standards, who have made significant progress on independent judiciary and many other areas of reform can also expect more,” Wiegand said.
Free and Fair Elections
The question about free and fair elections, Wiegand said, “goes to the heart of what it means to engage with our Eastern neighbors on the basis of common values.”
“We can go ahead better, quicker, deeper with partners, who share these common values not only in theory, but in actual practice. That is why we are so much engaged in dialogue with Georgia over human rights, over independence of judiciary, over constitutional reform and I want to highlight currently on electoral reform,” he said.
He also said that the EU was not “worried” about the outcome of any elections and it was not taking position on what type of electoral system Georgia should have. “What we are firm about is that any electoral reform should be done in a transparent and inclusive process,” he said. “We hope this dialogue [between the ruling party and opposition on electoral reform] soon will come to a concrete outcome.”