I am delighted to welcome you Prime Minister Garibashvili, together with the new Foreign Minister Beruchashvili and other Georgian government representatives, to Brussels today for the first EU-Georgia Association Council meeting.
The EU-Georgia Association Agreement, which we signed in June of this year, has raised our relationship to a new level. The Agreement is being provisionally applied since September, allowing us to move ahead with deeper political association and economic integration. As a result, Georgia will transform itself and move closer to the EU.
The Association Council is the highest standing body of our Agreement. Today we agreed on the rules for its functioning to ensure we have a good platform for monitoring progress on its implementation. We also formally endorsed the Association Agenda, a jointly agreed set of priorities for this implementation.
I am very pleased to announce that the Council concurred today with the Commission's second progress report on the implementation by Georgia of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, which concludes that Georgia meets the first-phase requirements of the visa dialogue and that the second implementation phase of the Action Plan can be launched.
We congratulate the Georgian authorities on their efforts in this regard: it is an important step in the process that will bring Georgia closer to its goal of a visa free regime with the EU.
We also expressed appreciation for Georgia’s contribution to EU missions in the Central African Republic and in Mali, on the basis of our Framework Agreement for Georgia’s participation in EU Common Security and Defence Policy missions.
We congratulated Georgia on making further important progress in its democratic development following parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013, and stressed the need to follow up on the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations in good time before the next electoral cycle.
In this regard, the EU side underlined the need to improve the political climate. Political retribution, confrontation and polarisation should be avoided and space for opposition and cross-party dialogue should be ensured.
We spoke about the need for Georgia to continue efforts to reform the judiciary and ensure the rule of law. Criminal investigations and prosecutions should be evidence-based, transparent, free of political motivation, impartial, and adhere strictly to principles of due process, in line with the commitments undertaken by Georgia in the Association Agreement.
Any form of instrumentalisation of the Prosecution for political purposes must be avoided and the Prosecutors should follow legally based procedures strictly and prepare evidence professionally. Politicians should refrain from comment on ongoing investigations and on cases in the court. The executive must respect decisions of the judiciary.
We welcomed the adoption of the National Strategy on Human Rights and the Human Rights Action Plan including the Anti-Discrimination legislation, as well as the establishment of the Human Rights Council. We urged Georgia to pursue further reforms to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms including of persons belonging to minorities and vulnerable groups.
We discussed the most recent developments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including new moves by the de-facto authorities to restrict freedom of movement across the Administrative Boundary Line. Another point of mutual concern is the far-reaching treaty being discussed between the Russian Federation and the Abkhaz de-facto authorities. Reports on a similar undertaking with the South Ossetian de-facto authorities are equally disconcerting.
Such undertakings go against territorial integrity and do not contribute to de-escalation in the region. We reconfirmed the EU's support for Georgia's territorial integrity and assured Georgia that the EU will continue to raise the issue proactively in our contacts with the Russian Federation.
We remain committed to support conflict resolution in Georgia, including through our co-chairmanship of the Geneva International Talks and our Monitoring Mission in Georgia.
Let me conclude by saying that the partnership between the European Union and Georgia is a strong one, and it will become even stronger in the coming years as we implement the agreement for the benefit of Georgia and the EU.
I am looking forward to working with you Prime Minister Garibashvili and your government on all of the agreed objectives on our path ahead.