EU is considering “number of measures” to support Georgia’s choice to sign the Association Agreement if that “choice occurs to be subject of the pressure”, EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Štefan Füle said after talks with Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze in Tbilisi on March 4.
Füle, who is meeting with Georgian leadership, opposition and civil society representatives as well as head of the Georgian Orthodox Church in Tbilisi on March 4, said that while the international community looks with increasing concern at events in Ukraine, “let us remember that Russia’s behavior here in Georgia is also a matter of serious concern.”
“Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty continues to be challenged by Russia, including by constructions of barriers and military installation, which hinder free movement between people, who used to enjoy close relations,” he said.
“We must not lose focus on this while our attention is grabbed by the events further west. Here too Russia must abide by international law and respect sovereignty of its neighbor, Georgia,” the European Commissioner said.
He said that the signature of the Association Agreement this year will elevate EU’s “already unique relationship” with Georgia.
Füle said that the Association Agreement with its deep and comprehensive free trade area will bring political and economic benefits to Georgia, but to make it happen “continued work on reforms is essential.”
“We expect Georgia to continue to demonstrate its commitment to our shared democratic values, pluralism and the non-politicization of justice,” he said.
“The task and challenges ahead are not easy,” he continued. “We are aware about the pressure that was brought on Ukraine because of its willingness to sign the Association Agreement. We know that this pressure also exists elsewhere in the Eastern Partnership. The European Union will stand firmly by Georgia should it too experience any kind of pressure.”
Then he touched upon his planned meeting with head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, and said: “I will assure him on behalf of the European Union that we have no intention to undermine Georgia’s traditional values, because what we promote are the universal values of tolerance, dignity and respect.”
In his Christmas epistle, which became controversial mainly because of its parts that addressed surrogacy and artificial insemination, the Patriarch said that Georgia is part of “Christian Europe”, but the EU should take into consideration Georgia’s “traditions and mindset.”
Speaking at a news conference after meeting with the Georgian Foreign Minister, Commissioner Füle also stressed on the need to have even more intensified interaction between Georgia and the EU before signature of the agreement, involving, among other things, visit of European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, to Georgia.
“That period of the time [before the signature] needs to be filled with hard working on addressing certain myth about the Association Agreement… and at the same time preparing for implementation of this agreement, because we are all interested in the earliest possible provisional application [of the Association Agreement] after its signature,” Füle said.
“We are also contemplating quite openly a number of the measures to support the Georgian sovereign choice to sign the Association Agreement if that choice occurs to be subject of the pressure from any third country,” he added.
Georgian Foreign Minister Panjikidze said that in the view of Georgia own experience and in the view of developments in Ukraine, Tbilisi “of course expects intensification of pressure from Russia.”
Recalling Commissioner Füle’s remarks at the Munich security conference in February making reference to the importance of European perspective for EU’s eastern neighbors, the Georgian Foreign Minister said: “We hope that this approach will be reflected fully in our relations.”
“Opening up of a European perspective is especially important for at this stage in the light of existing challenges in the Eastern Partnership region and recent developments in Ukraine. I express hope that the European Union will clearly express support to Georgia’s European perspective in its statements,” Panjikidze said.
“The meeting with the European Commissioner was extremely important and interesting as we had a chance to discuss the key issues of Georgia-EU cooperation agenda as well as the steps to be taken in the nearest future. Both Georgia and the European Union expressed readiness to sign the Association Agreement as soon as possible. The both sides are working intensively to finalize all the necessary procedures,” the Georgian Foreign Minister said.