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Georgia has a bright future, says Baroness Ashton

By Salome Modebadze
Friday, July 16
Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union, hold negotiations with President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili on Georgia being granted Associate Membership of the EU in Batumi on July 15. The Association Agreement which will be signed to confirm this will replace the current Agreement on Cooperation and Partnership and stipulate a further expansion of Georgia-EU cooperation in particular directions.

The President welcomed his guest by sharing his plans for Batumi, the former second rate town which has now become one of the most successful resorts in Georgia and is an example of the country’s rapid development. “Europe began here in Georgia and we have always been part of Europe. Georgia was democratic during Queen Tamar’s reign [in the 12th century] but unfortunately lost its European orientation through the centuries. What we aim to do now is create a modern European state in the historic Caucasus by going down a long road with you. We are just learning, but still trying to approach the Europe we aspire to,” Saakashvili told Ashton, stressing that “freedom is the main principle of this country, the main part of which is still occupied.”

“Georgia has a bright future and this is clear from the very first sight. I have arrived in the name of the EU to start discussions about Georgia’s Associate Membership of the EU. It was my personal choice to start my tour from Georgia and I’m really glad that I can express its great devotion to the EU. The European neighbourhood countries and their internal security have great importance for the EU. We will try to ensure cooperation between Europe and its neighboring states and welcome Georgia’s will to integrate with the European neighbourhood,” Ashton told Saakashvili, stressing that the EU will have the same message for Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The High Representative expressed her confidence that the democratisation process will hasten Georgia’s integration with the European community. She said that Associate Member negotiations, which may take a couple of years, would focus on Georgia’s prosperity. “The negotiations will be a kind of a test for the EU in reaching a free trade agreement with Georgia. What Georgia has to do is to follow the given recommendations. Europe will continue supporting your country, which has shown a great ability to establish democracy and fight corruption, and prosperity in the region will be essential,” said Ashton. Congratulating the President of Georgia on the successful local elections, the EU High representative approved of the Government's action plan for the occupied territories and stressed that the EU will maintain its non-recognition policy for the Russian occupied territories and is constantly reminding Russia that it must fulfill the 6-point ceasefire agreement. “I hope that Georgia considers Europe a reliable partner. We definitely aim to achieve benefits for both sides and can freely say that today we have strengthened the basis of our bilateral cooperation for the sake of our nations,” Ashton concluded.

The 27 EU member countries adopted terms for Georgia’s accession to Associate Membership on May 27, 2010, encouraged by French Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner [who is also visiting Georgia]. Local NGOs are optimistic about the results of Ashton’s visit to Georgia, saying this will be the start of moving bilateral relations to the next stage and encouraging Georgia’s integration with Europe. Prime Minister of Georgia Nika Gilauri spoke about the main priorities in the negotiations on Associate Membership. “The agreement is an important means of attracting more foreign investors and increasing the inflow of foreign currency, harmonising various fields such as banking, tourism and agricultural development with European standards and creating additional income and new jobs in our country,” Gilauri said.

“The fact that the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union has personally visited the country is of the highest importance, and signifies that the EU has selected our country as a partner in this region and in a couple of years we will be more connected with Europe,” Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia Davit Bakradze told the media.

Political analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili told The Messenger that the Georgian Government must first clarify its political orientation, which he says is quite confused nowadays. “Associate Membership of the EU is a new international status for Georgia and a wonderful opportunity for the country to enter the European family one day. But the only danger in the statements made about it is that we may face disappointment after such hopeful predictions. We had the same situation with NATO, when we were encouraged to believe that the country would receive something more important than MAP. So it’s important to understand how difficult the way to European integration will be for Georgia,” Tsiskarishvili explained.

“False optimism will do no good – a free trade agreement and a visa free regime are all matters for long discussion, especially when the EU is constantly encouraging Georgia to harmonise its legislation with international standards. If we really want to simplify the visa regime with Europe what will Europe say about Georgia’s relations with Iran on the same issue? Optimism doesn’t mean being a dreamer – we should just realise that relations with the EU aren’t simply dealt with by Tbilisi and Brussels,” the analyst told us, stressing that Georgia will integrate with Europe if it stays loyal to it.