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Over 300,000 Georgian citizens have benefitted from visa free travel to the Schengen area since 28 March 2017.
The EU-Georgia Association Agreement, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas, entered into force in July 2016 and strives for political association and economic integration between the EU and Georgia.
Georgia is an important partner for the European Union both within the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and its eastern dimension under the Eastern Partnership (EaP). The 2015 ENP review reconfirmed the EU's long-term engagement with partner countries, in particular with partners, such as Georgia, wishing to pursue deeper relations with the EU. Differentiation and joint ownership being the hallmarks of the new ENP, the policy continues to build ties with and encourage Georgia to further approximate with European legislation and standards. The 2016 EU Global Strategy acknowledged Georgia as an example of state and societal resilience in the eastern neighbourhood.
The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia, which was deployed in line with the Agreement of 12 August 2008, along with the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, embodies the EU's engagement on conflict resolution and its full commitment to Georgia's territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders.
By signing the Association Agreement (AA) in June 2014, relations between the EU and Georgia were brought to a new level. The AA, with its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), foresees far reaching political association and economic integration with the EU by significantly deepening mutual ties and bringing Georgia closer to the EU. The provisional application of the DCFTA part of the Agreement began on 1 September 2014, and the Agreement (as a whole) entered into force on 1 July 2016.
The EU-Georgia revised Association Agenda and the Single Support Framework (2017-2020) reflect the revised ENP and the Eastern Partnership priorities set in the "20 Deliverables for 2020". Also in line with the Georgian Government’s priorities, the Single Support Framework focuses on four main areas, namely 1) Economic Development and Market Opportunities, 2) Strengthening Institutions and Good Governance, 3) Connectivity, Energy, Environment and Climate Change, 4) Mobility and People-to-People Contacts.
A High-level meeting between members of the European Commission and of the Georgian Government took place on 21 November 2018. The implementation of the agreed outcomes, in line with the Association Agenda and the “20 Deliverables for 2020” will further guide the relationship.
Economic development and job creation are key priorities for the EU in Georgia. In 2017, the EU was Georgia's key trading partner, with a 27% share in its total trade.
In 2017, total EU-Georgia bilateral trade amounted to EUR 2.66 billion. During 2017, EU exports to Georgia increased slightly by 0.6% and EU imports from Georgia increased by 26.7%. Figures from the first eleven months of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017 show that EU imports from Georgia decreased slightly by 0.4% and EU export to Georgia increased by 3.8%. As a direct result of the DCFTA, new Georgian exports to the EU are materialising. Georgian kiwis, blueberries, nuts, garlic, wine, wild fruits, flowers, and honey are exported to the EU and copper and petroleum oils have seen sizable increases of exports. Georgia has also been able to export Black Sea fish to the EU since June 2017. The EU also supports the development of new business in Georgia, most recently through the introduction of credit lines.
The process of approximation of Georgia's legislation in trade-related areas advanced in 2018. Georgia has now adopted over 7,000 European standards in areas like health, safety and environmental protection with EU support. This means safer products for Georgian citizens and increased export opportunities for Georgian businesses.
The DCFTA does not apply in the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The territorial clause in the Agreement permits, however, that the DCFTA starts applying in these two regions once the conditions for its implementation are put in place.
Visa liberalisation for Georgian citizens entered into force on 28 March 2017. Since then, more than 300,000 Georgian citizens holding a biometric passport have been able to travel visa-free to the Schengen area for a short stay (up to 90 days). Visa liberalisation for Georgian citizens entered into force on the same day as the revised visa suspension mechanism, allowing the EU to react rapidly to increased irregular migration, including an increase in unfounded asylum requests, or security risk by suspending visa-free travel for any of the visa free countries, if necessary.
Georgia has taken a number of actions to continue to address the challenge of unfounded asylum applications and to increase the operational cooperation with Member States most affected by irregular migration.
The EU-Georgia Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements which entered into force in March 2011 remain in force (Visa Facilitation is applicable to non-holders of biometric passports).
The Mobility Partnership launched in 2010 remains the political framework for cooperation on migration and mobility issues between the EU and Georgia. About 15 projects are currently being carried out in this field.
The EU supports Georgia’s reform agenda through financial and technical cooperation. More than 100 projects are currently being carried out in Georgia.
Since the introduction of the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) in 2014, the EU has committed EUR 589.5 million in financial support to Georgia through bilateral cooperation programmes. This included EUR 122 million allocated following the substantial progress made in implementing reforms (ENI Umbrella Programme, known as "more for more" programmes).
Ongoing bilateral programmes provide support to economic development, justice and public administration reform, vocational education and training and skills matching, policy reform in agriculture and rural development, regional development and transport, energy and infrastructure development. EU support is also instrumental in helping Georgia to align policies and legislation to EU standards and to develop the capacity of selected institutions that play a key role in the implementation of the Association Agreement/DCFTA.
New EU assistance programmes will focus on public financial management, security and the rule of law, while providing further support for the implementation of the AA. Blending operations will support local currency lending as well as energy efficiency, solid waste management and water supply and sanitation.
The European Commission, jointly with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has put in place the DCFTA Facility for small and medium-sized enterprises to respond to their needs.
Additionally, the Neighbourhood Investment Platform (NIP), as part of the External Investment Plan, is a financial mechanism whereby the EU grants support investments from European Financial Institutions. The instrument is used in Georgia for infrastructure financing in different fields, such as water and sanitation, roads, energy, and the environment, as well as for funding small enterprises and agriculture holdings.
Georgia continues to benefit from regional programmes (addressed to all Eastern Partnership countries). This includes EU4Business, EU4Energy, EU4Environment, EU4ClimateChange and EU4Youth initiatives as well as in the areas of culture and transport. In Georgia, the EU4Business initiative amounts to a total value of EUR 882 million of loans and EUR 69 million of grants across several bilateral and regional projects supporting business environment, business support organisations, SME development, access to finance and skills. Georgia is also actively participating in the Neighbourhood Cross Border Cooperation (CBC) Black Sea Programme. In addition, Georgia is eligible for support under a number of other EU thematic instruments, e.g. on civil society, democracy and human rights and migration. In this context, at total of € 23 million has been allocated since 2014 for the support to civil society.
To help stabilise the Government’s macro-economic policies, the EU provides macro-financial assistance (MFA) to Georgia. The current MFA operation is worth €45 million (€ 10 million in the form of grants and up to €35 million in loans). The first tranche of €20 million was disbursed at the end of 2018. It is the third operation since 2008. The previous two operations were each worth €46 million.
EU support has helped to fundamentally reform juvenile justice in Georgia in particular by launching since 2010 Diversion Programmes redirecting all juvenile offenders to reintegration activities rather than criminal prosecution. In January 2016 the Juvenile Justice Code entered into force, which prioritises the interest of the child in legal proceedings. Over 3000 juvenile offenders, aged 16-21, have benefitted from deviation and mediation activities allowing them to atone for their crimes while avoiding the possible negative aspects of criminal prosecution.
The EU continues to support Georgia’s efforts to overcome the consequences of the conflict in August 2008. The EU remains firmly committed to its policy of supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity within its internationally-recognised borders. The EU also pursues a policy of non-recognition and engagement with the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in support of longer-term conflict resolution. The EU appointed in July 2003 an EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus (EUSR) (since 2011, "EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia"). This underpins the EU's commitment to actively contribute to peaceful conflict- resolution and confidence-building efforts across the divides, while reaffirming Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The EUSR co-chairs together with the UN and OSCE the Geneva International Discussions, which were established in October 2008 to address the consequences of the conflict. The EU also deployed a civilian mission in the immediate wake of the August 2008 hostilities: the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia. This is mandated to monitor parties' compliance with the Agreement of 12 August 2008, which was facilitated by the EU to put an end to the armed hostilities. The most visible component of the EUMM's stabilisation work is patrolling the areas adjacent to the Administrative Boundary Lines with the breakaway regions. The EUMM contributes to de-escalation through a hotline and to confidence building in regular Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms and through its confidence-building project facility. The EUMM informs EU policymakers and the Geneva International Discussions.
Programmes involving the breakaway regions aim to foster engagement with these entities and follow a human rights-based approach, which puts people's needs at the centre of development. The Instrument contributing to Peace and Stability programmes (IcSP VI amounting to €7.5 million, to be followed by another €7.5 million under a new phase of the Interim Response Programme starting in 2019) foster people-to-people contacts, direct channels between stakeholders and societies on both sides of the boundary lines and supports opportunities resulting from such dialogues.
European Neighbourhood Initiative programmes build on and complement such political initiatives, aiming at socio-economic development on a participatory and community-based level. This is the logic of the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Regional Development (ENPARD) II component for the breakaway region of Abkhazia (€4 million, followed by an ENPARD III component of the same size) and the Joint EU-UNDP Civil Society Support Programme. The programme on Skills Development and Matching for Labour Market Needs will provide specific support to improve the management and delivery of Vocational Educational Training (VET) and enhance employment and training opportunities of vulnerable groups in Abkhazia. While of a less political nature, these actions intrinsically also support the exchange of ideas, people and expertise.
A Framework Agreement on Georgia's participation in the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy operations entered into force in March 2014 and since then Georgia has already made remarkable contributions to several operations. Their biggest contribution so far, a company of around 156 staff, was to the EUFOR RCA operation in the Central African Republic. Currently Georgia is involved in the EU Military Training Mission in the Central African Republic, and the EU Training Mission in Mali. Since 2014 the EU and Georgia hold staff-to-staff talks on Common Security and Defence Policy.