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On 5 February 2014, at the plenary session of the Georgian Parliament, Member of the United National Movement, Giorgi Kandelaki, criticised the speech of the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, given at the Munich Security Conference. Kandelaki, who also attended the abovementioned conference, declared:  “At the Munich Security Conference, Mr. Gharibashvili practically disregarded the question put forward by the President of Romania and, afterwards, paraphrased by the Commissioner Füle, stressing how important it is for Georgia not to be content with the EU Association Agreement and to seek a prospect of EU membership… Gharibashvili named the regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as the second parties of the conflict and not Russia, the occupant country.”

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took interest in the abovementioned statement and checked its accuracy.

On 1 February 2014, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, delivered a speech at the Munich Security Conference and spoke about the relations with Russia and Georgia’s European aspirations as well as the ongoing processes in Ukraine. Gharibashvili gave a speech at the panel

discussing the Eastern Partnership; the discussion was dominated by the issues concerning the ongoing processes in Ukraine. The panel discussants included the President of Romania, Traian Băsescu; Acting Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Leonid Kozhara; Leader of the Ukrainian opposition party UDAR, Vitaliy Klychko; Chairman of the Committee on CIS and Eurasian Integration of the Russian State Duma, Leonid Slutsky, and the former US National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski. The panel was moderated by the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Štefan Füle.

The President of Romania, Traian Băsescu, delivered a speech in which he admitted that the EU should have a “much stronger approach” towards its Eastern Partners that would enable these countries to see the prospects of EU membership. “You cannot just invite them to associate with the European Union,” he said. “This [association] does not guarantee that you would ever get accepted into the EU. So, I believe the EU should be much firmer and much stronger in creating the prospect for becoming EU members for these countries when they meet the criteria.”

The Romanian President also declared that the EU should make the issue of the frozen conflicts a priority. “This issue must be solved once and for all, because these countries themselves know that they do not have the prospect of EU membership as long as they have frozen conflicts on their territories,” Băsescu said.

Following the speech of the Romanian President, the panel moderator, European Commissioner Füle, addressed the Prime Minister of Georgia and asked about the importance of “the light at the end of the tunnel” [the prospect of EU membership] for Georgia.

The official Georgian translation of the Prime Minister’s speech was distributed by his press centre. Irakli Gharibashvili stated that the Vilnius Summit is of a historic importance and added that the Association Agreement gives wonderful opportunities to Georgia. The Prime Minister also underlined that 85% of Georgian citizens support European integration and highlighted Georgia’s aspirations towards the membership of the EU and NATO. According to Gharibashvili, this is Georgia’s historic choice based upon the common values, culture and history.

However, despite the abovementioned statement and the emphasis on Georgia’ European aspirations to become an EU member, Gharibashvili did not speak of the membership prospects for the states within the frameworks of the Eastern Partnership Programme put forward by the Romanian President and the European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy.

The Eastern Partnership Programme foresees several directions

for its partner countries in terms of the collaboration with the EU:

  • The prospect of a new generation of Association Agreements;
  • Integration into the EU economy with deep free trade agreements;
  • Easier travel to the EU through gradual visa liberalisation, accompanied by measures to tackle illegal immigration;
  • Enhanced energy security arrangements;
  • Increased financial assistance;
  • Deeper cooperation on environment and climate issues;
  • Increased people-to-people contacts and greater involvement of civil society.
The Eastern Partnership neither promises nor precludes the prospect of EU membership to the partner states. The statements of President Băsescu and Commissioner Füle concerned the necessity of the abovementioned prospect for the transformation of the partner states. Herewith, it should be admitted that according to the Lisbon Treaty,

any European state which respects the European values may apply to become a member of the European Union.

The Preamble of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Georgia refers to Georgia as an Eastern European country sharing historic links and common values with the EU member states. In the Preambles of the Association Agreements between the European Union and Ukraine and the European Union and Moldova,

these countries are also named as European countries sharing the common history and values with the EU.

At the same time, in the Conclusions

on Ukraine adopted by the Council of the European Union on 10 February, the Council reiterates its commitment to signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine and expresses its conviction that this Agreement does not constitute the final goal in EU-Ukraine cooperation.

After speaking of the importance of EU integration, the Prime Minister continued with the issue of Georgian-Russian relations. He discussed the progress achieved by the two states as well as the provocations undertaken near the occupation line in light of the attempts to normalise the relations. In respect to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics he declared:  “As for the Sochi Olympics we decided not to boycott. Our Olympic team will go to Sochi. This decision was extremely hard to make as we are faced with these unresolved issues, the conflict with our brothers, Abkhazians and South Ossetians.”

By the end of the discussion, in closing remarks, Commissioner Füle touched upon the prospect of EU membership for the partner states within the Eastern Partnership Programme. According to Füle, in order to transform this part of Europe, the Association Agreement has to be only the first step and “the next one should be the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Conclusion

Prior to the address of the Prime Minister of Georgia, a speech was delivered by the President of Romania, Traian Băsescu, who highlighted the pressing need for the EU’s increased attention towards the Eastern Partnership countries. As stated by Băsescu:  “In order to help these countries, the EU needs to offer more than the Association Agreement, it is essential to provide them the prospect of EU integration.”

The speech of the Romanian President was followed by the question of Euro Commissioner Füle addressed to Irakli Gharibashvili who asked how important the “light at the end of the tunnel” is for Georgia. The Prime Minister of Georgia spoke about the importance of European integration and Georgia’s European choice as well as the aspirations of the country towards EU and NATO membership. However, Gharibashvili did not give a direct response to the question about the importance of granting the prospect of EU membership to the Eastern Partnership countries. This was particularly discernible in light of the statements of the other speakers, Traian Băsescu and Štefan Füle, who underlined the fact that the Association Agreement is not sufficient and the countries signing this agreement should be given far more guarantees and perspectives. As of today, the Eastern Partnership programme does not specifically envisage the prospect of EU membership for its partner states, however, nor does it preclude such a possibility.

Discussing the relations with Russia and the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Irakli Gharibashvili noted: “Our Olympic team will go to Sochi. This decision was extremely hard to make as we are faced with these unresolved issues, the conflict with our brothers, Abkhazians and South Ossetians.”

Therefore, we conclude that the statement of the Member of Parliament, Giorgi Kandelaki:  “At the Munich Security Conference, Mr. Gharibashvili practically disregarded the question put forward by the President of Romania and, afterwards, paraphrased by the Commissioner Füle, stressing how important it is for Georgia not to be content with the EU Association Agreement and to seek a prospect of EU membership… Gharibashvili named the regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as the second parties of the conflict and not Russia, the occupant country,” is TRUE.

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