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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Speech in the European Parliament in the debate on Georgia
European Parliament/ Strasbourg
26 October 2012
I am very glad to have the chance to address the Honourable Members today. You contributed to the observation mission conducted in Georgia by OSCE-ODIHR, and to the balanced and highly pertinent report of preliminary observations which was released on 2nd October. I want to signal my appreciation for that work, and for the ongoing commitment of all of you to Georgia’s long-term democratic development.
I can only support the assessment made by President Schulz – these elections were, in the main, competitive, free and peaceful. They indicate growing democratic maturity and underscore Georgia's commitment to its democratic path.
Of course, there will be important lessons to learn from these elections, and we will await the final report of OSCE-ODIHR with great interest. We should not forget the key issues that preoccupied us in the run-up to the polls – freedom of assembly, access to the media, campaign financing, and the use of administrative resources. It is important to remain vigilant on all these issues. I am glad that the European Union was able to contribute to the quality of these elections through media monitoring, parallel voter tabulation, and other forms of assistance.
There has been a change of government, but it is important to stress continuity in some critical areas. Georgia’s foreign policy continues to be oriented towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration - it is important to underline that clearly, and from the start. The new government has also already very clearly expressed its ambition to move forward at speed with critical processes such as the Association Agreement, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area negotiations, and the visa liberalization process. In return, we have assured them of the European Union’s ongoing commitment to support these ambitions, in terms of technical support, policy dialogue, and the effective targeting of financial assistance.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit Tbilisi, with the Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service representing HR Ashton. We met with Prime Minister-designate, Ivanishvili, with the new Minister of Defence, Alasania; the new Foreign Minister, Panjikidze; and the new Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Petriashvili – obviously these will be key relationships for the European Union in the coming months and years. We also met with President Saakashvili, where we underlined our appreciation of his statesmanlike conduct, emphasized our full support for the constitutional rights of the Presidency, and recalled the need for effective political opposition in any democracy. We also met representatives of civil society to listen to their impressions of the election and its aftermath.
This visit was an opportunity to get to know our new interlocutors, and to stress three main points: firstly, that all European Union “offers” are still on the table, and we are ready to work with the new administration as quickly and as energetically as they wish; secondly, that we expect both the cohabiting parties - Presidency and government - to build on the commitments they have made to a smooth and professional handover, and to support long-term interests of Georgia and its people. Finally, we have of course reminded our hosts that the European Union is committed to Georgia’s territorial integrity. Through the Geneva International Discussions and the European Union Monitoring Mission, we are the guarantors of Georgia’s security. We will not step away from these responsibilities, but at the same time we expect Georgia to shoulder its responsibilities too.
I came away reassured that Georgia’s democracy is in good health, and that both Prime-Minister designate Ivanishvili and President Saakashvili are committed to working together and to the continuation of a smooth transfer of power, in their country's best interest. They will face significant challenges during their cohabitation, and we should not be complacent, but I believe we should lend both sides our impartial support and focus on values rather than personalities.
I would like to thank all those members who have contributed to this useful and interesting discussion. I want to reassure you of my personal commitment to following through on our promises to Georgia. Maintaining the pace of our political association with Georgia is vital to the credibility of the Eastern Partnership and to the prospects for stability and peaceful development in the Southern Caucasus.
I would also like to underline the valuable role of this House in supporting Georgia’s democratic development so far. I am confident you will continue in this work, helping Georgia to build stronger democratic institutions, to implement all the lessons learned from the October elections, and to encourage an effective parliamentary dialogue between government and opposition, in the service of long-term policy continuity, accountability and transparency.