- ‘Local elections test for Georgia’s commitments’
- ‘Demonstrate strategic patience’
- ‘Prepare actively for talks on association treaty’
EU is “deeply committed” to further assist Georgia in tackling its multiple challenges, but to succeed with this assistance, Georgia also “must deliver more” with its commitments, an outgoing EU Neighborhood Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said on December 15.
Speaking at the European Parliament on December 15, Ferrero-Waldner laid out those three priority areas in which, she said, Georgia had “to deliver more” – democratic reforms; demonstrating “strategic patience” towards its breakaway regions and preparation for new EU-Georgia Association Agreement.
She told the European Parliamentarians that the first point was further democratic reforms, human rights and rule of law and in this respect she emphasized on local elections planned for May, 2010.
She said that EU welcomed President Saakashvili announcement about “the new wave of democratic reforms”, as well as his statement that Georgia’s response to Russian aggression would be more democracy.
“The local elections in May will be a test of these commitments,” Ferrero-Waldner said, adding that these elections would also be important because Tbilisi mayor would be directly elected for the first time.
“This presents, I think a major opportunity for Georgia to restore its citizens’ trust in the electoral process and one that must be seized since the shortcomings of the electoral system remain a significant potential source of political instability in Georgia,” she added.
The second area where EU needs “Georgia to deliver”, Ferrero-Waldner said, was in “demonstrating strategic patience in the aftermath of the conflict.”
Reiterating EU’s strong support for Georgia’s territorial integrity, Ferrero-Waldner also said that “isolation of the breakaway regions will not help efforts for conflict resolution.”
“On the contrary – a smart policy of engagement with Abkhazia and South Ossetia is needed,” she said.
She said that for that reason EU appreciated Georgia’s “stated policy of strategic patience, which increasingly recognizes the need to maintain links with the breakaway regions without restrictions in the interests of citizens.”
In this context she also said that Georgia’s ongoing efforts to elaborate a strategy paper towards its two breakaway regions “deserve our support”.
Georgian State Minister for Reintegration, Temur Iakobashvili, who met with a group of Georgian scholars and analysts on December 15 to discuss the draft of the strategy, said that the document would be finalized by the end of this month.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, however, also said that EU remained concerned about Georgia’s law on occupied territories.
“If too strictly implemented [the law] may unnecessarily increase frictions with the entities and complicate delivery of assistance. The danger is that it will impede economic relations,” Ferrero-Waldner.
She said that EU was calling on Georgia to amend the law in line with Venice Commission’s (Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal and constitutional issues) recommendations.
Georgia developed amendments to the law on occupied territories and sent it for review to the Venice Commission. The latter said on December 14 that “the revised draft amendments to the Law on Occupied Territories address most of the main concerns previously expressed” by the Commission.
Ferrero-Waldner also told the European Parliamentarians that EU-mediated six-point ceasefire plan “is not fully implemented” and “every time we work with Russians this is on our agenda.”
‘Prepare for Talks on Association Agreement’
The Commissioner said that EU was sparing no efforts to help Georgia “to actively prepare” for negotiations on EU-Georgia Association Agreement in the context of Eastern Partnership.
Preparations for establishing new legal framework for EU-Georgia relations are proceeding “quite well”, she said, with draft negotiation directives for EU-Georgia Association Agreement already prepared.
She said that the draft includes future establishment of deep and comprehensive trade area with Georgia. She said that EU had already provided Georgia with key recommendations for steps to be taken before EU could judge whether the country was ready or not to embark on negotiations.
“Georgia’s resolve to speed-up its preparation is wise and I think it is essential that it tackles the key recommendations very actively,” Ferrero-Waldner said.
Negotiations on the working level on EU-Georgia visa facilitation and readmission agreements were completed in November. Ferrero-Waldner described those agreements, which have yet to be approved, as “milestone in our partnership.”
“We are offering [Georgia] new opportunities… but Georgia also has to help itself. If it takes good decisions, we will then be there to help on every step of the way,” Ferrero-Waldner said.
She said that EU could not “give everything to every county without them doing their part.”
“We have to ask them to also do their part; it means that free trade agreement can only be there when of course right legislature is there.”
“We are supporting Georgia than nobody else… This is the policy where we try to help them as much as we can, but we also want to see the right behaviour from Georgia,” Ferrero-Waldner said.