Khatuna Burkadze – In the post-pandemic period, Georgia will continue to overcome challenges and implement reforms with the EU support

Interview on Georgia’s European perspective, EU-Georgia agenda and European aid with Dr. Khatuna Burkadze, a research fellow at Geocase

- On May 9, 2020, the Europe Day was held to mark the anniversary of the historic Schuman Declaration. In 1950, Robert Schuman set out the idea for a new form of political cooperation in Europe, which became the starting point of European integration. In years many European countries have joined the European Community. Georgia aspires to become an integral part of European structures.

In your opinion, to what extent do the current instruments of EU-Georgia relations promote Georgia’s integration into the European structures?

-70 years have passed since the birth of the idea of European integration. Through the idea of cooperation within the European Community, the European states have achieved a high level of economic and political integration. Therefore, the EU has a distinguished role among regional international organizations. Supranational elements of the EU such as legislative, executive and judicial institutions facilitate to define the EU policy areas and implement European norms, standards effectively.

The European family is based on common values and interests. It has clearly demonstrated the importance of the EU at the regional and global levels.

The effective European unity is an example of cooperation and solidarity for other states. On the one hand, this cooperation has shown how it is possible to give more opportunities to the European states to develop their economic, political and legal systems and, on the other hand, how the European states can become an integral part of the European Community.

A significant priority of the Georgian foreign policy is Georgia’s membership in the EU. The supreme law of the state – the Constitution of Georgia manifests Georgia’s historic choice. According to the Constitution, constitutional bodies should take appropriate measures to promote Georgia’s full integration into European structures.

As for the existing instruments of EU-Georgia cooperation, Georgia has the Eastern Partnership format that aims to develop political and economic cooperation between the EU and six countries of Eastern Partnership (Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan).

The Eastern Partnership is one of the key instruments of European foreign policy. This format does not represent an instrument for the membership in the European structures. Furthermore, in the framework of Eastern Partnership Georgia has signed the Association Agreement. Georgian citizens have been granted the visa-free travel to the Schengen zone for a short stay as well. This process promotes to enhance EU-Georgia cooperation.

Currently, the Association Agreement and DCFTA are important instruments to implement reforms for strengthening democratic institutions, developing economy and using the EU market to its full extent. Successful implementation of reforms in various spheres will assist Georgia to achieve the historic goal. Being a full member of the European family means to have a sustainable European state system that contributes to building a stronger Europe. The Baltic states, regardless of Soviet history, have become member states of the EU. This is a significant model for Georgia on the European integration path.

In the pandemic period, the EU has delivered large-scale aid to Georgia. It has illustrated that the EU is a significant strategic partner for Georgia not only in ordinary times but also in challenging times. EU-Georgia relations will be strengthened in the future. It is essential to make a political decision on Georgia’s European perspective that will give a significant impetus to start a process to join the European family. It will increase the role of Georgia as an international actor to ensure peace and development in the region.

- The EU has adopted a new policy framework for the Eastern Partnership beyond 2020. What are the priorities and objectives of the new policy framework?

-The new policy framework aims to strengthen resilience in partner states to overcome modern challenges, promote sustainable development and deliver tangible results for citizens. It will contribute to building a stronger Europe as well.

The new Eastern Partnership policy outlines five policy objectives: 1) Together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies; 2) Together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security; 3) Together towards environmental and climate resilience; 4) Together towards a resilient digital transformation; 5) Together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies.

Also, the EU supports the full implementation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs) with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

The EU pays special attention to counter hybrid threats. It underlines that strategic communication is a significant instrument for building resilience. The EU will continue to provide training opportunities and capacity building to the partner states on countering hybrid threats.

In terms of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the EU supports partner countries in the area of public health, including in the modernization of medical facilities and training of medical staff.

The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell said: “Our neighbours' strength is also the European Union's strength. Our proposals will further strengthen our six partner countries”.

Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi said: “We are sending a very clear message to our Eastern partner countries: we will help you to build strong economies and to create growth and jobs by attracting foreign direct investment and by strengthening connectivity in key sectors, such as transport, energy and environment. We will work closely together to address today's challenges across the board, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Eastern Partnership new policy framework illustrates that this format remains a significant instrument for the European foreign policy. The priorities and objectives of the new policy framework indicate that the EU is a significant strategic partner for Georgia in the process of implementing reforms in appropriate fields.

- Due to the pandemic the EU faces challenges. In these challenging times, the EU stands by its Eastern partners. The EU significantly assisted Georgia in the pandemic period. How do you evaluate a large-scale aid of the EU?

- The EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell made the statement to mark Europe Day. The Ambassador underlined: “Through hard work and political will, we have managed to mobilize an unprecedented 1.5 billion GEL to help Georgia getting through the current health crisis, and standing better prepared to tackle the economic and social challenges ahead”.

Also, he highlighted: “Georgia has in many respects done better than others in tackling this challenge. Georgia managed to tackle the challenge thanks to strong political resolve, the support of a truly professional healthcare team and a dedicated population.”

The EU assistance package aims to stimulate economic activities and recover business. It also covers grants to assist representatives of the Georgian private sector including businessmen and farmers in tackling challenges and developing new professional skills. In this process, the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) is involved by the EU.

Also, the European Commission is seeking proposals for actions supporting further strengthening of civil society in Georgia and the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

With the support of the EU, nearly 40,000 protective face shields have been provided to frontline healthcare staff, local civil servants, and other at-risk personnel in Tbilisi and regions. These protective face shields have been made by the local company. It has illustrated that the EU supports to produce Georgian products as well.

The large-scale and comprehensive assistance of the EU demonstrates that the European Union remains the strongest partner of Georgia in the challenging time. The EU stands by Georgia and assists it in tackling health, economic, social and other challenges. The EU assistance package covers all vulnerable groups to deliver tangible results to the Georgian population.

- You underlined that the EU supports Georgian local companies to produce Georgian products. In the pandemic period, it is essential to assist Georgian companies. Also, you mentioned that the EU assistance package covers grants for farmers. How does the EU support the agricultural development of Georgia?

- In the framework of ENPARD, the European Neighbourhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development, the EU provides to support agriculture and rural development in Georgia. The European Union launched this programme in Georgia in 2013. The total budget for ENPARD in Georgia is €179.5 million.

The ENPARD promotes not only agricultural development but also the creation of economic opportunities to those people living in rural areas.

The European Union, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization provided GEL 2.2 million worth of agricultural grants to 50 beneficiaries to support food production and security in Georgia amid the Covid-19 crisis.

The grants allow farmers, cooperatives and small and medium-sized enterprises to invest in equipment and installations, such as tractors, harvesters or greenhouses.

The European Union, Sweden, and Austria announce €1.16 million for local development initiatives in organic agriculture in Svaneti, Racha-Lechkhumi, and Upper Imereti.

Furthermore, the EU supports the idea of “Smart Villages”. This initiative means to help Georgia’s rural regions respond to the economic and social challenges emerging amidst the COVID-19 crisis by using innovative approaches.

Despite the challenges, the EU assists the Georgian farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises to perform their objectives, create new opportunities and improve the business environment.

Also, successful implementation of the concept of “Smart Villages” could be a precondition for the idea of “European Villages” in Georgia. This will consider producing various local products by using European standards and innovative methods and implement more effectively the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.

-We talked about the EU-Georgia relations in the pandemic period. In your opinion, how does the EU-Georgia agenda develop in the post-pandemic period?

-In the COVID-19 crisis the EU large-scale aid illustrated that the EU-Georgia relations have been strengthened regardless of problems. In challenging times, the EU assists not only its member states but also it supports partner countries.

In the post-pandemic period, Georgia will continue to overcome challenges and implement reforms with the EU support.

In this context, it is essential the decision made by Ambassadors of the European states to mark Europe Day. This statement indicates that Georgia will be more integrated into the European structures in the future.

The statement underlines: “The European Union, its Member States and institutions are working for a stronger Europe, a stronger Georgia and stronger EU-Georgia relations”.

The EU key message "Stronger Together” demonstrates that during 70 years the European integration has brought peace and prosperity through solidarity and cooperation.

The post-pandemic period could give the impetus to the EU including a new approach of the EU Enlargement. It will increase opportunities for Georgia’s European perspective to become a member of the European family currently made up of 27 countries with 450 million citizens.

“Interpressnews”

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