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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Remarks by President Barroso following his meeting with the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili
Joint press conference
Tbilisi, 13 June 2014
Thank you very much Prime Minister,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to start by thanking the warm welcome which was given to me and to my delegation by Prime Minister Garibashvili, and also the quality and openness of our talks.
As I referred yesterday my visit here underlines the importance that we attach to Georgia and to your country’s association agenda with the European Union. We know well the European aspirations of the Georgian citizens and we are responding positively.
Just last month we held an unprecedented meeting in Brussels between the College of the European Commissioners and the Georgian Government. These frequent talks reflect our unique relationship which will soon be given a concrete expression with the signature of the Association Agreement, including the DCFTA – Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area – in Brussels on the 27 June. I will very much welcome the Prime Minister at that occasion.
Today we discussed precisely the preparations for the signature and implementation of the Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Are, between the EU and Georgia.
This will represent a major landmark and a great opportunity for the modernisation of Georgia's economy, and will be a huge stimulus to reform, all this with the aim of giving more stability to Georgia and more prosperity to the Georgian citizens. The Agreement offers a comprehensive and genuine partnership based on respect for common values, democracy, the rule of law, respect of fundamental rights and freedoms.
We are working closely to ensure that the trade benefits of the Agreement can reach not only the Georgian businesses but also the Georgian consumers and workers as soon as possible. By doing so, they will boost the growth of the Georgian economy based on a predictable and stable relationship.
In short, this agreement is an investment in the future - an investment that we believe will yield high returns. It will progressively bring Georgia closer to the Member States of the European Union - economically, socially, and politically.
I was also here today, together with the Prime Minister, to open the investment Conference that we co-organised with our Georgian partners. This conference is a sign of confidence in Georgia's present and future. It focused mainly on business and investment an area where our Association Agreement is expected to bring the biggest long-term economic benefits.
But all these dividends will only materialise if they are accompanied by a functioning democracy and the pursuit of important reforms. Political pluralism, media freedom and an independence judiciary are the hallmarks of a healthy and thriving democracy.
I particularly emphasised the importance of all these areas in full respect of democratic values.
Ownership of the reforms matters. The EU offers tools and expertise. But we cannot offer ready-made solutions. It's up to the Georgian people to implement the reforms that they themselves decide. We can be a helping hand.
We also discussed the support the EU is giving to Georgia. As you know, the EU is in fact the single most important provider of assistance to Georgia. Between 2007 and 2013, it amounted to over €450 million.
On the occasion of the Investment Conference, Prime Minister Garibashvili and I signed a new Financing Agreement between the EU and Georgia making available up to €8 million in grants, leveraging an additional €72 million in loans, funded under the Neighbourhood Investment Facility. This assistance will be directed to modernise water infrastructure in Georgia.
We are also preparing a programme worth €51 million to assist in DCFTA implementation and to support Small and Medium Enterprises. This programme will facilitate Georgia's integration into the EU market. To respond to the needs of SMEs, we have designed a special facility focused exclusively on supporting the modernisation of SMEs. Over the next 3 years, by mobilising up to €150m of grants, the DCFTA Facility will make up to €1 billon of credit available to SMEs. That's why the Vice-President of the EIB and the Vice-President of the EBRD also came here in my delegation. Apart from what is given as grants, we can leverage these grants with very important loans, which won't go to the state's structures but to the companies, the small and medium size companies which are the ones that can create jobs on the ground.
This agreement – I want to make this point namely to the Georgian citizens – it's not the typical agreement between politicians or diplomats, or only for businesses. It's for the people. When we are giving the Georgian economy and operators access to the biggest internal market in the world, the EU, with more than 500 million consumers, we are giving a possibility for you to export. And when you are exporting, your companies – and I know you have very dynamic companies; when leaving the Investors Conference we saw some very interesting products from Georgia – we are opening the market for SMEs which can create even more jobs in this country.
At the same time, it's not just about exports. It's also about service providers, where, I believe, Georgia can be competitive. And that will also bring here more European Union companies, with all the benefits of exchange of good practices, management and know-how in the most dynamic sectors.
So I really believe that the Association Agreement has a transformation power. Let's be realistic: it cannot be overnight. It's not going to be immediately on the 28 June, it will take some time. The implementation takes time and there are also difficult choices to make. But the direction is the right one for the progress of the country.
We also mentioned energy cooperation. The project of opening a Southern Gas Corridor to link Caspian gas to the EU market is progressing well. It will bring significant benefits for both Georgia and the EU. I think it's also important to support this Southern Gas Corridor.
In addition, the EU and Georgia are also working to foster market convergence and regulatory approximation in the energy sector through the accession of Georgia to the Energy Community Treaty.
Security is high on our common agenda. We have briefly discussed the troubling regional situation and the implications for Georgia’s security.
I confirmed once again our support to Georgia’s territorial integrity within its internationally-recognised borders, and our commitment to conflict resolution efforts in the country, including through the EU’s co-chairmanship of the Geneva International Talks and through the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia which I will visit this afternoon. As I said and repeat we stand by a united Georgia.
I would also like to thank Georgia and the Georgian government for its commitment and support in the European Union peace missions. The Georgian battalion in the Central African Republic is another manifestation of how close we are, Georgia and the EU, in defending our values. I want to tell the Prime Minister that this very concrete support is very much appreciated.
It was a pleasure to meet you again and to be here in Georgia. A country with a great history and culture, but I am sure with an even greater and brighter future, which will start already next 27 June with the signature of our Association Agreement.