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It is always a pleasure to welcome you and your delegation here in Brussels, Mr Prime Minister [of Georgia, Mamuka Bakhtadze], my dear friend.
Georgia has made great steps in the implementation of our Association Agreement. This provides the basis for our political association and our economic integration. The European Union is fully committed to exploring the full potential of our partnership, including the export and growth potential offered by the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area that we have in place.
The European Union granted Georgian citizens short stay visa-free travel to the Schengen area almost two years ago now. Since then more than 300,000 Georgian citizens have benefited from this and travelled to EU countries. This is one of the most tangible results that we have achieved together. We also spoke today of the ways in which we can address some problems related to this, but overall to make it sustainable over time. This is one of the main achievements, as I said, that we have managed to put in place for our citizens.
I expressed to her then and to you, Mr Prime Minister, today, the importance of reconciliation and dialogue following a polarising electoral campaign. I was equally glad to hear about your commitment to address shortcomings indicated in the OSCE/ODIHR reports in view of the 2020 parliamentary elections.
We also discussed the importance of continuing the good work already done in the area of the rule of law and for Georgia to further strengthen its judicial institutions in a transparent manner.
We continue to fully support your territorial integrity within your internationally recognised borders – and this is, actually, what we have started with in our meeting today - and we are committed to peace, stability and conflict resolution, which would benefit all Georgians and the wider region.
We constantly work for peace, through our Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia [Toivo Klaar], our co-chairmanship of the Geneva International Discussions, and our EU Monitoring Mission
that is the only presence on the ground and we just recently extended its mandate
We support your "Peace Initiative - a step to a better future". We discussed this at length. I appreciate your leadership and you know you can count on us in this respect.
Finally, we have started already to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership
. Let me thank you once again for your commitment to this common project. The Batumi Conference in July will be an important moment dedicated to the achievements and future of the Eastern Partnership.
So thank you for hosting that and for being here today. We have plenty of achievements that we can rightly be proud of, but as we discussed today, there is still work to do, potential in the relationship to make the most out of it, and more benefits to bring to both EU and Georgian citizens.
So, thank you very much Mr Prime Minister [Mamuka Bakhtadze] for this good meeting and the good work that you are doing.
Q. Every time Georgia takes a step forward in terms of its European integration, it causes a difficult response from Russia. Borderisation is ongoing, people are being kidnapped, and so on. A few weeks ago, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Karasin said that Georgia had to make a choice between good relations with neighbours in the region and continuing its path to Europe. What can the EU and Georgia do together to mitigate the risks to freedom and stability in the region and the country?
I think I was clear enough on the continued, confirmed and reconfirmed-over-time commitment and engagement of the European Union for the full respect of the territorial integrity of Georgia. As the Prime Minister [Mamuka Bakhtadze] mentioned, we are engaged in several tracks of work including on the ground with our monitoring mission
, that as I mentioned is the only presence on the ground, and including at diplomatic level with our role in the Geneva mechanism [Geneva International Discussions co-chairs].
We do raise this issue with the Russian authorities at different levels every time we have the opportunity to do so. As I mentioned, today we were very interested in hearing details about the implementation of the peace initiative that we fully support and that we believe can be an important step towards improving the conditions of citizens and offering avenues for people-to-people contacts and, potentially, reconciliation.
Let me state very clearly something I have stated several times that does not only relate to Georgia but to our entire Eastern Partnership policy. The approach of the European Union is never an approach of spheres of influence. We do not believe that any country in the world should be put in the situation of choosing one side or the other. Being friends, being partners, being close to the European Union, does not imply being less friends with or less close to any other country in the world. Being friends and partners of the European Union is fully compatible with being friends and partners with any other country of the world. The point is whether these other countries are attractive as friends and partners, but this is not a problem of the European Union.
Q. The Georgian Prime Minister spoke about the roadmap and the concrete plans which the Georgian government is going to implement. The Georgian government is mentioning that they want more and broader action beyond the Association Agreement. What is your view on the further integration of Georgia into the European Union? The majority of the government and the people in Georgia is saying that they want to become a member of the European Union as soon as possible. What do you expect, what is the maximum that is achievable in the following years considering the challenges the organisation is standing itself in front of?
We have discussed with the Prime Minister [Mamuka Bakhtadze], the government [of Georgia] and the delegation, the roadmap and some ideas on the way forward. We have already a way forward that is very consistent and very substantial which is, first of all, the implementation of our Association Agreement, on which good steps have been taken but the work still continues; the 20 deliverables for 2020
that have been decided during the Eastern Partnership Summit
, and that will continue to be the objective of our common work in the remaining period of our mandate and after.
This constitutes a very ambitious and substantial agenda. My concern would not so much be that of keeping high levels of ambition for the future but to rather to keep our respective focus on the implementation of this very substantial agenda that we already have in front of us. I believe that this will continue to bring positive results for the citizens of Georgia and also for the European Union.