Georgian minister: EU remains priority despite ‘Russian rapprochement’

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Tamar Beruchachvili, Georgia's deputy state minister of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, told EURACTIV that the country’s new policy towards Russia “would certainly not jeopardise relations with the EU”.

Tamar Beruchachvili is the deputy state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Georgia.

She spoke to EURACTIV's Samuel Doveri Vesterbye.

Would you call this week’s Eastern Partnership (EaP) dialogue a success for Georgia?

The EaP went very well and can definitely be considered a success.  As mentioned by Štefan Füle [the Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy], Georgia continues to be an example of consistency and determination with regards to the implementation of the EU agenda, despite the challenges related to the new government and situation of cohabitation. The EaP countries have developed and implemented a lot of important reforms, in line with the roadmap agenda of the EaP,  including the negotiation of association agreements and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA).

Did members of EaP push for further developments this week?

Georgia, Armenia and Moldova were very vocal about the willingness to finalise talks and complete negotiations soon. The EaP countries are all very keen on mobility. Ukraine and Moldavia have already embarked on visa free travel negotiations. It’s been decided that Georgia will start soon, with the possibility of starting talks this month with plans to finalise the initial components of visa liberalisation. Other countries that already opened these talks are also very committed. In general, it can be said that this week’s talks led to quite substantial developments. We now have a lot of work to do.

Georgia and the EU signed a 20-million financial agreement reform package this week. How do you envision that this money will be spent?

We want to have a policy-driven and result-oriented cooperation on assistance with the EU. This is fundamentally our priority in the coming years. That’s partially why this new assistance package will help Georgia in its dedication towards institution building, while funding special new instruments which support bodies and structures involved in the accession and negotiation agreement.

Hopefully we will start negotiations on trade by next year and as soon as an agreement will be signed, which is expected in 2014, the DCFTA will be enforced. Some of these funds will go to the food safety agency and the agency on standardisation. Several focal agencies need to be upgraded in terms of new equipment, expertise and infrastructure. All these elements remain vital in order to respond to Georgia’s commitments to the EU.

Georgia has had a government change recently, which affected its foreign policy position on Russia. How do these changes reflect this week’s meeting with the EU?

The meeting was a very good opportunity for EU officials to meet individually with our new prime minister and president. All the meetings firmly stressed that European integration remains Georgia’s strategic priority. I think I can easily say that this remains our firm statement on all levels. None of the political parties in Georgia can monopolise these strategic goals for the country because it’s based on the Georgian people’s will, not a simple party policy.

This new government and its open policy lines with Russia will by no means jeopardise the Georgian implementation of the European integration agenda. Trade opportunities with Russia will not change Georgia’s economic integration towards the EU internal market. And finally, we have no plans to join any Russian led customs union, or any other type of ‘reincarnated format of former soviet countries’.

How is Georgia responding to the EU’s enlargement fatigue?

We want to be recognised in a European future – that’s obvious. At the same time we know that the enlargement process is not the ‘sexiest topic’ at the moment. Neither the EU nor Georgia is fully ready at this point, so we need to do our best collectively to build Europe in Georgia, while implementing all the necessary reforms and transformations.

It’s not just for the sake of EU membership; this is equally for Georgia to develop itself and improve at home. That said – we see Georgia’s future as being part of the European family of nations. 

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