European Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, said it is important for Georgia to remain focused on full implementation of the Association Agreement with the European Union.
In a key note speech at the Tbilisi-based Ilia State University on January 16, Commissioner Hahn spoke about the benefits of the agreement. He also noted importance of informing the society about the challenges that the Association Agreement with the EU could bring. He also said that the Georgia government “is really working hard to fulfill” the necessary criteria for achieving visa free travel rules with the EU.
“Let me highlight that the Association Agreement is not an accession agreement and this is not an accession process at this stage. However, the [Association] Agreement leaves the door open for the future progressive developments in the EU-Georgia relations,” Commissioner Hahn said.
“But [with] implementing this agreement fully – not only the technical aspects of the agreement, but also crucially its spirit – the Georgia people will already be benefiting from many of the advantages, which the EU membership would bring. So it is important to remain focused on the key challenge, which is to implement the agreement in full over the coming years,” he said.
In her address to the same audience at the Ilia State University, Georgian Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili said that although the Association Agreement is not an accession agreement, “this is not really the final goal on our path of EU integration.”
“This is the start of an interesting and difficult path towards the EU-membership. I am absolutely convinced that Georgia will be successful on this path,” Beruchashvili said.
Commission Hahn said that to fully benefit from what the EU offers, Georgia will “need to continue to pursue efforts to transform its society, deepen democracy and modernize economy”, which, he said, “requires a clear understanding of the task.”
The government, he said, has to inform the society both about benefits and challenges that the association with the EU could bring.
During his visit to Georgia, Commissioner Hahn met on January 15 with PM Irakli Garibashvili and Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili; on January 16 he met President Giorgi Margvelashvili; parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili, as well as opposition and civil society representatives.
Also on January 16, the EU Commission met head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II.
“Citizens need to remain pro-active and mobilized to help move the country forward and to ensure the Georgian public opinion remains one of the most pro-European among the eastern partners,” the EU Commissioner told the audience at the Ilia State University.
He said that the Association Agreement “is not about competing or interfering with Georgia’s relations with its neighbors.”
“Georgia has the potential to act as an example to others of what a country can achieve when it takes reform efforts seriously,” the EU Commissioner said.
“The government will need to reach out the Parliament, opposition and civil society to build the national consensus in favor of measures that will guarantee more prosperous Georgia,” Hahn said.
Asked what Georgia can expect from the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga in May, Commissioner Hahn said: “I think there is a significant progress on everything, which is related to the future visa liberalization.”
EU is expected to conclude assessment of implementation of second phase of Georgia’s visa liberalisation action plan in March. Commissioner Hahn expressed hope that there will be a positive outcome.
“I am clear – our aim is visa liberalisation, but here we have to meet certain conditions; we are both working on them. I can only confirm that the Georgian government is not only committed to it, but is really working hard to fulfill the necessary conditions,” Hahn said.
He said that after the European Commission takes its decision on visa liberalisation, it should then be taken to EU-member states for further discussions, which “usually have political dimension.”
Foreign Minister Beruchashvili said that Georgia’s “task is to receive positive recommendation” over visa liberalisation from the European Commission by the Riga summit. She said that she’s confident that there will also be political support from the EU-member states.
“I am sure that this process will make Georgian passport more attractive for our compatriots living in the occupied regions,” the Georgian Foreign Minister said.