EU’s partnership with Georgia is “strong” and the country “fully deserves its place at the forefront” of the Eastern Partnership, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius, whose country holds EU’s rotating presidency, said after the EU-Georgia Cooperation Council meeting in Brussels on December 12.
Foreign Minister, Maia Panjikidze, and other senior officials represented Georgia at the annual Cooperation Council meeting.
Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Linkevičius said that progress since the previous Cooperation Council meeting a year ago has been “steady and significant.”
He said that EU and Georgia made a “significant strides forward in cementing political association and economic integration” at the Vilnius Eastern Partnership summit last month, when Georgia initialed Association Agreement, also including deep and comprehensive free trade area, with the EU.
He said that in a very short period of time Georgia has made “a very good progress” in implementing its visa liberalization action plan.
Noting democratic 2012 parliamentary and 2013 presidential elections, Linkevičius said that the EU now looks forward to local elections in Georgia next year “as a new opportunity to confirm welcomed trend.”
Linkevičius said that the EU has urged Georgia to continue paying “careful attention to defending political pluralism, media freedom.”
He said that the EU has particularly emphasized on the importance of having “evidence-based” and transparent criminal prosecutions free from political motivation, adding that the EU will continue monitoring situation in Georgia in this regard.
“EU flagged robust defense of the rights of people belonging to minorities as a priority, which should receive sustained attention,” the Lithuanian Foreign Minister said.
“We have a busy year ahead with many challenges, but we will face them together – that’s very important. Georgia fully deserves its place at the forefront of the Eastern Partnership,” Linkevičius said.
Asked about Russia’s “pressure” on its neighbors, Linkevičius, who after the press conference left for Kiev, said that it’s “unacceptable”.
“We believe that the right of our partners to choose the way to go not just should be respected, but sometimes should be protected,” he said.
Asked what are the main challenges Georgia faces on its path of association with the EU, Linkevičius responded: “It is very important to focus on how to withstand this pressure; it’s also effective governance; also fulfillment of what we have just agreed – to prepare for signature [of AA/DCFTA], we have some time, but not much time, so we have to focus and be ready at least by next fall to sign the Association Agreement.”
“With efficient, operational performance we can really withstand all the pressure and all the challenges which could be ahead and it’s not a big secret that we can really anticipate not an easy life, but no one promised it [would] be easy so let’s don’t complain,” he added.
Foreign Minister, Maia Panjikidze, said that Georgia’s main message to the EU is that “Georgia irreversibly follows its European integration course.”
“At the same time EU’s strong political support is essential especially in the coming year when we have to mobilize our joint efforts to sign the Association Agreement and DCFTA by September  and to prepare for the implementation phase,” she said.
Also on December 12, Panjikidze and Linkevičius signed EU-Georgia protocol on framework agreement on Georgia’s participation in EU’s programmes.
“We have never before offered so many programs to the countries covered by the European Neighborhood Policy,” Linkevičius said.