New format of Georgia-EU relations
By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, July 20During the recent visits to Georgia of important international figures a very interesting issue has been touched upon. The visit of EU Vice President and Commissioner for Foreign Relations and Politics Catherine Ashton has established a new format of relations between Georgia and the EU.
During her meeting with Georgian President Saakashvili in Batumi on July 15 negotiations were launched on Georgia becoming an Associate Member of the EU. Ashton described this as the next step in Georgia getting closer to the EU. These negotiations will take from one to three years, and this timeframe will give Georgia the chance to conduct further reforms in different directions. Georgia will be obliged to develop a flourishing economy which will thus bring stability, however there is no standard Associate Membership programme and each country negotiates and adopts its own individual programme suited to both parties' needs.
Associate Membership is not of course true EU membership but it is the nearest thing to it. Georgia will have to comply with all the main conditions EU members have to meet. Saakashvili promised Ashton that Georgia was fully committed to achieving EU membership. Though the process could be prolonged there is no way back as Georgia wants to become a successful country and will not return to the old system. Georgia is part of Europe and is returning to European institutions, stated Saakashvili. The President also highlighted the country’s ambition to become the first modern European state in the Caucasus region.
At present Georgia – EU bilateral relations mostly develop within the Eastern Partnership Programme. Ashton highly assessed Georgia’s achievements in combating corruption, moving towards democracy and developing the economy, and said that the May 30 municipal elections had been held successfully. Certain improvements were suggested to help Georgia fulfill OSCE recommendations. However it was stressed repeatedly that the changes already made should be deepened.
During the session in Batumi different integration processes were discussed, such as the relaxation of the visa regime between Georgia and the EU, the liberalisation of bilateral trade between the two entities and creating a relaxed and improved environment for European entrepreneurs and investors coming to Georgia. Another important issue touched upon was the EU's policy of demanding that Russia fulfill the Sarkozy-Medvedev ceasefire agreement. Ashton mentioned that the EU welcomes Georgia’s strategic action plan for the occupied territories, but what this actually means in practice is another question.
Of course Georgia’s further integration with the EU depends completely on the extent of the Tbilisi leadership's commitment to the promises they gave to EU officials. All the promised democracy, human rights protection, free market economy and so on should be genuinely delivered, or nothing will happen.