The Georgian Parliament ratified the Association Agreement with the EU, also including deep and comprehensive free trade area, at an extraordinary session on July 18.
The agreement, signed in Brussels on June 27, was endorsed by the Parliament unanimously with 123 votes.
President Giorgi Margvelashvili, PM Irakli Garibashvili and government members, as well as foreign ministers of Bulgaria and Latvia, Kristian Vigenin and Edgars Rinkēvičs, respectively, the second speaker of the Austrian parliament Karlheinz Kopf and EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle were in the chamber in Kutaisi as the Parliament voted for the ratification of the Association Agreement.
Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze told lawmakers that provisional application of “80 per cent of the agreement” will start from September 1.
EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle said in his address to the Georgian Parliament that the ratification was opening the way for “a swift provisional application” of the treaty, including its deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. “Immediately upon entry into force, the European Union will remove all import duties on imports from Georgia,” he said.
“Historic” was probably the most frequently used term by lawmakers from both GD ruling coalition and UNM parliamentary minority group during the hearing while they were describing significance of the ratification of this agreement.
“I am glad that I am here in the Parliament where such unanimity reins today – the government, parliamentary majority and minority groups, we are all united over a common idea,” President Margvelashvili said.
The hearing itself, preceding the vote, was used by the UNM parliamentary minority group to hit out at GD ruling coalition and also personally ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili, accusing them of “political persecutions” against UNM leaders, saying that “political retributions” will divert Georgia from the European path.
Before the invited foreign dignitaries delivered their speeches, UNM lawmakers put English-language banners in the chamber reading: “Towards EU Without Political Prisoners” and “European Georgia without Political Prisoners”.
“Regrettably Georgia’s internal political process is not European… because of politically motivated arrests,” UNM MP Giorgi Tsereteli said during the hearing.
UNM MP Giorgi Kandelaki said that 2003 Rose Revolution put Georgia back on the European track. “But it is now clear for everyone that Georgian Dream policies pose threat… to very foundation, which was laid in recent years” for Georgia’s EU integration, he said and added that “oligarch” Ivanishvili is “dismantling democracy” in Georgia.
“Collaborationist oligarch Ivanishvili’s path is not the European path. We [UNM] as the only alternative force to Ivanishvili’s collaborationist force, will soon replace him and get Georgia back on the development track,” MP Kandelaki added.
UNM MP Davit Darchiashvili said that the Association Agreement opens up new opportunities for the country. “But the bad news is that actual situation [in Georgia] is completely out of touch with the spirit of this agreement. Systemic problems are in this country. Arrest of Gigi Ugulava was the culmination of political persecutions,” he said.
“Political retribution is not a European standard,” UNM MP Giorgi Baramidze said and continued by referring to Ivanishvili: “How can we speak about democratic progress, when unauthorized person is an actual ruler of the country?”
UNM MP Nugzar Tsiklauri said referring to Ivanishvili that “silent obedience” to “Russian oligarch” would not lead Georgia to Europe.
“We are marking today the launch of a long road,” UNM MP Giorgi Gabashvili said. “The Georgian people has made this choice and not a single political force is capable to change it. If any political force tries to change this choice, it will get exactly what Ukraine’s [previous authorities] received.”
“Political persecution and retribution is not the path that will lead Georgia to Europe,” he said and told GD lawmakers: “You became hostage of your desire for revenge.”
Most of the GD lawmakers, who spoke during the hearing, opted not to focus in their speeches on the attacks from opposition MPs. “This day does not deserve to give response to these persons the way they deserve to be responded,” GD MP from Republican Party, Tina Khidasheli, said.
But one senior GD lawmaker Giorgi Volski said he can’t follow suit in not responding to “insulting” remarks of UNM MPs; he said that referring to formerly ruling party that “these people who now speak about the European values” are the ones who were violating all the fundamental European values while they were in government.
“But still I want to again thank all those people from any government and regardless of party affiliation, who worked honestly and who carried out [Association Agreement] negotiations [with the EU] professionally,” he added.
Some other GD lawmakers also acknowledged in their speeches contribution of previous authorities in negotiating the Association Agreement with the EU. GD MP Tina Khidasheli thanked ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and his government “for tireless work on international arena, for further strengthening of Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic choice, bringing it to a qualitatively higher level.” She also thanked Georgia’s first and second presidents Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Eduard Shevardnadze.
“But this day does not belong either to President Gamsakhurdia, to President Shevardnadze or President Saakashvili. This day belongs to Georgian people, those people, who have struggled for Georgia’s independence,” MP Khidasheli said.
“We have a difficult path ahead, very difficult, full of obstacles and difficulties,” she continued. “Courage and boldness, steadfastness and caution are what our current government needs most of all to make European ideals and values the way of life in Georgia… We need courage for ensuring equality for all and not for enforcing this equality by the means of law and police; we should turn equality into the way of life and only then we will become a European country.”
Many of the lawmakers, who spoke during the hearing, were noting that both the legislative and executive government will have to work hard to meet commitments under the Association Agreement.
The voluminous agreement is accompanied by about three dozen of annexes, which list hundreds of relevant EU legislation to be taken by Georgia by a specific date with timeframes ranging from two to ten years.
“The ball is in our court and now it is fully up to us to use opportunities provided by this agreement,” GD MP Gigla Agulashvili said. “With the ratification of this agreement we are carefully knocking on EU’s door… and we will keep on knocking on this door.”
GD MP Victor Dolidze, who chairs parliamentary committee for European integration, said: “I am sure the authorities will implement provisions of the agreement with the same success as it signed the agreement sooner than it was initially expected.”
The extraordinary parliamentary session was closed with the EU anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and then parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili invited the full house at a reception by saying: “Europe is good, but the ratification will not be valid if we don’t mark it with a glass [of wine].”