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EU Foreign Ministers reaffirm support for Georgia

By Ernest Petrosyan
Wednesday, February 29
The European Union Foreign Ministers’ Council has issued a statement on the issues facing the South Caucasus region, expressing their support for Georgia's reforms and calling on Russia to commit to a “clear non-use of force for sustainable security arrangements in Georgia's breakaway regions”.

In a statement released after their Monday meeting, ministers from EU 27 countries said that strengthened relations between the EU and the three nations of the South Caucasus "have opened new avenues and opportunities for the EU to support conflict settlement efforts in the region".

The statement reaffirms the EU’s “support of territorial integrity within internationally recognized borders” and expresses “concern about the continuing Russian military and security related presence and infrastructure reinforcements in the Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia". The Council also requested that Russia fulfill its obligations under the ceasefire agreement of August 12, 2008, including providing access to the regions for the EU Monitoring Mission.

“The EU calls on the participants of the Geneva International Discussion to the conflict to continue to work together towards sustainable security arrangements,” the statement read.

One of the noted security arrangements is a commitment to the non-use of force, which Georgia has undertaken unilaterally. However, Moscow insists that Georgia sign an agreement with the governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, thereby removing Russia as a party to the conflict, and presenting its government as a guarantor instead.

In the statement, the Council stressed the importance of ensuring that the Parliamentary elections in 2012 and the Presidential elections in 2013 meet internationally-recognized democratic standards. The group intends to closely monitor developments in Georgia leading up to the elections. The ministers also emphasized the need to consolidate democracy in Georgia, including strengthening democratic institutions, allowing for political pluralism, guaranteeing freedom of assembly and of the press, and further strengthening the independence of the judiciary.

"The pace of reforms will determine the intensity of the cooperation, and partners most engaged in reforms will benefit more from their relationship with the European Union," the statement read.

Yet the ministers also welcomed progress made in the negotiations on the Association Agreement and the launch of talks on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA).

In advance of free trade negotiations, the Council emphasized that Georgia should continue with its economic reforms and harmonization of regulatory standards in trade and trade-related areas. The statement reaffirmed that the EU is ready to provide continued support for this process.

The ministers also addressed visa issues, maintaining that the EU is ready to "take gradual steps, including establishing a two-phased Visa Action Plan, towards a visa-free regime in a secure and well managed environment in due course... Under these conditions, the EU is committed to the shared objective of visa free travel".

The statement concluded by "acknowledg[ing] the European aspirations and European choice of Georgia and its commitment to build deep and sustainable democracy. The EU welcomes Georgia's efforts in modernizing and reforming its society and fighting corruption".