I am very pleased to welcome here in Brussels the Prime Minister [of Georgia] Irakli Garibashvili.
We have been meeting in the framework of the Association Council, which is a very important moment by itself. And, additionally, it has been taking place in a pivotal moment for your country, Prime Minister.
Since the last parliamentary elections, in autumn, the European Union has repeatedly said that all political actors need to find common ground and look for a way forward from the current political situation.
This is especially essential, important, at a moment when Georgia must address the coronavirus pandemic and move forward with its wide-reaching reform agenda that has to include the electoral reform and judicial reform. It is for the elected government to provide inclusive leadership.
Let me stress in the presence of the Prime Minister that a special responsibility rests with the ruling party and the government to find a way forward. And also that boycotting parliament activity is not helpful for a functioning democracy and for political pluralism. It is not by boycotting parliament that we can look for solutions in the framework of political pluralism.
All parties and all political actors within Georgia must look at the wider consequences of the current situation and we have been asking everybody to put the interests of the Georgian people first and find compromises.
You know that the European Union has long been engaged in facilitating dialogue between the political parties in Georgia. And, recently, we moved from facilitation of the dialogue to mediation, after the visit of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, to Tbilisi in early March.
Today, at the meeting and in the informal part of our conversations, we took stock of these mediation efforts, which are being led by President Michel personally and by his personal envoy Christian Danielsson that continues to be in Tbilisi as we speak, presenting several points in order to get full engagement on the issues that have to be solved.
Unhappily, there is not an agreement yet. But, I understand from my discussions with the Prime Minister, that he is committed to constructive cooperation and progress. And the same thing has to be done by the opposition.
Mr Danielsson will make concrete proposals along the lines we have been talking in the coming days. And, for sure, as in any situation like this, give and take will be needed from both sides to find a mutually agreeable outcome.
But this was not the only thing we have talked about in our Association Council today. This meeting was also an opportunity to assess overall cooperation under our comprehensive and wide-reaching Association Agreement, as Commissioner [for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi] in charge knows very well. We have not been just talking about the current political stalemate, but also we have been welcoming the first vaccines that Georgia has received through COVAX, to which the European Union is the largest donor. More will follow.
We know how important it is for Georgia to move ahead swiftly with its vaccination rollout towards a green, sustainable recovery. We have been mobilising significant funds to support this.
We discussed the all-important justice and electoral reform. An independent and accountable judiciary not only underpins a strong democracy, it also attracts external investors and, therefore, growth.
I stressed today that Georgia must deliver on its justice reform commitments, including by reforming the selection process of Supreme Court judges to ensure public trust. An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of any democratic system.
We also discussed opportunities to increase the number of exchanges between Georgian and European Union citizens, in the fields of education, research, sport and there are a lot of them – believe me. Since 2017, almost 1.2 million visa-free visits have been made by Georgian citizens to the Schengen area. And we look forward to many more in the future.
Unhappily, at the same time, there has been a high number of unfounded asylum applications in some European Union Member States. Effective implementation of the legislation on the pre-departure checks is crucial in this sense.
Finally, we have had an open exchange on the Georgian breakaway regions and the regional situation in the Caucasus. Needless to say that the European Union fully supports Georgia’s territorial integrity, and is engaged in bringing lasting peace, stability and conflict resolution through our [European Union] Special Representative for the region[for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, Toivo Klaar] and our European Union Monitoring Mission (link is external).
We have been talking a lot about the role of Russia in the Caucasus and I want to thank the Prime Minister for coming here today and sharing these thoughts.
I repeat, Georgia is, certainly, at a political crossroads. Time is of the essence – it means time matters. And Georgia’s citizens need their representatives to focus on the country’s long-term interests.
As the European Union, we only have the best interests at our heart.
Thank you Primer Minister. Thank you Commissioner.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-203239