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Georgia calls for a new era in EU-Georgia relations at Batumi 16th Int’ l conference

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, July 12
Georgian President and Prime Minister say that Georgia has used all the opportunities and it is time a new era to take place in the EU-Georgia relations.

“We are the European nation and 80 percent of our people support Georgia’s EU membership,” President Salome Zurabishvili stated during the Batumi 16th International Conference –Georgia’s European Way- on Thursday, dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the EU’s Eastern Partnership Initiative [EaP].

Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said that there is a need for a new format to encourage Georgia’s sectorial integration into the EU, as for now, Georgia has no access to financial instruments required for this.

Parliament Speaker Archil Talakvadze said that Georgia has already signed the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area deals with the EU and are now able to travel visa-free to the EU’s Schengen Zone.

“We are ready for more,” he said.

President of the European Council Donald Trump, who came to Georgia to attend the event, did not hide that many in the EU are against enlargement.

“However, I do not share the view,” he said.

“He said that the Eastern Partnership was created and is being developed in a “very difficult political context”- be it in the EU or the region.

“We know that there are severe security problems and challenges in partner countries. I would call Georgia a country facing a big challenge of security,” Tusk said.

He said that the goal of Eastern Partnership, which unites six countries including Georgia, attempted to establish the rule of law, proper justice, and organized systems in its countries.

“There are many questions about the future of the Eastern Partnership. Your EU membership is not the only question, but let’s not hide the fact that this question still remains on the agenda - many people in the EU doubt this expansion. I do not have such doubts,” Tusk said.

Tusk said that for him Georgia is the country which carries high values.

“For me, Georgia is not only an important partner of the EU. When I say Georgia, I mean “freedom,” when I say Georgia, I mean “pride,” when I say Georgia, I mean “courage.” You are a small country, but a great nation. You have achieved impossible things because you were, despite all the differences, united around a common goal, that was a free, independent and modern state,” Tusk said.

He said that Georgia has astonished Europe and the world and urged the country not to get divided.

“Don’t let yourselves become divided. Only when united, will you endure. Like the whole of Europe,” he said.

Georgian top officials also raised the issue of the occupation of Georgian lands by Russia, saying that abduction, murder and torture of Georgian citizens by occupying forces are taking place almost daily.

They urged the EU to help the Georgian government carry out its peace initiatives and help the locals of occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions have access to education, healthcare programmes and get involved in economic projects.

Georgian Foreign Ministry says that this year the two-day conference hosted “unprecedented number of guests,” including Tusk and Foreign Ministers of Poland, Sweden, Bulgaria, Armenia, Hungary, Czech, Moldova, and the UK.

The conference offered specific thematic sessions on significant areas of cooperation where participants shared new ideas on further strengthening of the partnership and advancing European integration processes beyond 2020.

Two parallel events: Eastern Partnership Investment Forum and Donors’ Annual Assembly of the Eastern Partnership Technical Assistance Trust Fund were held on the sidelines of the conference.

EaP is a joint initiative involving the EU, its member states, and six Eastern European Partners: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

The Eastern Partnership aims to increase open democracy, prosperity, and stability in the region.