The benefits for Georgia of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement are beyond doubt. But the Union has also a lot to gain from this step, writes Tamar Beruchashvili.
Tamar Beruchashvili is Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia.
As European deputies gather in Strasbourg this week to vote on ratification of the EU’s Association Agreement with Georgia, we should reflect on the win-win opportunity that this partnership represents.
The benefits to Georgia are clear. The Agreement, signed well ahead of expectations on 27 June 2014, spurred the much-needed reform programme that we have been implementing over the past two years. In fact, negotiations on the Agreement were able to progress so rapidly, in spite of intense pressure from Russia, due to the pace of our sweeping reforms.
The recent signature of the so called “treaty” between Russia and the Georgian region of Abkhazia is a destructive step against peace and security in the region, but it will not derail Georgia’s European course in any way. Far from it: the ratification of the Agreement by the European Parliament will serve as another reminder to Abkhazians to consider the European perspective of progress within a united Georgia.
Equally, the EU has much to gain from its Association Agreement with Georgia. Its very willingness to accelerate the signing of the Agreement showed the bloc’s appreciation of Georgia’s importance in political and security terms.
Whilst highlighting Georgia’s role as a success story of the bloc’s Eastern Partnership Programme, the Association Agreement will at the same time visibly bolster the EU’s “soft power” to trigger more ambitious reforms. The Agreement will signal to Georgia’s neighbours that the EU stands ready to reward progress on democracy and human rights, regardless of any external pressure.
Both parties stand to reap benefits on the economic front. Since 1 September, we’ve already been enjoying provisional application of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), which harmonises standards and removes tariffs. This will give a further stimulus to the Georgian economy. In the first six months of 2014, Georgia’s trade turnover with the EU grew 15% year-on-year, with a 41% increase in exports and a 9% rise in imports.
Well-established as a regional hub for international companies, Georgia offers attractive opportunities for European enterprises and investors. For the EU, we are a small but well positioned market, with reliable legislative and institutional environments, an advanced banking sector, economic stability, strong property rights, and minimal bureaucratic red tape. Currently ranked 15th by the World Bank in ease of doing business, we would provide the EU with an even more favourable, transparent, and predictable business climate, once the Agreement is fully in place.
Georgia is not only a hub for international companies though. Upon the completion of the South Caucasus Pipeline Expansion, Georgia will become a vital link of the energy security chain in Europe by providing an alternative to Russian supplies.
We call on MEPs to consider all these mutual benefits – both political and economic – as they vote on ratification of the EU’s Association Agreement with Georgia on Thursday. A yes vote would represent a further step in Georgia’s path towards the ultimate goal of EU membership.