Georgia and the European Union held thirteenth annual meeting of their Cooperation Council in Brussels on December 18 and the first one since Georgia’s new government took office.
Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle and Foreign Minister of Cyprus Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, whose country holds EU’s rotating presidency, chaired the meeting in which Georgia was represented by Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze and State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Alexi Petriashvili.
“The EU and Georgia discussed the role of strong democratic institutions in underpinning political pluralism, media freedom, and an independent judiciary. The EU stressed the importance of ensuring that criminal prosecutions are conducted in a transparent and impartial manner, free of political motivation. The EU also flagged penal reform as a priority issue, requiring urgent action and sustained attention,” the EU said in a press statement after the meeting.
Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Commissioner Füle said that Georgia and EU were making “real progress” in negotiations over Association Agreement, which also includes the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA); the same was about visa liberalization dialogue, he said.
“These are tangible achievements,” Füle said.
He said that in respect of Association Agreement and DCFTA the EU and Georgia “are working based on a rather ambitious calendar”.
Füle stressed that this ambitious calendar “is to conclude” negotiations on Association Agreement and DCFTA by the time of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November, 2013.
He explained that “between concluding the discussions and initialing” of the agreement the EU would need “couple of months to have all the legal checking and some other technical works” and then “some other time” would be required before “we will be able to sign” these agreements.
“I hope very much to conclude discussion in 2013 and that I think will be a very good news,” Füle added.
He said that the continuity of the process by Georgia was appreciated, adding that “institutional memory” was in place, contributing meeting the “ambitious goal that we have.”
“And what we also appreciate [is] that some of, I would say, very liberal – some other people might even say ultraliberal views – are being reviewed,” Füle said and added that he had heard “some reassuring messages” about Georgia’s readiness to put its labour code in line with conventions of the International Labour Organization; he said that there had also been a progress in discussing issues related to phytosanitary.
Georgia’s Foreign Minister, Maia Panjikidze, said during the same joint press conference that “Georgia will make everything to do the homework” and, as she put it, “to sign” Association Agreement and DCFTA with the EU “for the Vilnius Summit in 2013”.
EU’s assistance to Georgia for the period of 2011-2013 amounts to EUR 181 million. But on top of that, several months ago, before the parliamentary elections, the EU mobilized additional EUR 22 million for Georgia as part of the EU’s approach of “more for more”, as Füle said, to recognize Georgia’s reform efforts.
“It would be great if I could say the same thing standing here next year,” he added.