Check against delivery!
I am very pleased to welcome here in Brussels the Prime Minister [of Georgia] Irakli Garibashvili.
We have been meeting in the framework of the Association Council, which is a very important moment by itself. And, additionally, it has been taking place in a pivotal moment for your country, Prime Minister.
Since the last parliamentary elections, in autumn, the European Union has repeatedly said that all political actors need to find common ground and look for a way forward from the current political situation.
This is especially essential, important, at a moment when Georgia must address the coronavirus pandemic and move forward with its wide-reaching reform agenda that has to include the electoral reform and judicial reform. It is for the elected government to provide inclusive leadership.
Let me stress in the presence of the Prime Minister that a special responsibility rests with the ruling party and the government to find a way forward. And also that boycotting parliament activity is not helpful for a functioning democracy and for political pluralism. It is not by boycotting parliament that we can look for solutions in the framework of political pluralism.
All parties and all political actors within Georgia must look at the wider consequences of the current situation and we have been asking everybody to put the interests of the Georgian people first and find compromises.
You know that the European Union has long been engaged in facilitating dialogue between the political parties in Georgia. And, recently, we moved from facilitation of the dialogue to mediation, after the visit of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, to Tbilisi in early March.
Today, at the meeting and in the informal part of our conversations, we took stock of these mediation efforts, which are being led by President Michel personally and by his personal envoy Christian Danielsson that continues to be in Tbilisi as we speak, presenting several points in order to get full engagement on the issues that have to be solved.
Unhappily, there is not an agreement yet. But, I understand from my discussions with the Prime Minister, that he is committed to constructive cooperation and progress. And the same thing has to be done by the opposition.
Mr Danielsson will make concrete proposals along the lines we have been talking in the coming days. And, for sure, as in any situation like this, give and take will be needed from both sides to find a mutually agreeable outcome.
But this was not the only thing we have talked about in our Association Council today. This meeting was also an opportunity to assess overall cooperation under our comprehensive and wide-reaching Association Agreement, as Commissioner [for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi] in charge knows very well. We have not been just talking about the current political stalemate, but also we have been welcoming the first vaccines that Georgia has received through COVAX, to which the European Union is the largest donor. More will follow.
We know how important it is for Georgia to move ahead swiftly with its vaccination rollout towards a green, sustainable recovery. We have been mobilising significant funds to support this.
We discussed the all-important justice and electoral reform. An independent and accountable judiciary not only underpins a strong democracy, it also attracts external investors and, therefore, growth.
I stressed today that Georgia must deliver on its justice reform commitments, including by reforming the selection process of Supreme Court judges to ensure public trust. An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of any democratic system.
We also discussed opportunities to increase the number of exchanges between Georgian and European Union citizens, in the fields of education, research, sport and there are a lot of them - believe me. Since 2017, almost 1.2 million visa-free visits have been made by Georgian citizens to the Schengen area. And we look forward to many more in the future.
Unhappily, at the same time, there has been a high number of unfounded asylum applications in some European Union Member States. Effective implementation of the legislation on the pre-departure checks is crucial in this sense.
Finally, we have had an open exchange on the Georgian breakaway regions and the regional situation in the Caucasus. Needless to say that the European Union fully supports Georgia’s territorial integrity, and is engaged in bringing lasting peace, stability and conflict resolution through our [European Union] Special Representative for the region[for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, Toivo Klaar] and our European Union Monitoring Mission.
We have been talking a lot about the role of Russia in the Caucasus and I want to thank the Prime Minister for coming here today and sharing these thoughts.
I repeat, Georgia is, certainly, at a political crossroads. Time is of the essence - it means time matters. And Georgia’s citizens need their representatives to focus on the country’s long-term interests.
As the European Union, we only have the best interests at our heart.
Thank you Primer Minister. Thank you Commissioner.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-203239
Q. As you know the political opposition in Georgia considers snap parliamentary elections as a solution for the current political crisis in the country. As the political situation deteriorates over time do you think that new parliamentary elections can be an efficient way out from the crisis and guarantee for the stabilisation in the country?
It is not up to me to decide if there have to be new elections in Georgia. The only thing I can tell you is that the OSCE has considered these elections free and fair.
Q. Why is the European Council President [Charles Michel] engaged with Georgia via Mr Danielsson, his envoy, and not the Enlargement and Neighbourhood Commissioner, the High Representative or even the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus [and the crisis in Georgia, Toivo Klaar]?
Well, let me stress that this Association Council that has attracted a lot of interest is maybe because it is not business as usual. It is not a Council that takes place in calm waters. We are in a difficult moment, this is not business as usual. We are talking about internal political problems in Georgia, which is – by the way - not the most important aspect of our association. Our association does not look at the internal political fights of the countries with whom we associate. We cannot avoid talking about it.
I want to remind you that the President of the European Council [Charles Michel], according with the [EU] treaties, holds the highest external representation of the European Union in the world. He is the highest representative of the European Union in the world.
During a visit to Georgia he considered necessary to try to give a hand and to help solve an internal issue. That is what he did. And later, in order to continue this effort, he considered necessary to nominate a Special Envoy, Mr Danielsson, who has an internal mandate: to look at, work on and help with the internal issues of Georgia, while the Special Representative that, as High Representative, I have for the Caucasus region has an external aspect. It is not about the internal problems of each country, but about how to deal with the external relations side.
I think that it clarifies very well which is the role of each one of them. We have, additionally to that, a Head of the European Union Delegation in Georgia [Mr Carl Hartzell], who is helping Mr Danielsson and working with him hand-in-hand in order to make him aware of every detail of the internal situation in Georgia that he has to know because he is our delegate there.
And, for sure, we have a Commissioner [for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi] in charge of the Eastern relationship and adhesion [accession] - well, Georgia is still not on the way of accession, but it is on a clear European perspective.
Q. I am sure that all political parties in Georgia are watching this press conference. High Representative, can you once again tell them your recommendations? What is your main message at the end of the meeting?
Well, I can only repeat what I already said, which is a repetition of what President [of the European Council] Charles Michel has been saying since he visited Georgia and was involved in trying to help solve the current political situation.
It is clear, coming from the European Union, that we believe that all political parties, all institutions and all actors have to put the interests of the Georgian people first. All political parties need to find a common ground and a way forward. It is for the government to provide inclusive leadership and it is for the government to have a special responsibility as ruling party and the government to find a way forward.
Boycotting parliament is not conducive to a functioning democracy and to political pluralism. Everybody has to refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric and work to find compromises.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-203239
Joint press release following the 6th EU-Georgia Association Council: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/03/16/joint...