Georgia chooses Europe - Saakashvili

Thu 18 Nov 2010 08:25 GMT | 12:25 Local Time

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Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso have discussed preparations for talks on free trade.

Jose Manuel Barroso said that although “significant progress” had been made on legislative and regulatory measures, Georgia needed to make “more effort” on their implementation before talks could be launched on a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU.

Speaking to reporters after meeting President Saakashvili in Brussels on 17 November, Barroso said that the timing of the start of talks “is very much in the hands of our Georgian counterparts”.
 
“I count on their determination to begin quickly,” he said at a joint news conference with President Saakashvili.

Saakashvili thanked Barroso for helping to finalize the EU-Georgia visa facilitation agreement and expressed the hope that “one day we will get to visa-free travel as well as, more importantly, [to] the free trade agreement.”

“We hope that we’ll do our homework, do our deep, free trade agreement opening already within the next few months, provided the negotiations proceed well,” Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili, who frequently states in public speeches that Georgia wants to be “European, democratic Singapore”, also told the news conference: “Georgia’s choice is Europe; there is no alternative for Georgia, but to be in Europe and hopefully Europe will appreciate that and will more look at Georgia not just as a neighbour country, but also eventually as a future integral part of this great Union.”

He said, however, that there was a still a long way to go to reach that goal and that Georgia was “taking a step-by-step approach”.

Barroso hailed President Saakashvili for “achievements during recent years in bringing forward an agenda of political and economic reforms”.

“We encourage the Georgian authorities to continue efforts to increase political pluralism and consolidate political institutions,” he added.

He said that the European Commission would continue to implement its post-August war assistance package of EUR 483.5 million of which, Barroso said, about 97% had already been committed.

Barroso reiterated EU support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and said that the EU’s position was “quite clear” that it did not “recognize the occupation of any part of Georgia”.

“It is of course a very sensitive issue. We have always kept a position of principle. President Saakashvili just said, we defend as a matter of principle, the integrity, the sovereignty, the territorial integrity of Georgia and we have made it clear that we do not recognize the occupation of any part of Georgia, this is quite clear and we will keep that position,” Barroso said.

Barroso's use of the term “occupation” became a top story of the Georgian nationwide broadcasters in their morning and midday news bulletins on Thursday.

Barroso also said that the diversification of energy sources, in particular through developing the Southern Corridor to supply energy from the Caspian region to Europe, was “a key priority for the EU”.

“We attach great importance to the crucial transit role played by Georgia. I encourage Georgia to formally apply for membership of the Energy Community,” Barroso said, referring to a group created in 2005 to ensure close cooperation within the EU and among neighbouring countries in the energy sector.

The European Commission president’s remarks calling on Georgia “to formally apply for membership to the Energy Community” were interpreted by Georgian television stations as a call to make a formal appeal to join the EU;  a similar misinterpretation was then also picked up by some Georgian news agencies.

Barroso said that joining the Energy Community, which was established with the objective of creating a stable regulatory and market framework for the energy sector, would enable Georgia to reinforce its “attractiveness for energy investments”.

Georgia, like Norway, Turkey and Ukraine, has “observer” status at the Energy Community.

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