Georgia: Priorities and Challenges in 2005 and beyond

3 March 2005

Opening her presentation, Salome Zourabichvili, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia underlined Georgia’s European vocation, which ran much deeper than merely flying the European Union flag from public buildings. She speculated that a survey among Georgians would yield a 100% commitment to European values, history and culture. Rapprochement with the EU was one of the main pillars of the country’s new foreign policy with membership its final goal. Other elements included eventual membership in NATO, a solid partnership with the United States and normalised relations with Russia, though achieving the latter was one of her most difficult tasks as foreign minister. Important questions on Russia’s future development remained unanswered and were of particular concern to Georgia as a bordering country in the process of consolidating its own democracy.

Turning to EU-Georgian relations, Mrs. Zourabichvili reminded the audience that before the Rose Revolution, Georgia and the South Caucasus as a whole had not been on the Union’s list to be included in the new European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). In June of last year Georgia and the two other Southern Caucasus countries had accepted the Union’s offer. For Georgia, the ENP implied a privileged position in its relationship with the European Union – a first step toward eventual membership. Her country was committed to making full use of the opportunities offered under the guise of the ENP, even if it was not fully defined yet. This was a new step in Georgia’s relations with the Union – a new type of relationship both in terms of form and content. Georgia would no longer be the mere recipient of EU aid and assistance – it was willing to assume greater ownership of the process and was eager to define a contractual framework for it in June of this year.

A stable neighbourhood policy more widely implied a relationship of equality, with common interests and understanding informing relations. In her view, the ENP should not be a continuation and development of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCA), but go beyond issues previously addressed in the PCA framework to tackle issues of stability and security to serve the interests of both sides.

She highlighted four key elements that should be included in any future Action Plan for Georgia as part of the ENP: border control, free movement of people, the consolidation of democracy and economic development.

Border Control

For Georgia, the lack of clarity with respect to border control created instability. Insecure borders encouraged trafficking, smuggling and had an overall negative effect on the Georgian economy. In securing Georgia’s borders, particularly with Russia, the country needed both the support of EU Member States and the Union’s expertise. She suggested that this might also become an area of cooperation between the EU, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Russia, serving in part as one of the cornerstones of renewed, constructive relations with Russia.

Free movement of people

Obtaining visas to the European Union had become increasingly difficult for Georgian citizens over the past few years and thus the facilitation of the  freedom of movement and return had to be addressed as part of the Neighbourhood Action Plan. Georgia had eased its system for granting visas to foreigners. While she acknowledged that complex questions regarding the readmission of those who had engaged in criminal activity in the EU was a key concern, improved avenues for legal migration would help efforts to curb illegal migration and trafficking.

The consolidation of democracy

Democracy was at the core of the European value system. Georgia was “on track” in building and consolidating a democratic society and enhancing the reach of the rule of law. In making this transition, Georgia needed EU experience and aid. The consolidation of Georgian democracy should be as important to the Union as it was to the country itself, as it would assure long-term stability. She encouraged Europeans not to “leave the pie to the Americans” in terms of being seen as the key supporters and purveyors of global democracy and to use its “soft policy” tools as effectively as possible.

Economic development

EU assistance on security matters and the consolidation of democracy was of far greater importance to Georgia than access to the European Union’s internal market, the foreign minister said, as Georgia’s market focus lay more in Russia, Turkey and Central Asia in the near future. EU aid was needed most urgently in turning Georgia into a “transit country” – not only for energy. She highlighted the security of gas pipelines as an issue of particular concern. The EU should be actively and financially engaged in building necessary infrastructure throughout the Black Sea region and the Caucasus, she suggested.