Latvia wants the Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit in Riga in late May to become “another milestone” for Georgia’s “closer integration” into Europe, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said after talks with his Georgian counterpart Tamar Beruchashvili in Tbilisi on November 26.
Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Rinkēvičs, who is accompanying Latvian President Andris Bērziņš on his two-day official visit to Georgia, laid out some of the targets Latvia wants to achieve at the Riga Summit planned for May 21-22, 2015.
“First of all I think that Georgia’s progress must be acknowledged in Riga,” said the Latvian Foreign Minister, whose country will be holding EU’s rotating presidency in the first half of next year.
“We see that Georgia has made enormous efforts in reforms. There are also some areas where some particular attention should be focused – the judicial system,” he said.
“We have to differentiate our Eastern partners and clearly Georgia and Moldova are frontrunners in the Eastern Partnership and we believe that in Riga summit there is a need for a roadmap for those two countries when it comes to their deeper and broader cooperation with the European Union,” Rinkēvičs said.
He said that the roadmap should include more effort from the EU to assist Georgia including in the context of implementation of the Association Agreement, particularly the deep and comprehensive free trade part of that treaty.
Rinkēvičs also said that Latvia wants to have “substantial aid package, as well as a roadmap” for Ukraine, and “very flexible relations” with three other Eastern Partnership members – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus.
“Second, we definitely want to see Riga Summit as a visa liberalisation summit with those countries that are fulfilling our [EU] criteria,” the Latvian Foreign Minister said.
The EU said in late October that Georgia fulfilled first-phase requirements under the visa liberalisation dialogue with the EU, which paved the way for the launch of the second phase. The first phase benchmarks included the overall policy framework, involving adoption of relevant legislation, and the second phase benchmarks involve putting into practice effective and sustainable implementation of these relevant measures and legislation. Georgia now wants to get a positive assessment from the EU on the implementation of the second-phase benchmarks by the time of the Riga Summit.
“If all the issues are solved and there is a positive [European] Commission report, we will do our best to ensure that Riga Summit becomes a summit, where visa liberalisation program is enacted with Georgia, hopefully also with Ukraine; also very much looking forward for the same with Belarus – of course Belarus started the preparatory work a bit late, however, they are doing a great progress,” the Latvian Foreign Minister said.
“I also hope that we will be able to expand cooperation between the EU and Georgia in such fields like common security and defense policy, as well as energy policy,” Rinkēvičs said.
“We are ready to work with our friends in Georgia so that Riga summit becomes another milestone in closer cooperation, in closer integration of Georgia into the Euro-Atlantic community,” he said.
He also said that as preparation process for the summit is underway, Latvia is open to suggestions from Georgia.
With Georgian colleague Tamar Beruchashvili signing Memorandum of Understanding between MFAs of Georgia and Latvia pic.twitter.com/HSUbe7sXZT— Edgars Rinkēvičs (@edgarsrinkevics) November 26, 2014
Latvian President Andris Bērziņš, who met his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili earlier on November 26, said that the Eastern Partnership will be among “top priorities” of Latvia’s EU presidency.
“I hope that Eastern Partnership summit in Riga organized next year will be able to emphasize significant progress of Georgia as regards to reforms,” he said.
President Bērziņš is accompanied by seven ministers and over 70 representatives of the Latvian business community, who participated on November 26 in a joint Latvian-Georgian business forum in Tbilisi. A business forum will also be held in Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast, which the Georgian and Latvian Presidents plan to visit on November 27.
“One of the main purposes of our visit is strengthening and deepening of economic cooperation [with Georgia]. I think that this visit may be a turning point towards further expansion of our cooperation,” President Bērziņš said.
In Tbilisi the Latvian President also met PM Irakli Garibashvili and parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili.
Speaking at a joint news conference after the meeting with his Georgian counterpart, President Bērziņš said that the regional security was among the issues discussed.
He said that newly signed treaty between Russia and Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia on alliance and strategic partnership will “negatively affect regional stability.”
The Latvian President, however, also said: “We have to find ways how to stabilize our relations with our neighbors, including Russia. We will do our best to stabilize those [relations], to have long-term peaceful and stable relations; it will take time.”
President Margvelashvili said that Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova “should not be punished for their free choice.”
“The choice of Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova should be protected,” the Georgian President said.