First time I visited Tbilisi in the 80ies, for a badminton competition. I won it and since then Georgia has been on my mind –whether I watch Georgian movies, listen to Georgian music, enjoy Georgian hospitalityor just talked to my Georgian colleague. I have always shared Georgia’s aspiration for freedom and democracy and admired determination and pride of Georgians.
Georgia is not only one of the three associated countries on the European Union’s Eastern flank, it is also an island of democracy, peace and prosperity in an otherwise complex and all too often conflictual region –the Caucasus. Georgia’s special relation with the EU is underpinned by the 2014 Association Agreement, which also includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. Since March 2017, almost 500,000 Georgians have benefitted from visa-free travel to the Schengen area, bringing our people-to-people contacts to a new level.
Georgia has gained a special place among our Eastern partners by making continued, strenuous efforts to live up to its commitments under the Association Agreement and further deepen its political and economic integration with the EU. Often, going beyond the mere requirements of the Agreement, launching ambitious, full-scale reforms under its unilateral “Roadmap to the EU”. Of course, further harmonisation efforts are still needed, for example when it comes to promotion of gender equality in the economic and political spheres, or the protection of vulnerable groups. These efforts will require continued political will as well as a strengthened administrative capacity, under the scrutiny of a vibrant civil society.
I believe that our inter-parliamentary dialogue has a crucial role to play here. The EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee, which I have the honour to co-chair with MP David Songulashvili, is tasked with scrutinising the implementation of the Association Agreement and addressing recommendations to the Association Council. In this format, Members of the European Parliament and of the Parliament of Georgia review all the topics of interest for EU-Georgia relations.
Needless to say, we follow very closely present political tensions between the ruling majority and the opposition parties. I very much regret this polarisation of the political landscape. However, I truly believe that recent steps to defuse tensions will convince parliamentarians of all sides to engage constructively in the negotiations on the reform of the electoral system in the run-up of this autumn’s parliamentary elections. By doing so, they will serve the greater interest of the Georgian people and their chosen Euro-Atlantic path.
We should not forget that part of Georgia is still occupied and Russian armed forces are stationed in 20% of the Georgian territory. Puppet regimes have been installed in the occupied region of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where human rights violations are widespread, the economy is in dire straits and emigration is massive. We must remain firmly committed to the EU policy of support to Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognised borders and engagement for peaceful conflict resolution.
I would like to conclude with two remarks –as an European, and as an Estonian. As a European, I am thrilled to see that support for EU integration remains extremely high in Georgia –more than 80%, a figure that any EU Member State can envy! As an Estonian, who has seen my country going through the same reforms and challenges, I strongly believe that the future of Georgia is in the hands of Georgian people and nothing is impossible for them if they really wish it.