Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship paid a symbolic visit to Georgia on February 27 to congratulate Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and President Giorgi Margvelashvili on the final decision of the EU Council on visa liberalization for Georgia.
In his opening remarks at a joint press briefing with PM Kvirikashvili, the Commissioner emphasized that “the final decision” has already been taken and by the end of March citizens of Georgia holding biometric passports will be able to enjoy the visa-free travel to the Schengen area.
Avramopoulos stated that February 27 is a “historical mement” since the EU and Georgia came “one step closer” to each other. “Today’s historic decision will further facilitate contacts between people, will strengthen business, social and cultural ties between the European Union and Georgia,” he said.
In his speech at the press briefing, Georgia’s Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili stated that the visa-free travel to the EU will bring “tangible, concrete benefits” to the citizens of Georgia, including those living in the occupied territories of Georgia.
Georgian PM also noted that the decision confirms that the EU recognizes the Georgian Government’s efforts to build democratic institutions and “even more importantly,” this result shows that the European Union “delivers on its promises.”
Georgia’s aspiration to become the member of the EU is well known in Brussels. As the Association Agreement – an overarching framework that will bring Georgia closer to Europe’s political, administrative and trade space – was being negotiated, the EU officials aimed to restrain Georgia’s enthusiasm for the EU membership.
Despite Georgia’s request, the Association Agreement signed in 2014 skirts over Georgia’s EU membership perspective. The preamble acknowledges “the European aspirations and European choice of Georgia”, however, the EU officials have repeatedly stated that the Association Agreements signed with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine do not imply a promise of accession, unlike the eventual membership promise extended to the Balkan nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.
Commissioner Avramopoulos struck a different chord, referring twice to Georgia’s “European perspective”. In his statement following the meeting with PM Kvirikashvili, the Commissioner said “Georgia is an example of progress and reforms that bring it one step further to its European path, to its European perspective … The aspiration of Georgia to come closer and, one day, to become full member of the European Union, reminds us what this means: it means being part of a Union of peace, of stability, of progress, of tolerance, of solidarity and prosperity.” These words departed from the draft statement posted on the EU website, which had no mention of the “European perspective”.
PM Kvirikashvili echoed the argument: “today, Georgia, as an integral part of European civilization, has drawn even closer to its European family,” he said. “Today, the European spirit is stronger in Georgia than anywhere else. The European idea triumphs in Georgia as nowhere else. The importance of a unified Europe and its common foreign, security and economic policies is embraced in Georgia stronger than anywhere else.”
As part of his visit to Georgia, Commissioner Avramopoulos also met President Giorgi Margvelashvili. As he spoke after the meeting, the Commissioner seemed again to acknowledge the country’s ‘European perspective’ – a diplomatic formula that implies eventual membership.
“I always say and I have repeated today during my meeting with the President that in Europe we consider Georgia as a frontline country of the wider European space,” Dimitris Avramopoulos stated after the meeting. “I am sure that given all these initiatives and reforms undertaken in the country, very soon we shall be in the position to pave the way for the European perspective of Georgia,” Commissioner Avramopoulos also said.
The Commissioner added that he has been “one of the closest friends of Georgia” in his personal capacity and as the EU Commissioner and, therefore, “on its European path, Georgia is not alone.”