Georgia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Teimuraz Janjalia, in an exclusive interview with commonspace.eu reiterated his country's commitment to the Association Agreement signed with the EU in 2014. "The Association Agreement provides a basis for a strong value-based partnership between EU and Georgia, and we remain firmly committed to it. Further strengthening of democracy, the rule of law, independence and transparency of judiciary, continued fight against corruption, and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, are all at the heart of this partnership", he said.
Janjalia was this week in Brussels for meetings with EU institutions, and in The Hague, where he met officials from the Dutch government, and the members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Dutch Parliament.
The following is the full transcript of the interview:
CS: It has been nearly two months since the VI Eastern Partnership summit in Brussels. How do you assess the results of the summit for Georgia and for the South Caucasus region?
We welcome approving of the reinforced common post-2020 agenda of the Eastern Partnership, which offers number of key benchmarks to help build the resilience of the Eastern European partners. We hope it will further strengthen resilience of our institutions, environment, economies, societies, and respond to the modern needs of digital and green transformation. The Eastern Partnership Economic and Investment plan is an ambitious tool in this regard, and we look forward to its practical implementation with the active involvement of the financial institutions and the member states. We stand ready to deliver with the joint ownership under both the governance and investment pillars of the new agenda.
The process of negotiations over the joint Summit Declaration was long and tense, but we are happy that the spirit of compromise prevailed and we managed to adopt a more or less balanced text. We particularly welcome in the Declaration reiteration of the strategic importance of the EaP and the sovereign right of each partner to choose the level of their integration with the EU. For that to materialise we need to have a Partnership which allows for more flexibility and differentiation and operates based on tailor-made approaches. That way we will be able to maintain relevance of the Eastern Partnership and keep it attractive for all partners, which will also guarantee its inclusivity.
From a general point of view, we all, the partners, EU and its member states, need to make the best use of the new Partnership agenda, invest more efforts and resources in materializing common economic, social, cultural projects that aim to promote stability and result-oriented cooperation in the EaP region. Priorities such as connectivity, access to Single Euro Payments Area, decreasing roaming tariffs within the region but also with the EU, people-to-people contacts, encouraging tourism and business linkages, strengthening the SMEs potential can bring tangible benefits to all our states and citizens.
The EU is still in the process of working out country specific flagships for the Partners, along with the relevant financial indications/guarantees, as well as a new design of the Eastern partnership, which should allow for effective tracking of the implementation process of the EaP agenda. We continue working internally with the line ministries, as well as with the EU and the partners in this regard and look forward to start the implementation process soon.
CS: Georgia, together with Moldova and Ukraine, last year established the “Trio format” to deliver better their message asking for an EU membership perspective. Georgia has also declared it will submit a formal EU membership application in 2024 regardless. Does this remain still Georgia’s intention? Has the trio format had any success so far?
Association Trio is a logical consequence of lengthy cooperation between our states on matters pertaining to EU integration, which has been intensified lately, and against the backdrop of the evolution of our bilateral relations, as well as of the EaP. It was precisely the moment when we had to make next step as a group. Apart from common history, what unites our three countries is our European aspirations and the firm choice of our societies to become members of the EU, based on the shared European values.
By signing the Association Agreements, including the DCFTAs, more than 7 years ago our states made a commitment to embark on a process of complex reforms in order to achieve legal and normative convergence with the EU. This commitment holds stronger than ever.
The Association Trio format rests on 3 main pillars: 1) advance the European integration process of our three countries by cooperating in a Trio format on issues of common interest, primarily implementation of the AA/DCFTA; 2) expand joint cooperation with the EU, including through dialogue formats in sectors of common interest; and 3) coordinate positions on further development of the Eastern Partnership.
Since the signature of the joint Memorandum in Kyiv in May 2021, the Trio has presented itself to the EU and our international partners at the highest level to make a case of its ambitions. The Leaders’ meeting with the participation of European Council President in Batumi in July 2021 sent a strong message of determination of the Association states and EU’s interest to engage in enhanced cooperation with these states on their path towards building ever closer ties with the Union. At the end of November, the Trio reaffirmed its determination to work closely with the EU with the joint visit of the Prime-Ministers of the three countries to Brussels. The Association Trio is resolved to maintain its momentum and bring its case in front of EU member states to forge closer partnership on EU integration matters and identify concrete policy areas for deeper cooperation. I must say, that we consider the Netherlands as one of primary targets for the Trio’s work to this end.
It is also motivating for us that the Association Trio’s initiative has been acknowledged in the latest EaP Summit joint declaration. As a continuation to this, we look forward to more possibilities of discussions between the Association Trio and the EU on approximating our sectorial policies that are of common interest such as twin green and digital transitions, connectivity, energy security, justice and home affairs, strategic communication and healthcare. Such discussions could replicate already very successful informal DCFTA ministerials and offer political steering to enhanced cooperation in other areas of Association Agreement.
The Association Trio format is not a substitute of bilateral relationship of each of our states, even within the Eastern Partnership. We have made it clear on many occasions, that the format is an initiative of three countries with common aspirations and legal frameworks in place. Therefore, when it comes to Georgia’s bid to file an application – it holds strong, as it echoes the will of Georgian people, whose support for the country’s EU membership has never faded. This resolve is a strong motivation for us to continue the complex reform process and anchor Georgia firmly to the Union, built on shared values and principles that are so close and intrinsic to our society.
CS: When we speak to EU officials in Brussels we are always told that Georgia’s first task is to fulfill and maximise the potential of its Association Agreement with the EU. How do you respond to this? Why is this not enough?
The Association Agreement provides a basis for a strong value-based partnership between EU and Georgia, and we remain firmly committed to it. Further strengthening of democracy, the rule of law, independence and transparency of judiciary, continued fight against corruption, and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, are all at the heart of this partnership.
Despite many challenges, including from external forces, we have implemented and continue to undertake complex reforms. We are doing our best to build on our achievements and to continue the transformation of our legal and institutional system, according to the standards agreed in the Association Agreement across many fields including rule of law, judiciary, human rights, food safety, energy efficiency, transport, digital field, environment, health, etc. The DCFTA has contributed to the increased trade between Georgia and EU – we are glad that more Georgian products are finding their way to the EU markets; along with honey, Black Sea fish produce, treated hide, animal feed and many other products, most recently EU markets opened for Georgian snail exports. We are motivated to invest further in strengthening Georgian export capacities and finding other niche products for the EU market. Education, research and culture are those areas where Georgia has excelled in using EU framework programmes, such as Erasmus+, Horizon 2020 and Creative Europe; and we are determined to continue and even expand our involvement in these programmes.
Georgia remains a key security partner to the EU – in our region we have never taken peace for granted, and we value the EU’s active involvement in helping to secure peace and stability in Georgia and the whole region.
We value the Dutch presence with 11 observers in the EU Monitoring Mission, which represents unified international presence on the ground to monitor the implementation of the EU-mediated 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement, and an important tool for preventing escalation on the ground. It is our concern however that the Russian Federation blocks the access of the Mission to the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, despite the mandate of the Mission.
Let me remind you that Georgia has been one of the first targets of Russian wider hybrid warfare that we all see now at its full blast amid Russia’s recent attempts to blackmail the West with the aim to retain the spheres of influence, with interfering in the NATO’s open door policy and foreign policy choices of sovereign countries, violating sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours, and threatening with the military aggression in the Eastern Ukraine. Occupation of Georgia’s regions and daily provocations on the ground are part of Russia’s aggressive policy towards the West and needs to be seen through the wider regional prism.
In this light it is of particular concern that Russia has intensified its destructive steps in gross violation of the EU-mediated 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement, be it increased militarization of Georgian regions with illegal military bases with more than 10.000 Russian troops equipped with modern offensive weaponry, illegal military exercises, as well as daily provocations including installation of barbed wire fences and new type of “Berlin Wall” in the heart of Georgia, illegal detentions and kidnapping, grave violation of human rights and ethnic discrimination against Georgians, while hundreds of thousands of IDPs and refugees expelled from occupied regions as a result of multiple waves of ethnic cleansing are deprived of their right to a safe and dignified return. At the same time, each year we witness the occupied regions being dragged into Russia’s military, political, social, economic and judicial systems as there are clear steps towards de-facto annexation of these territories, Increasing the risk of their eventual “Crimeanisation”.
Besides, Russia continues to undermine the negotiation formats and deny its responsibility to respect the international obligations. Let me underline that in January 2021 the ECHR legally established the fact of Russia’s occupation and effective control over Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia and found Russia responsible for human rights violations on the ground, as well as for ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population.
Despite challenges stemming from Russia’s hybrid warfare agenda, Georgia is committed to continue its peaceful conflict-resolution strategy and to fully utilize the peace negotiations formats and all the diplomatic means to reach tangible results for lasting peace, security and human rights protection of conflict-affected population on the ground. The EU’s strong stance and decisive engagement is crucial in this process.
At the same time, Georgia, besides being beneficiary, does its best to be a contributor to peace worldwide, including through its participation in EU CSDP missions in the Central African Republic and Mali.
Building on these achievements, it is our firm intention to fully exploit the vast potential of the AA/DCFTA, including by creating new openings for gradual political, economic and sectoral integration with the EU that would further solidify our strong partnership with the EU. And progress in our endeavours will have direct implications on our quest towards the EU membership and implementation of our pledge to file an application in 2024.
However, this process is linked with a demanding and complex reform process that needs a clear benchmark ahead that will motivate us. An explicit prospect of EU membership would have been a very strong political incentive, a promise that would have served as an encouragement for Georgia, as well as Ukraine and Moldova on this bumpy road of reforms. The Association Trio have continuously underscored the importance of such prospect in their joint positions and statements.
Nevertheless, while this promise is yet pending, we have set to ourselves achieving gradual and maximum possible integration into the EU Single Market, and more convergence with EU sectorial policies as the next big benchmark. This would prepare our country for a decisive next step at the right moment in time.
CS: The domestic political situation in Georgia in recent years has been rather turbulent. Can this derail Georgia’s European ambitions? Are you able to convince your European counterparts that Georgia’s institutions are working satisfactorily?
Georgia’s European ambitions are stronger than ever. With all ups and downs, Georgia has managed to demonstrate progress in fulfilling its commitments that are enshrined in the AA/DCFTA. Roughly said, around 40% of the Agreement has been implemented through legal or institutional approximation. The results of this comprehensive alignment with the EU norms and standards are seen and felt at every step and in every aspect of political, social or economic life in Georgia. Major legislative and institutional mechanisms created in justice, rule of law and human rights, energy efficiency, environment, customs, labour rights, competition, market surveillance, food safety are just few a examples of this comprehensive exercise.
Internal political disagreements, however tense they may be, are not unique to Georgia Our country is a young democracy, which has been fighting its way towards the common European family despite a highly aggressive external pressure over many years, and especially today when the European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Georgia and its partners are openly and explicitly challenged by Russia.
However, nothing in this is new for our history and for our people who always had to fight for sovereignty and freedom, and for their right to determine their own future. Notwithstanding these challenges, popular support for the European course in Georgia has never faded, in fact, it has remained continuously strong for many consecutive years. According to the latest surveys, support for Georgia’s EU membership is over 80%. Last but not least, Georgia’s commitment to its European and Euro-Atlantic integration is explicitly inscribed in its Constitution. .
CS: It is sometimes said that Georgia’s most potent tool in its dealings with EU countries is its soft power. Is there such a thing as Georgia’s soft power, and how can it be used better to promote closer relations with the EU?
When it comes to Georgia’s soft power, we have a lot that we take pride in and are willing to share with our European friends and partners. Being located on geographic and civilizational crossroads between East and West and experiencing and adapting to major geopolitical changes thought the centuries, have resulted in Georgia’s quite distinct and diverse culture – exquisite cuisine, polyphonic singing, national dances, ancient wine-making traditions that produce an array of wines with original and unique tastes, mingled with breathtaking landscape and hospitality. These are just few of many other features of the soft power of Georgia, attracting more and more Europeans to Georgia not just for visiting, but also for staying here for longer period of time and working remotely from Georgia. Intensifying people-to-people contacts is significantly contributing to strengthening our cultural diplomacy and keeping Georgia on Europeans’ mind.
CS: Finally, you are here in the Netherlands for meetings with the Dutch government. How do you assess the current state of relations between Georgia and The Netherlands?
I had very fruitful and comprehensive meetings with my Dutch colleagues, the Prime Minister’s Foreign Policy and Defence advisor, members of the Government and the representatives of the Legislative Body to discuss a wide range of bilateral and multilateral cooperation between Georgia and the Netherlands, prospects of our future collaboration, as well as regional and security issues.
Georgia and the Netherlands enjoy very positive and fruitful relations, which are based on mutual trust and interests, underpinned by shared European values. We appreciate the Netherlands generous role in the process of Georgia’s institutional and socio-economic transformation, as well as the country’s reforms agenda.
I am confident that partnership ties between our countries will continue broadening and that new initiatives will inject more dynamism in our relations helping to secure national and regional success.
This year marks an important milestone in our relations. On 22th of April, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries, a good momentum to highlight our political dialogue, trade and economic cooperation, people-to-people ties and explore new avenues of cooperation, so as to create more benefits for the two countries and peoples.
We highly value Dutch engagement in Georgia’s democratic transformation. Our government stays committed to a dynamic reform agenda that will lay the groundwork for Georgia’s sustainable development and democratisation. We appreciate every effort that has been made by the Netherlands in support of the common cause of our countries.
The mutually beneficial cooperation with the Dutch side includes dynamic trade and economic relations. The Netherlands leading position as the 2nd biggest investor with 106.43 million USD, as well as the significant assistance and engagement over the years in the fields of agriculture, horticulture, dairy, livestock, new technologies, logistics, water management, wind energy, is very much appreciated.
As Georgia and the Netherlands are both parliamentary democracies, we attach a great importance to facilitate deepening the cooperation between the legislative bodies of two countries, as well. During my stay in the Hague, I had an opportunity to address the distinguished members of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Dutch Parliament, to discuss Georgia’s foreign policy objectives and priorities and Georgia’s view on current security challenges undermining European Security architecture. We do believe that in today’s fast-changing and unpredictable world, the Europeans’ strength is only in unity and with the close and consistent coordination we can together tackle our common challenges and achieve a more human progress towards a shared European future.