- AA will be followed by ‘more intensive international scrutiny’;
- ‘Demands on Georgia will increase’;
- ‘At the end of process, Georgia will increasingly resemble EU-member state’;
- ‘Georgia is lucky to have such a strong national pro-European consensus’
- Govt can ‘count on pro-European credentials’ of parliamentary opposition;
Addressing the Georgian Parliament just before it unanimously ratified the Association Agreement on July 18, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle said that it was a “momentous step” in Georgia’s history.
“Using the Association Agreement as its foundation, Georgia will introduce reforms which will progressively bring the country into the European mainstream – economically, socially, and politically,” Füle said.
In his 13-minute speech before the Georgian lawmakers in the chamber in Kutaisi, the EU Commissioner said that although the Association Agreement is not an accession agreement with the EU, its full implementation will make Georgia “increasingly resemble” a EU-member state.
“The [Association] Agreement leaves the way open for future progressive developments in European Union-Georgia relations. By implementing this Agreement fully Georgia will create ‘facts on the ground’,” he said. “At the end of the process, Georgia will increasingly resemble a member state. This would create a very different context in which to have this discussion. But most importantly it would mean that the Georgian people would already benefit from many of the advantages which European Union membership would bring. So I urge you to remain focused on the key challenge, which is to implement the agreement in full over the coming years.”
The EU Commissioner urged the Georgian lawmakers “to devote equal energy not just to the technical aspects of the agreement but also to its spirit.”
“I know that Georgians take their politics very seriously, and sometimes very personally,” he said. “Feelings run high, and it can be hard to put differences to one side and to search for consensus. But the European agenda offers a platform for such consensus. Strong institutions, and a firm attachment to principles rather than people, are essential.”
He said that with the signature, ratification and provisional application of this agreement, “the demands on Georgia will increase.”
“This includes not less, but a more intensive international scrutiny,” Füle said.
“Georgia is lucky to have such a strong national consensus in favor of integration with Europe, and an active and vibrant civil society plays a special role in this regard. The government could also count on the strong pro-European credentials of the opposition in this house,” he said, refereeing to UNM parliamentary minority group.
“Given the difficult situation in the wider region, I believe that Georgia’s pro-European forces have a strong interest in uniting. You have a common interest in capitalizing on this great potential for unity,” Füle said. “I urge all of you to reflect a spirit of unity and solidarity in the execution of your responsibilities as Georgia's leaders. Disagreement and debate are essential in a healthy democracy, along with respect for divergent views and above all for the institutions of democracy, and for the law.”
He said that he’s confident Georgia is ready for challenges it will face along the way of implementing the agreement.
“Your commitment over recent years, under successive governments, to pursue ambitious reforms leaves no room for doubt,” Füle said. “Georgians know only too well that rewards come to those who put in the effort. But this is your choice, and you can count on the European Union to support you in that choice.”
“I know that some Georgians fear that implementing the Association Agreement will prove costly. No one should be under the illusion that these reforms will be easy. Investment will be needed to meet new regulatory standards, for example. But some benefits will quickly become apparent,” he said.
He said that although Georgian agriculture has enormous potential, it requires further modernisation.
“It can certainly compete on the European and the global stage, but to do that it will need reform and investment, not least in skills among the workforce,” Füle said. “Reforms take time. We know this, and that is why the Association Agreement includes transitional periods to give Georgia the time it needs to complete the process. In some areas – including agriculture – the transitional phase will last for a number of years.”
He said that the ratification of the agreement by the Georgian Parliament would open 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. Georgian companies which export to the European Union will benefit right from the start. Companies will also benefit immediately from simpler conditions for establishing their businesses in the European Union and in Georgia. Not only does this help Georgian companies who wish to do business in the European Union; it will also boost investment and create jobs in Georgia with immediate effect,” Füle said.
Bulgarian and Latvian foreign ministers, who were present in the chamber, also addressed the Parliament.
“Georgia has been a frontrunner in the region and beyond in establishing democratic institutions and implementing economic reforms,” Bulgarian Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin said.
He said that the Association Agreement “is not the end point of our cooperation.” According to Vigenin the Bulgarian Parliament is likely to ratify the Association Agreement between Georgia and the EU next week.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said that Georgia and EU Eastern Partnership will constitute an important part of Latvian EU presidency; Latvia will assume EU’s rotating presidency from January, 2015.