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Association Agreements with the EU will be concluded soon

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, April 30

Negotiations on simplifying the visa regime with European countries have ended and directives concerning this and some other significant issues for the South Caucasus will be delivered to the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council for confirmation on May 10, said Stefan Fule, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, at a meeting of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on April 28.

Fule reported to the Foreign Affairs Committee about his April trip to the South Caucasus and Ukraine. "I am pleased to report that the negotiating directives for Association Agreements with the South Caucasus countries will be presented for formal adoption at the Foreign Affairs Council on May 10. This will pave the way for the EU to prepare for the launch of negotiations. These Agreements will allow for close political association between each of the partners, building on common values and shared principles," the Commissioner said.

"The EU’s offer to establish deep and comprehensive free trade areas is also an immensely important opportunity for those South Caucasus countries that have fulfilled the preconditions. Such agreements will provide access to the EU market of 500 million consumers and will help increase trade flows and investment,” Fule added, underlining that Georgians will very soon benefit from lower application fees and easier visa rules. "Facilitating the mobility of persons is a field where partners in the South Caucasus are calling for more from the EU, as they are feeling the pressure from citizens experiencing complicated and lengthy procedures. Visa facilitation and readmission agreements for Georgia have already successfully been negotiated.” Fule said.

However the European Union has its own demands towards South Caucasus countries in return. "It is clear that the demands of our partners in the South Caucasus are high. But so too are the EU’s requirements of these partner countries that their legislation is in place and their administrative capacities strong enough to turn political ambitions into actual delivery of results. My message to the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia has been, and will always be, that the responsibility for internal reform and strengthening democracy and rule of law lies firmly in the hands of the Governments and politicians of those countries. The Commission will however provide technical and financial assistance to help the partners meet their objectives, notably through the new Comprehensive Institution Building Programmes that we are designing together with our partners in the east,” the Commissioner stated.

The Georgian Government has described the EU’s plans as "very significant" for the country. "We have already concluded negotiations concerning the issue, however we are still working on how Georgia can fulfill the demands of the Union after the official adoption of the resolution. Firstly we will take more responsibility for those Georgians living illegally in different European countries. After their deportation Georgia must create normal conditions for their resocialisation. We are holding active consultations and negotiations with European countries’ leaderships and I can say that giving non-citizens legal status in their countries has already been simplified. Inside the country we are holding negotiations with different NGO so that if Georgian citizens’ are deported we can create normal conditions for their return. The number of Georgians living illegally abroad is significantly high, but I do not expect the number of deported people to seriously increase after the EU’s decision concerning visas. This fact itself is very positive for our country. On our side, the Georgian Government is doing its best to achieve more integration with European structures,” Nugzar Tsiklauri told The Messenger.

The Georgian opposition welcomes the visa regime being simplified, but says that the present Government does not fulfil the EU's demands. "I welcome this fact, I cannot imagine that anyone does not support this, however the Government is making a false statement when it says that getting a visa will be simplified for all Georgian citizens who want them, as there are some categories of Georgian citizens for whom getting a visa will be simplified but not all. As for the EU's demands, firstly I can say that the EU is doing its best to ensure that there are free elections in Georgia, as there is no previous precedent of the EU observing local government elections. Unfortunately however this does not depend only on foreign organisations' will, the Government has the most important role to play. Especially in the regions the Government is still terrorising the voters, and not only the voters but our candidates there as well. The media has also turned into a Government weapon,” Manana Nachkebia from the Alliance for Georgia told The Messenger.

Analyst Gia Khukhashvili told The Messenger, "the simplified visa regime will have no significant effect on 90% of Georgian citizens. Of course it will have some benefits for those who frequently leave the country, but no one else. Georgian citizens think that this is a very important and serious step forward for Georgia, but in reality it is one more nicely wrapped deceit by the Government. It does not make much difference if I pay 10 Euro more or less for a visa, but as Georgia is due to take on more responsibilities, especially concerning Georgians living illegally abroad, in exchange for these price cuts this simplified visa regime will be more negative for the country than positive. As for fulfilling the EU’s or other foreign organisations' demands, I think it is absolutely obvious that we are moving further way from adopting European values rather than coming close to them, but this is not the fault of Europe, it is the fault of the regime and structure we have here,” Khukhashvili said.