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We had a very long, very intense and very positive meeting.
It has been, as always, a pleasure to welcome and host you here in Brussels, Giorgi [Kvirikashvili, Prime Minister of Georgia], just a couple of months after a very successful Eastern Partnership Summit, to which you personally and your country have contributed enormously.
Let me start by saying, at the beginning, what is the most important: that our relations are excellent and our partnership is working perfectly well. We have assessed today the fact that, in the last years, our friendship has brought many good results. It has been a very intense few years of friendship, with the entry into force of our Association Agreement, the beginning of our free trade area, and visa liberalisation.
I remember last year we were standing here, looking forward to that [visa liberalisation] being achieved and indeed today we see many opportunities that have opened up for us, for our citizens and we have explored today the ways in which we can explore at full this potential, make sure that we build on this achievement to deliver for our citizens, both in Georgia and in the European Union, that we meet their expectations.
We discussed some concrete ideas today and I want to clearly say that the European Union is fully committed to explore the full potential of our partnership and our friendship. Today, we also looked together at the progress made in the implementation of our Association Agreement, and at some of the remaining challenges.
We have seen, Prime Minister, you and your colleagues - who I would like to thank because the Prime Minister was accompanied by a large government delegation and it is a pleasure to work with each and every one of our colleagues there - your determination in working for the reforms in your country: reforms that now need to be fully implemented and you can count as usual on our full support for that.
We discussed the outcome of the Constitutional reform as well as the outcome of the local elections which were competitive and we have seen that fundamental freedoms were respected.
We agreed on the need to continue to guarantee an inclusive political environment and to promote free and independent media, respect for the rule of law and judicial independence. The European Union will continue to support you also in this work.
I also assured the European Union's continued support for Georgia's territorial integrity as well as our commitment to peace, stability and conflict resolution.
We are constantly engaged in this with our Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia [Toivo Klaar], through our co-chairmanship of the Geneva International Discussions, and the EU Monitoring Mission. We agreed, together with the Prime Minister, on the need to continue and to even intensify our collective efforts, to reach out to communities throughout the entire territory of Georgia and include all sectors of society. We have discussed this at length – both in our restricted meeting and in the plenary. I appreciate your leadership in this field and you know you can count on us in this respect.
Before I leave the floor to you, let me just mention three very important points that I know the Georgian people are keen to hear about.
The last time we met for the Association Council, as I mentioned, we were still hoping for Georgia to achieve visa liberalisation. We were more than hoping for that, we were actually working hard for that and we achieved the result. Now, more than 170 000 Georgian citizens have enjoyed visa free travel to the Schengen area. The implementation of all commitments linked to our agreement is also proceeding well, as reported in December by the European Commission.
I heard from you that your government is committed to making the visa liberalisation work in the best possible way, and to address together any challenge that may arise. Closer contacts between our people are essential. Opportunities for both the EU and Georgia open up when our people meet. That is true for our economies, for tourism, and for getting to know each other even better, which essential among Europeans.
Second, since our last meeting we have seen more Georgian products being bought and enjoyed by European Union citizens. We were already Georgia's first trade partner, and in the first nine months of 2017 Georgian exports to the European Union grew by 37%. This shows that our Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area is really having a big impact and as your government continues to implement reforms, the benefits are going to become even more important, also in terms of job creation and trading opportunities.
And the third point, which links to everything that I have just mentioned, is that we are doing more and more together to communicate the positive impact of our partnership, that is indeed making a difference to our people.
So, as I said to you during our meeting today, I am looking forward to working with you and with your government, as always, but even more than before, on taking our common ambitious agenda forward throughout the next years – including a stronger and deeper cooperation on foreign and security policy that we also discussed, and on regional dynamics.
Georgia is a valued, precious partner for the European Union and we believe it is our shared interest to continue to invest in our friendship, as we have done with good results so far.
Link to the video: https://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I150454