"Dear colleagues and friends,
It is a great honour for me to join you today together with Prime Minister Garibashvili and Commissioner Várhelyi, alongside Ms. Kuprashvili and Ms. Sukhy.
Let me start by thanking and congratulating the organisers of this event, which – looking at the topics to be covered over the coming two days – could not be more pertinent. Backed up by a list of speakers that will not be letting you down in terms of their experience and relevance to these discussions.
Speaking about Georgia’s European choice and the challenges to it, reminds me of one of the very first interviews I made since arriving here, where I used the metaphor of Georgia as an airplane, taxing out, ready to take off as soon as the runway has been cleared of some rubble.
My assessment is very similar today. It is not flattery to say that Georgia possesses what it takes for it to really go airborne – even ballistic. I have seen a lot of rubble being cleared from the runway since I came here – even though, to be fair, a few new stones and small pieces of rock have also been thrown back onto it. And not all of it domestically produced, but due to a pandemic and a more challenging regional environment.
But what is most important is that Georgia’s European path is built on solid ground. Not only was Georgia there at the very beginning of Europe’s ancient history and culture. Not only was Georgia at the forefront of contemporary European political philosophy only some century ago, as testified by the constitution of 1921. This heritage remains deeply enshrined to this day in the citizens and society of this beautiful country.
And this is crucial. Because it is one thing to formulate a pro-European strategy based on hard-headed geopolitical and economic analyses. It is quite another to pronounce these same aspirations based on the support of more than 80% of the population.
Fundamentally, as we know, the entry ticket to deepened European integration and cooperation boils down to shared values. And here, I remain firm in my assessment that – whatever attempts are being made to exploit perceived differences between Georgian and European values – not only are they already solidly compatible, but they spring from the same source. And that is an additional strength.
Yesterday, we celebrated Georgia’s Independence Day. In fact, these days, every day in Georgia is Independence Day. But, as we know, this has not always been the case and nothing can be taken for granted. Working day-by-day to develop Georgia’s security, its economy, its export potential, its tourism industry, its educational system, its environment and energy supplies, and its democratic institutions are all part of the work that all of us gathered here today are taking part in. And it is all part of making sure that Georgia will remain the strong, prosperous, and sovereign country we all aspires for it to be.
I see this conference as a great opportunity to bring out the ideas needed to calibrate Georgia’s response to the challenges ahead, as well as to grasp the opportunities that lie in your way (some of them just outlined here by the Commissioner).
I don’t think I need to add to what the Commissioner said about the important role we see in civil society when it comes to reaching these objectives. We know how important a vibrant civil society is for a country’s development. We know how important your role is to reach out to decision makers, to the regions, and to people, including those who need extra attention from society.
And I hope you know how much we appreciate to work together with you, as you also help the European Union to achieve what we are setting out to do through our assistance and policy advice here in Georgia.
With these words, let me thank all participants to this event and let me wish you all a very successful two days!