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The Vilnius Summit and Georgia

Thursday, November 28
Little time is left before the Vilnius Summit, which is expected to expedite the process of Georgia’s integration into the European family. Initialization of the Association Agreement, a desired outcome of the Summit, does not imply any affiliation hereafter; however, it will make the nation of 4.5 million inhabitants legally related to the EU. If initialled, this strategically located, western-looking South Caucasian country of Georgia will assume responsibility of enacting reforms that will allow it to fast-forward toward Europe. With this accomplished, assumed as one of the first significant steps forward in achieving full-fledged EU integration status, Georgia will yet have a number of additional steps to succeed.

"I am Georgian, therefore, I am European!" said Zurab Zhvania on January 27, 1999 at the General Assembly of the European Council. Thirteen years after this ground-breaking statement, it still holds true. “Europe” connotes a high civilization, the unity of different values and understandings, and historically, Georgia has always strived towards these values. Byzantium, in addition to being the Christian state and the centre of the world's civilization at that time, it also was connecting Georgia with Europe. Earlier the role of connector was performed by Greeks and Romans. In the XI-XII Centuries, the Georgian people had closer ties with Europeans than with neighbouring states. The cooperation of Georgia’s King David the Builder with the Crusaders; Queen Tamar’s attempt to create a direct connection with Europe through the Trebizond Empire; the connection of King Lasha-Giorgi and the Crusades - examples like these prove the fact that there was a pull towards Europe. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Georgia became disconnected from Europe, continuing its efforts to develop in different directions. Nonetheless, Georgians remained protective of European values.

Contemporary relations between Georgia and EU started in 1992, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Georgia declared its independence and sovereignty. The European Union was one of the first to help Georgia during the difficult period of transition. In 1995, President Eduard Shevardnadze, Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and National Security Advisor, later Ambassador to the United states, Tedo Japaridze, adopted a European course of foreign policy, and the same year the European Commission opened its Representation office in Tbilisi. This is contrary to the myth promulgated under the Saakashvili regime that everything Western began under their rule.

EU-Georgia relations are regulated by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (Adopted on July 1st 1999). According to the agreement, Georgia and EU cooperate in issues related to politics, trade, investment, and economics, agreement also incorporates cooperation in legal and cultural aspects. According to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which abolishes quotas for trade and protects intellectual, industrial and commercial property rights, the parties granted each other primary promotion mode.

Later, in 2003-2004, the European Commission adopted the EU's new foreign policy direction - the European Neighbourhood Policy, the purpose of which was to avoid dividing lines between EU and its neighbours and instead to provide everyone with prospects for prosperity, stability and security. On 14 November 2004, the inclusion of Georgia in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was a significant step forward in relations between the EU and Georgia. Finally in 2006, EU-Georgia Cooperation Council maintained The European Neighbourhood Policy action plan and Georgia was invited to enter into intensified political, security, economic and cultural relations with the EU, enhanced regional and cross border co-operation and shared responsibility in conflict prevention and conflict resolution.

On March 19-20, 2009 another important step forward in EU-Georgia relations was taken. The European Council approved Eastern Partnership initiative and adopted the Declaration on the mentioned initiative. The purpose of initiative was to support political, social and economic reforms in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia and Ukraine. Eastern Partnership foresaw stronger political cooperation with the EU; in particular, the prospect of signing of number of new agreements, deeper integration into the EU economy through free trade area agreements. On July 15, 2010 High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / European Commission Vice President - Catherine Ashton, has officially opened the negotiations on the Association Agreement between the EU and Georgia.

Nowadays European Union assistance to Georgia mainly takes the form of Annual Action Programmes under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). In June 2012, the EU and Georgia began a visa liberalisation dialogue. The talks aimed to draft a Visa Liberalisation Action Plan. The action plan was delivered to Georgia on 25 February 2013. The EU and Georgia negotiated an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. The EU looks forward to the initialling of the Association Agreement with Georgia and the European Union during the Vilnius summit of "Eastern Partnership" on November 28-29, 2013.

The Eastern Partnership (EaP) summit will be held in the country which holds the presidency of the council – Lithuania, Vilnius. The summit is already generating excitement. The high officials from the EU and its member states, as well as their counterparts from the six Eastern Partners will discuss the achieved progress and set the future priorities. Among the topics to be discussed are free trade agreements, visa liberalization, and Association Agreements. This event is expected to bring huge development in the EU’s relations with the Eastern Partnership states. Georgia and Moldova are hoping for initiating Association Agreement. Finalisation of negotiations on Association Agreements, including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA) is very important for Georgian economy. Experts believe that these agreements will make Georgian economy more attractive for investors. According to the final report on Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment in support of negotiations of a DCFTA between the EU and Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, prepared by ECORYS, DCFTA Georgian exports are estimated to increase by 12 percent, while imports rise by 7.5 percent. This implies that the DCFTA is expected to improve the trade balance for Georgia, The DCFTA also will contain a range of policy measures for liberalising trade, i.e. lowering tariffs and reductions in non-tariff barriers, Effects related to employment and wages are expected to be the main drivers of overall social impact of the DCFTA. The overall employment and wage levels are likely to increase in line with rising output.

Integration into the EU has always been one of the most important foreign priorities for Georgia and over time it became more important. It can be concluded that Georgia has maintained the highest level of relationship with EU right now, than it ever had before. Vilnius summit is a step that must be taken by Georgia and European partners, in order to make ties stronger.

The Georgian government and population are unanimous in their pro-Western direction. Former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili remains confident that the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius has the potential to become a historical event. It must make the integration of the partner countries who have a strong desire, irreversible. Mr Ivanishvili appreciates the role and involvement of the EU in promoting security and stability in Georgia. In this regard, he emphasizes the importance of EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia, which he describes as the only effective international mechanism for controlling the line of occupation, the security situation in the occupied territories of Georgia.

Georgia’s newly elected President, Giorgi Margevlashvili, stated that the Vilnius summit is historical for Georgia. “The Georgian society, the Georgian political spectrum are united that Georgia is a member of the European family. We have explicitly stressed that this is an issue over which the Georgian society is consolidated, therefore we will together overcome any difficulty or challenge that we may face and the ambitious plan that we have – to sign the Association Agreement within a year after initialling – remains the main strategy of our government,” Margvelashvili told journalists while visiting a military base in Vaziani outside Tbilisi on November 22.

President Margvelashvili, who will lead the Georgian delegation at the Vilnius summit, also said: “We are going to this summit with extremely good results, because we held exemplary, European-type of [presidential] election… We believe that Georgia is integral part of Europe and we have good evidence of that stemming from the recent political developments. So we will focus on that and focus on future plans that will follow after the initialling of the agreement up until its signing.” It is Georgia’s priority to execute the Association Agreement with the European Union as rapidly as possible, including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, confirming and institutionalizing this way the irreversibility of Georgia’s European integration.

State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Aleksi Petriashvili shares high hopes regarding the Vilnius Summit. He thinks that negotiation with the EU on Association Agreement, Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area included, are significant achievements and now Georgia looks forward to Vilnius Summit to initial these agreements. He attended the International Economic Forum held in Lviv. According to him it was a good gathering of business representatives of the eastern partnership and European Union. It was an opportunity to present Georgia’s view on the eastern partnership and Vilnius summit. Minister describes the Summit as a historic momentum. As the positive developments at the Vilnius summit will lead to different type of relations with the EU. He underlined the importance of signature of the Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with Georgia and Moldova.

Mr Petriashvili describes EU as one of the two largest international organizations that we strive to become members of. Political and economic assistance that we receive from EU is of vital importance. European Union’s monitoring meeting is the only international institution presented in occupied territories of Georgia.

EU is also actively assisting Georgia in integration processes, it provides technical and financial aid yearly. And Georgia will receive even more assistance from EU in the future as EU is based on a principle: more for more, more reforms a country is making more assistance and help it receives.

According to Mr Petriashvili the reform processes are intensified. Introduction of democratic principles, rule of law, and respect for human rights represent the primary priorities of the current Georgian Government. The Government of Georgia is making its best efforts to ensure the successful outcome of Vilnius Summit. Introduction of democratic principles, rule of law, and respect for human rights represent the primary priorities of the current Georgian Government.

Georgian Ambassador to Lithuania – Khatuna Salukvadze states that in the run-up to the Vilnius Summit, the Georgian Government is focused to demonstrate the deliverables in line with the Eastern Partnership Roadmap – progress in reforms and democratisation that Georgia achieved. Primarily, the country aims to initial the Association Agreement, including the DCFTA, and also score maximum progress towards finalisation of the first (legislative) phase of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan. Georgia expects the EU as well to deliver on its commitments with this respect. At the same time, in order to maintain the momentum, Georgia also should clearly set the post-Summit goals for bringing new quality to relations and making the European perspective a reality for relevant Eastern European Partners.

After the Vilnius Summit, Georgia expects to sign the Association Agreement before the expiration of the term of the current European Commission in order to timely start its provisional application and gain benefits of political association and economic integration. Ambassador Salukvadze acknowledged that she is happy that there is the same understanding and intention from the EU Member States as well on this issue. Nevertheless, it is important to get strong signals from Brussels on the EU’s firm stance and support towards Georgia’s European aspirations.

The United States of America welcomes Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine's* European choice. “Two weeks before the EU's summit in Vilnius, it is also an historic moment for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. All three countries have made advances in rule of law, democracy and market openness in order to meet the EU's strict conditions for Association Agreements and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. The United States welcomes these nations' European choice and wants to see all three knitted into the European family with the kinds of trade benefits and visa free travel the EU offers,” “stated U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland, in her recent speech at the Atlantic Council.

*Ukraine, under pressure from Russia, puts brakes on E.U. deal
Stuck between Russia and the European Union, and chafing at the need to choose between them , the Ukrainian government faltered Thursday as threats from its big Slavic neighbor mounted.
The cabinet suspended Ukraine’s preparations to sign an “association agreement” with the E.U. next Friday — after spending all year declaring its intention to do so and ushering through the parliament a packet of laws aimed at helping it meet the 28-member bloc’s expectations.
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But on the other hand there are forces that consider Georgia’s integration to EU as a threat. Russia has always tried to place Georgia under its own influence and used different tools for that. Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts, aggressive reaction on adoption of European course of foreign policy by Georgia resulted in two terrorist acts against the President Shevardnadze (August 1995; February 1998), embargo on Georgian products in 2006, August war in 2008, installation of bribed wires in Ditsi and Dvani, these are steps taken by Russia in order to establish influence on Georgia and prevent country’s Euro-integration. Russian coercive pressure, first on Armenia and now on Ukraine, illustrate that Russia is prepared to utilise “hard power” techniques to enforce its desires and goals with neighbouring states of the former Soviet Union.

However, former Prime Minister Bidzina Iivanishili is confident that Russia will not be able to prevent the process of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration and has stated that the Association Agreement with the European Union cannot complicate Georgian-Russian relations. Mr. Ivanishvili believes that Russia will soon be assured that the EU is a desirable democratic and civilized organization to belong to. However, whether Russia reaching this understanding or not Georgia’s path and desire is clear, Europe is our future.

Minister Petriashvili contends that the only name that he can give to the processes of installation of bribed wires in Ditsi and Dvani is “occupation,” and views these actions from Russian side to be directly linked with Vilnius summit. He hopes that in future, Russia will come to recognize that economic integration of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova to EU is no threat for Russia. Mr. Petriashvili added that this subject was the primary issue discussed during his recent meeting with U.S. Senator from Alabama Jeff Sessions and other representatives of the U.S. According to him Georgia asked for support and emphasized the need for an urgent response, and notes that Washington establishment reaction included a direct message to the Russian government that occupying territories of an independent state is utterly unacceptable in the 21st century.

Georgia has had a strongly articulated pro-Western foreign policy discourse supporting Georgia’s integration into the EU. Georgia has a history of appreciating European culture and values. Today, the Country is drawing closer to its long-cherished dream - to be integrated in the EU family. Georgians have gone through many reforms and now they need to wait with patience for the Vilnius Summit and its consequences. The time has arrived for Georgia to stop being just a neighbouring country for EU; the time has come for acceptance. Will the summit serve as a means for achieving Georgia’s goals? The answer to that question will presumably be revealed on 28-29th of November and indications are that this will be the historic decision that Georgia has long anticipated since Zurab Zhvania declared on January 27, 1999. “I am Georgian, therefore, I am European”.

This article was originally published by CGS Group in its Weekly Report on Georgia/Caucasus, Vol. 1 Issue 93, of November 26, 2013. You can download it from here:

CGS Group is an American research and consulting firm, which offers a variety of services to clients interested in establishing themselves in Georgia and the South Caucasus. Committed to the success of our clients and partners we offer experience and resources in the areas of ? Government Relations & Public Affairs ? Business Intelligence ? Due Diligence ? Political Risk Analysis ? Security & Preparedness ? Investigations & Forensics. Apart from research and consultancy activities, CGS Group publishes two weekly newsletters to report on business, economics and political news of Georgia. Find more at WWW.CGSGROUP.GE