- ‘Putin promised not to disturb’ Georgia’s Association Agreement;
- PM: ‘We will sign Association Agreement without any problems’;
- No membership offer for now, but ‘let’s offer European perspective’;
- EUR 19 mln to help implement Association Agreement;
- EU pledged to step up its financial assistance;
- PM: ‘Swift progress on visa free regime is of major importance’;
Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili and President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso at a joint news conference in Brussels on May 22, 2014. Photo: European Commission Audiovisual Services
Offering membership to Georgia “is not possible” now, but “a European perspective” should be offered and the Association Agreement, which will be signed next month, means that Georgia and the EU will be “as close as possible”, President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso said after meeting PM Irakli Garibashvili in Brussels on May 21.
Garibashvili, accompanied by seven other Georgian ministers, paid a two-day visit to Brussels, where the members of the Georgian government and the European Commission held a meeting on May 21.
The visit was part of exchange of high-level visits in the lead up to signing of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, also including deep and comprehensive free trade area, planned for June 27 in Brussels. President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy visited Tbilisi last week and the President of European Commission will visit Georgia on June 13.
The European Commission held a similar meeting with governments of Ukraine and Moldova on May 13 and May 15, respectively.
Also on May 21 Georgia and the EU signed an agreement to provide Tbilisi EUR 19 million to help in implementation of the Association Agreement. Earlier this month the EU allocated EUR 30 million for Georgia under ‘more for more’ mechanism, which provides additional funds, on top of already committed, to those Eastern Partnership countries which make more progress in reforms.
The EU has also pledged to step up its financial assistance to Georgia for the period 2014-2017 to accompany the implementation of the Association Agreement. EU assistance to Georgia amounted to over EUR 450 million in 2007-2013.
The EU and Georgia have also finalized Association Agenda, which is a set of jointly agreed priorities for the period 2014-2016 to help prepare Georgia for the successful implementation of the Association Agreement.
Speaking at joint news conference after the meeting with the European Commission President, PM Garibashvili said that this agreement is “a master plan for Georgia's Europeanization.”
Barroso said during the press conference that the Association Agreement will “seal Georgia's European path, because we believe in the European perspective of your country.”
Asked about future perspective of EU-Georgia relations, Barroso responded that offering membership to Georgia for now “is not possible.”
“But we’ll be as close as possible,” he said. “I don’t think we should pre-judge on the future. I believe Georgia and the Georgian people want to feel closer the European Union, to the European way of life… The Prime Minister [Garibashvili] told us very clearly: ‘we want to be closer to the European Union’. So let’s work for that. Let’s not now commit to specific dates or specific goals, but let’s offer to our Georgian friends… a European perspective.”
“Certainly this [Association] Agreement is not going to be the last post in our relations,” Barroso said.
Similar remarks were also made by President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, in Tbilisi when he said on May 14 that the Association Agreement “is not the final goal in our cooperation.”
But the joint statement following the meeting between the European Commission and the Georgian government reads on this issue: “Georgia underlined that the Association Agreement is not the final goal in the EU and Georgia's mutual cooperation.”
Barroso also said that the Association Agreement “keeps the future open” and then it depends on the reforms and the progress that Georgia has to make. He also said that the EU has been through “a very important transformation” and number of its members almost doubled over the last decade to 28.
PM Garibashvili responded smiling that Georgia will “do everything” to become the 29th.
‘Putin Promised Not to Disturb’ Association Agreement with Georgia
Asked about Russia in the context of EU’s upcoming signature of the Association Agreements with Moldova and Georgia on June 27, the European Commission President responded that he and President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy “explicitly” told Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, when the latter visited Brussels in January, “not to disturb” negotiations and agreements that the EU was preparing with Georgia. Barroso said that Putin “promised” that he would not.
“So we expect the Russian authorities to fully respect the sovereign right of Georgia to conclude the agreement with the European Union,” Barroso added.
Responding to the same question, PM Garibashvili said: “I am more than confident that we will sign the Association Agreement without any complications, without any problems.”
The Georgian PM also said that Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Georgian special envoy for relations with Russia, Zurab Abashidze, that Moscow has no intention to interfere in the process of signing the Association Agreement between Georgia and the EU.
Reforms and Democracy
The joint statement of the European Commission and the Georgian government, released after their meeting, notes “importance of holding the 15 June local elections to the same high democratic standards as parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013 for the continued democratic development in the country.”
“Both sides agreed that the democratic opposition has an important role to play in the further consolidation of democracy in Georgia,” reads the statement.
It also said that the EU recognises “far-reaching reforms in the justice sector” carried out by Georgia.
“Both sides agreed that it was important to take further steps to sustain the positive results of these reform efforts, including measures to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, as well as the accountability and democratic oversight of law enforcement agencies,” reads the joint statement. “They agreed on the need for transparency and impartiality in criminal investigations.”
It also notes importance of religious tolerance and respect for minority rights.
“In this regard, the European Commission welcomed the Georgian Government's adoption of anti-discrimination legislation and of the National Human Rights Strategy and Action Plan. The European Commission confirmed its offer of assistance the Government of Georgia in the latter's implementation,” the statement says.
Adoption of the anti-discrimination law was one of those requirements, which Georgia has undertaken under its Visa Liberalisation Action Plan in order to be granted short-term visa-free regime by the EU.
PM Garibashvili said that “swift progress on a visa free regime is of major importance.”
“Georgia has demonstrated steady progress in implementing the Visa Liberalization Action Plan and is committed to finalizing the necessary reforms in the coming months,” the Georgian PM said.
In the joint statement the European Commission welcomed Georgia's “the significant progress achieved so far” in visa liberalisation dialogue and “encouraged Georgia to continue pursuing its reforms in all areas relevant for the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, including human rights and data protection.”
The European Commission thanked Georgia for planned contribution to EU’s military mission in the Central African Republic. EU welcomed this “as a concrete demonstration of Georgia's firm commitment to the path of political association with the EU.”
The Georgian delegation, led by the PM, included Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze, Economy Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Energy Minister Kakha Khaladze, Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani, State Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Alexi Petriashvili, Agriculture Minister Shalva Pipia, and State Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Paata Zakareishvili.