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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Georgia's European Way
Conference: "Georgia's European Way: EU’s Eastern European partners – Towards the Vilnius Summit", in Batumi, Georgia
12 July 2013
Mr Prime Minister, Honourable Ministers and Parliamentarians, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to be in Batumi for the 10th anniversary of this important conference. The timing is just right as we look towards the third Eastern Partnership Summit which will take place in Vilnius in November. This is my third visit to Georgia in the space of nine months and testimony to the importance which the European Union attaches to Georgia as a friend and a partner.
I am very happy to have the opportunity to make at the very beginning a personal comment on two myths, which seem to cloud the current debate about Georgia and its way forward.
The first myth is that Georgia’s chances of success in Vilnius are low; that Georgia after last October elections does not continue in its previously defined pro-European, pro-democracy and pro-reform orientation. This indeed is a myth and needs to be dispelled – we do not see this as a truthful reflection of the country’s reality.
The second myth is that it does not matter how the government handles the legacies of past and any past abuse, and that the EU is not vigilant enough as to the process of addressing these legacies. That simply is not true. We are watching these developments with close attention and the process matters a great deal to us in Europe. EU standards and values must be upheld for us to advance together.
The path that leads to Vilnius has to be a genuinely European path, and steps along it have to be taken in a European way. There is no other way to get there.
But this does not mean that these two goals - Georgia’s success in Vilnius on the one hand and its dealing with the past on the other hand, are or should be in a contradiction. That too would in fact be a myth.
No one is above the law and any injustices that have been committed have to be addressed – but this has to be done in a way that excludes the politicization of justice and its instrumentalisation – by any side - for political purposes or let alone revenge. This has to be done in a fair and apolitical way, with full respect to due process.
Georgia must move forward; it must not get stuck in the past and the bitter fight about the record of the previous government. More energy must be invested in building the future. A truly independent judiciary and deeply democratic institutions with effective checks and balances should be developed. Ad-hocism and short-termism need to be replaced by stronger established and agreed procedures and improved or new institutions. Only then will Georgia’s way be truly European.
Talking about the European way, I would also like to say a few words about the Vilnius Summit.
This summit has the potential to be a watershed moment in the European Union’s relationship with Georgia and its entire eastern neighbourhood; actually I call it a game changer. We are very close to finalising our Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. I am confident that this far reaching agreement will bring tangible benefits to all citizens in Georgia and be the key driver of its transformation. Let me mention some examples:
First, it will not only open up new opportunities in terms of market access, mobility and co-operation, it will also allow Georgia to exploit those opportunities with strengthened state institutions, labour market, and infrastructure.
Second, it will also address some very concrete issues which affect everyday life such as product safety and value for money, improved road safety and improved air quality - to mention but a few.
But most important the Association Agreement represents a blueprint for building more European Union in Georgia; not only with all its instruments for social and economic development provided for prosperity but also for strong and effective democratic institutions and rule of law guaranteeing fundamental freedoms, rights and individual liberties as the only way to unlock fully the potential of each and every citizen.
I am very glad to see our negotiations nearly completed so that we can prepare the Agreement in its final form and share the contents with citizens. It will open a new chapter not only in European Union-Georgia relations but also in Georgia's own development.
Our cooperation in key sectors will also be strengthened. For example on transport, a great driver of growth and employment, we hope to agree an Eastern Partnership transport network. This will make a concrete contribution to the Eastern Partnership's goal of bringing the European Union and our partners closer together.
Additionally, we will look to build on the progress made on the mobility agenda across the Eastern Partnership, including of course the launch of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan with Georgia.
I hope that the Summit will adopt a forward looking agenda for the Eastern Partnership over the next two years which will make the processes of political association and economic integration between the European Union and its Eastern Partners irreversible. For this to happen, full implementation and effective enforcement will be key.
Of course, not all our partners wish to travel at the same speed. Some will want to progress faster than others. The Eastern Partnership is not a straitjacket. It is up to our partners to define what they mean by a ''closer relationship with the European Union''. We can offer a great deal of support in a wide variety of ways to help those of our partners who seek a closer relationship. In short, differentiation is key. But it does require the absolute determination of our partners to pursue and implement genuine reforms and to uphold shared values.
We are now on the brink of an historic agreement at Vilnius which will cement Georgia’s place in a partnership of common values, common objectives and common policies and norms. I urge Georgia to seize this opportunity with both hands and uphold European values and make Georgia more attractive for its own citizens. We will be a vigilant and demanding partner. But we will do all we can to stand with Georgia as we enter this exciting new phase in our common history.
Thank you for your attention.