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Good morning. Gamarjobat.
Thank you for your warm welcome, dear Madame President. And congratulations on the excellent organisation of the Batumi International Conference, which I was glad and honoured to open this morning.
Georgia is an important partner and friend of the EU. And in our meeting, we discussed the strong EU-Georgia relations, and how to further develop them.
Our trade is increasing, but more can and will be done to explore the full potential of our Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. On the basis of our Association Agreement we are advancing our cooperation in many areas, from education to agriculture, from economic development to environment.
The fact that Georgians can travel visa-free to Europe, and EU citizens to Georgia, brings us closer to each other. Your unique cultural heritage – including your polyphonic music and cuisine - is capturing the hearts of more and more of us. In the context of visa free travel, we agree on the need for stepped up, joint efforts to effectively handle the current challenges.
Russia's recent decision to ban flights to Georgia is unjustified and disproportionate. But your country has weathered external pressure before and will do so again this time. The EU stands with Georgia in solidarity and with full commitment to your sovereignty and territorial integrity.
EU-Georgia relations are built on our common values. Georgia’s greatest asset lies in its demonstrated commitment to democratic reform and the rule of law. This is a process that needs to be taken forward with continued determination. As you know, a credible, independent and transparent judiciary is essential for public trust, for economic and social development and also for attracting foreign investments.
With regard to elections, I welcome the ongoing process to address shortcomings from previous elections, as reported by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and others, as well as the government's decision to hold elections in 2020 under a fully proportional system. I see this initiative as a real chance to enhance the plurality of Georgia’s democratic landscape. I encourage all stakeholders to use this opportunity to work in good faith.
In my opening speech at the Batumi conference I spoke about the need for Georgian unity. My Brussels experience tells me that you can count on European solidarity as long as your Georgian solidarity lasts, and as long as you respect your common strategic political goals. Democracy is a constant debate and not a civil war. Therefore, everything is in your hands. Thank you.