Step-By-Step: Guide To Georgia’s European Future
09 April, 2015
Step-By-Step: Guide To Georgia’s European Future
Exclusive: EU Ambassador Herman Looks to a Bright, Better and European Future for Georgia

“Overall progress is evident. You ask me what the strategy is. The answer is simple: the Association Agreement. It is a massive document. Of course you might try to translate it into a dozen key goals. But in real life, implementation will require hundreds of small steps.”

On March 25th, Janos Herman, Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia, presented the progress report 2014 on the implementation
of the European Neighborhood Policy in Georgia. The European Commission published the report on the implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy with its recommendations. According to the document, in 2014, Georgia achieved success in various fields, including media, the fight against corruption and adoption of the anti-discrimination law. However, Janos Herman stressed that some inherent problems continue. In particular, it is necessary to strengthen Georgia’s judiciary institution as a whole and to improve the electoral system. The report states, “Next year Georgia needs to focus on reasonably allotting power among the government branches; improving political climate – refraining from political revenge; providing space for a dialogue between opposition and parties. This action aims at strengthening democracy and focusing on the priorities such as economic development and urgent social problems.” Georgian Journal sat down with Ambassador Herman to discuss the present state of European Neighborhood policy and Eastern Partnership, to assess the progress of implementing the Association agreement and Visa liberalization processes. In short Ambassador Herman candidly provided frank answers to those questions on all of our minds – or at least to the questions that every Georgian interested in his country’s European future ought to know…

“It was never in the cards that a full decision on visa liberalisation could be taken already in May, by the Riga Summit.”

– Let’s start off with visa liberalization, one of the most coveted and eagerly expected aspects of Georgia’s European integration. How is the process going and when is it supposed to reach its conclusion? Earlier, it was expected to be introduced at the Riga summit, but judging from the latest statements of the EU officials, that might not be the case.

– I would like to go to some detail here, as there are misunderstandings regarding visa liberalization. The visa liberalization process with Georgia is in the framework of the EU’s common visa policy. This regulates short stays, which do not exceed 90 days. We have been negotiating visa liberalization with a series of countries already, based on a proven methodology. This is applied to Georgia as well under the visa liberalization action plan. In this plan, there are two phases: first, the required decisions are adopted, including new legislation. In the second phase, we see that these decisions are implemented and therefore a series of standards and principles are fully respected. On the EU side, the work is conducted by the European Commission. We’re already in the second phase. Several groups of Commission experts have already visited Georgia to verify implementation. Their findings are now being assessed in Brussels. Based on these, the Commission will issue an assessment report on implementation. This document will come out before the Riga summit and further progress depends on its content. Obviously, I cannot foresee the main conclusions of this report. Even when the Commission issues a positive opinion, the Member States of the European Union will discuss the matter further and the final decision is in their hands. I hope it is clear therefore that it was never in the cards that a full decision could be taken already in May, by the Riga Summit.

– The short stay aspect of visa facilitation process might come as a surprise to many. In Georgia many people believe that visa liberalization will mean they can freely go and work in the EU. So, what does the visa free regime give to a Georgian farmer, who has no funds to go visit Paris, but would love an opportunity to work in one of the EU countries? Also, isn’t there a risk of influx of people, who would end up as illegal emigrants?

– Risks are of course assessed before the final decision. I think we all need to thoroughly examine the impact and consequences of visa liberalization with Georgia. But I would like to say, that even the short stay format offers great benefit to Georgians – particularly to those who would like to travel, broaden their horizons and establish personal links and business contacts across Europe. At the same time, even after visa liberalization, those who intend to get employment in the EU will most definitely continue to need a visa (and other documents).

– The Association Agreement: Everybody knows it has to be implemented now. But how? What do we start with? What’s the strategy?

– We’ve just started the implementation process. We have an envisaged timetable and we hope very much that with time we’ll have more and more information about the effects of implementation. In any case, the clock is already ticking and we have no time to lose when we proceed with the required reforms.
As for what we have done already: We have the institutions and the mechanisms for implementation fully in place. Also, we have the association agenda, a program for implementation. The Georgian government has adopted a series of plans, strengthened the institutions in charge and created essential coordination mechanisms. In the EU-Georgia bilateral context, we have established the Association Council and its lower-level bodies. Is everything running smoothly? Many things do, but obviously not everything. There are areas where reforms need to be accelerated or go further, including the field of law enforcement and the judiciary. The EU delegation’s role in this is clear: it is to stimulate well-informed discussions about the impact of these reforms. We also promote inclusive consultations with all groups concerned. We are together in this exercise – government, business, civil society, and workers in the towns and in rural areas. Thorough consultations can help assessing the impact of the different measures and build support behind them.
But let me repeat, overall progress is evident. You ask me what the strategy is. The answer is simple: the Association Agreement. It is a massive document. Of course you might try to translate it into a dozen key goals. But in real life, implementation will require hundreds of small steps. At the start, there is no chance of getting a dozen huge results – we have to recognize the value of step-by-step progress. We will not announce spectacular achievements every day. But it is my hope that with hard work and with time, step-by-step we’ll cover great distances. All this might appear too complex, so let me add that the ultimate goal can be expressed in a simple sentence: to make life better in this country through reforms conducted in the name of freedom.

– The AA is all about changes and improvement. How would assess the state of local business now and how you think it will adapt to EU standards? And more importantly, what’s being done to ease that process?

– I regularly meet with representatives of business and government alike. My conclusion is that there is a full understanding of the need for these changes and the benefits they may bring. But there are understandable discussions about the details, the concrete ways and means of implementing these changes, and their timelines. One example of this would be labor inspection, on which we are working very closely with the Georgian government. We think labor inspection should be implemented reasonably quickly, even though in an incremental, gradual manner. We think that clarity in the area of workers’ rights will result in more stable conditions for business too and therefore will make this country even more attractive for investments.

– Let’s move on to the next subject, which is often considered as a policy priority for the Georgian government. What is the EU’s vision of expanding and developing of Georgian agriculture? There is a thought that Georgia might be overestimating the potential benefit from its agricultural resources...

– Georgia is and will remain an agricultural country. So let’s make agricultural knowledge and tradition an asset. Furthermore, beyond the immediate economic aspects, developing agriculture can stimulate social development in rural areas and help the countryside to retain its population. Therefore I agree with the government and with everybody who says that agriculture will remain key for Georgia for many years ahead. That’s why we consider agriculture a primary area for EU financial grant assistance in the coming years (alongside judicial reform and the development of the civil service). We provide 140 million lari in grants to support agricultural, as well as rural and regional programs. We believe that these will help improve the living conditions of thousands of people in rural areas, including through the establishment of hundreds of modern cooperatives.

– How competitive will Georgian products be on the European market?

– Georgian agricultural exports to the EU are already growing and I see the chance for an upward trend there. For now, this increase is mainly reflected in traditional Georgian export products - wine and hazelnuts, but over time, there is a room for new products – herbs, vegetables and fruits. And here we come to yet another example of the Association Agreement – the harmonized approach to rules of sanitation, the so-called phytosanitary requirements. Well, probably there will be products that will be more competitive than others, but honey and cheese could appear on European shelves. In general, we are quite confident that the DCFTA has the capacity to increase Georgian exports and that it will attract new investors in agriculture and rural development. Returning to an earlier phase in our conversation about small steps and big steps: Let me say that the efforts to develop Georgian agriculture might appear now as small steps but (if successful) they would definitely contribute to forging a better future for this country.

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