European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Štefan Füle, said pace of engagement between the EU and Georgia “is accelerating” and called on Tbilisi to get to the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in late November as a “stronger democracy.”
Füle met President Saakashvili in Tbilisi on July 9; he will hold talks with the Armenian leadership in Yerevan on July 10 before again arriving in Georgia to participate in a conference in Black Sea resort town of Batumi on July 11-12, where he will meet PM Bidzina Ivanishvili and other government members, as well as lawmakers and civil society representatives. Foreign Ministers of Bulgaria, Estonia and Slovakia are also expected to arrive in Batumi to participate in the tenth conference “Georgia’s European Way”.
In opening remarks at a joint news conference with President Saakashvili, the European Commissioner pointed out at importance of “constructive cohabitation” and called for respect of state institutions and for refraining “from instrumentalising them for partisan purposes.”
“In order to make Georgia’s transition a genuine success, we still need to see further strengthening of its democratic institutions and deeper efforts to prevent polarization of the society,” he said.
“The EU fully respects the pledge of the new government to the Georgian people to address any legacies of the past, and we trust that this will be done in full conformity with Georgia's international obligations and European values,” the European Commissioner said. “Ensuring that justice is fair and free of any political interference is of paramount importance, but of course without allowing impunity either.”
Georgia expects to initial Association Agreement, also including deep and comprehensive free trade treaty, with the EU at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November.
President Saakashvili said at the joint news conference with Commissioner Füle: “We are doing our best to put Georgia in better shape and good shape for the Vilnius summit.”
He also said that it will be “the last summit for me as the president” and it’s his strong interest for Georgia to succeed at the summit.
Saakashvili, however, also said that while under his government the goal was signing of the Association Agreement by the time of Vilnius summit, now the goal was downgraded to initialing the agreement – a technical step before the official signature.
Commissioner Füle expressed hope to finalize “in the weeks to come” remaining issues concerning economic integration part of the Association Agreement, which, he said, will create condition for initialing this treaty. “There is also a progress [with] the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan,” he said.
“Success of the Vilnius [Summit] could be guaranteed not only by initials, but also by Georgia arriving to the summit as the stronger democracy,” he said.
Responding to a question on legal proceedings against former government officials, in particular the detention of ex-PM and former interior minister Vano Merabishvili, who is now UNM’s secretary general, Füle referred to a statement made jointly with EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, on May 22 after Merabishvili was arrested in which the EU officials said that they follow the legal proceedings against the former officials and that the EU expects Georgian authorities will pursue justice in these cases “impartially and free from political motivation.”
“No one is above the law, but at the same time it needs to be created conditions for free, transparent and impartial process,” Füle said on July 9.
President Saakashvili said that it was “not a normal situation” when the secretary general of the main opposition party was detained.
“There were complaints against my government that the justice [system] was not fully independent, we know that. But not a single political leader has been detained throughout recent years [when UNM was in government],” Saakashvili said.
“Of course no one should have a syndrome of impunity – neither the previous government nor the current one, but at the same time justice [system] should not be used for political purposes, because in that case we will lose major things; I don’t want Georgia to slide back in achieving great goals of my life – that is Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic choice. The upcoming Vilnius summit will be the last for me as the president and I do not want to arrive at the summit with Georgia having problems; so we should work together in order to rule out the problems,” Saakashvili said.