Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili signed a deal for closer ties with Brussels on June 27th. After inking the EU Association Agreement, he gave an interview to European Affairs correspondent Andrei Beketov.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili: I think Association Agreement (AA) with the EU marks a beginning of big changes in my country. It creates a very strong and solid foundation to build in Georgia a modern, democratic society and European state. We also signed a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) which gives tremendous opportunities for the country, for local producers and businesses. Therefore I am really excited.
Andrei Beketov, Euronews. At the ceremony you were talking about joining the European family, about a road to the European Union. Are you committed to full EU membership at the end of this road?
Garibashvili. The AA for us is like a master plan. It doesn’t mean that in a day or two Georgia will become a member of the European Union. But signing this document is not our final goal. Our ultimate goal is the full membership of the EU. And I think my country deserves it. Our ancestors, for many generations, have been trying to get closer to Europe for many centuries. And I think we have a unique chance today. We, Georgians, feel that we are part of the civilised world and civilised Europe. Georgia belongs to Europe and the EU. Of course it will take time. It will require hard work 24/7. We are fully committed and motivated to meet all the requirements of the EU in order to one day become a member of the EU.
Euronews. Which way is Georgia looking now: West or East? Are you trying to move to the European Union or you are exploring a possibility to join emerging Eurasian Union? Or are you trying to move both ways?
Garibashvili.Today we are in Brussels where we signed an Association Agreement with the EU. I think the answer is clear: we are moving towards the West, towards Europe because I think it is the best place. It is the best example for a country which has a motivation to transform into a real democracy, a real modern European state. Our move towards the West does not conflict with my country’s will or aspiration to have normal friendly relationship with all neighbour countries, including Russia
Euronews. But Russia has declared that there would be negative consequences for Georgia if it signs this Agreement. How do you treat these warnings from Moscow?
Garibashvili. I wouldn’t call these ‘warnings’. We are simply in a process of dialogue. When we came to power, when Georgian Dream won the elections in 2012, we immediately started a direct dialogue with Russia. We appointed the prime-minister’s personal envoy, a representative for relations with Russia who was working with the Russian deputy Foreign minister. We made a number of constructive steps in order to, first, de-escalate the tension with them, with concrete results. Russian authority also saw that we are a predictable, normal, constructive government who want to rebuild the trust between the nations, between the peoples, who wants to improve relations such as trade and economic ones. And gradually Russia opened its market for us. I think we are both interested in having normal relationships with each other.
When it comes to the dispute over occupied regions of Abkhazia and Ossetia, of course we stay principled in this main issue, but we continue constructive dialogue.
We welcome the constructive policy of Russia towards Georgia. Two months ago the deputy Foreign minister of Russia made a clear statement that Russia does not intend to interfere with Georgia’s European Association Agreement. And they didn’t.They proved that they kept their word.
After we signed the DCFTA we will have working meetings to make sure that there are not conflicts with Georgia’s policy with other CIS countries and Turkey. Therefore Georgia will have access to 900 million market in total which give us a great opportunity.
Euronews. But Russia controls South Ossetia and Abkhazia. How can you take them to Europe with you? Are you leaving them behind?
Garibashvili.Of course we are not leaving them behind. In my speech to the European Council, I sent a clear message to our brothers and sisters, Abhkazians and Ossetians, that we offer them to share with us this process. We offer Abhkazians and Ossetians to share with us all the benefits that the European AA will bring. They will be able, for example, to travel with Georgian passports, without visa, very soon. We are moving fast with a visa liberalisation action plan. Another example, we will have free trade with Europe, based on DCFTA, with the biggest market in the world. They can also benefit from this by selling their products to Europe without tax and quota, which is amazing. It’s a unique chance.
Here is my vision: when our brothers and sisters, Ossetians and Abkhazians will see those big changes in our country, in Georgia; developing infrastructure, agriculture, educational programmes, improved healthcare and social conditions – they will also want to one day join and reconcile.
I want to underline: it should be in every country’s interests, including Russia, to have stable, peaceful, predictable and constructive neighbour in a very specific region of Caucasus. Georgia is a key player in that area.
Euronews. You will have a long flight back home – Tbilisi is quite far from Brussels.
Garibashvili: Only four hours.
Euronews. On a map it’s huge distance. Do you think EU should expand to South Caucasus?
Garibashvili.Today is a clear demonstration that they are looking at this opportunity. They want to give a chance to Georgia to join the EU. Black sea connects Georgia to the EU. There are no borders any more. World has become much smaller. It;s much easier to travel. I think we will succeed one day and soon Georgia will deserve to become a member of the EU.