MEP Mamikins Assesses the Visa-Liberalization & Russian Relations
16 March, 2018
MEP Mamikins Assesses the Visa-Liberalization & Russian Relations
Are Georgia’s visa liberalization woes real or are they a product of speculation and political rhetoric? One would opt for the former, seeing ministers of various EU countries lamenting the increase of asylum seekers from Georgia and the fact that the ever-present tag of “Georgian organized crime” remains a thorn in our reputation. So why does a man who ought to know it all think it’s all “agenda-driven narrative”? As part of European Alliance for Georgia’s ‘Missives from Brussels’ series,we
spoke with Latvian MEP Andrejs Mamikins, standing Rapporteur on Visa Liberalization in the European Parliament.

The anniversary of the visa-free regime is fast approaching. How would you assess this year?

I was a shadow reporter in the LIBE committee when we discussed this possibility two years ago. It was a very important decision for Georgians and it was also very important for us, Europeans, European Parliament and the EU. Only a few hundred Georgian citizens were permitted entrance to the EU, now thousands are enjoying this visa-free regime. I think it works well and will continue to do so because Georgians culturally and economically are closely connected and related to the EU. A lot of Georgians have been visiting European countries, including my country Latvia, as tourists. It’s still working very well, and the recently established high-level format of bilateral cooperation has the potential to become a strong security nexus and to promote confidence in the South Caucasus area.

Some countries are dissatisfied with the asylum-seekers. Sweden had the second highest number of asylum seekers from Georgia after Syrians. How grave is the situation?

France, Germany and Sweden have old conflicts and Georgians are not the reason for it. If you remember the discussion in the EU Council before we voted in favor of the visa-free regime, the position of the French Foreign Affairs and Interior ministers was that there are a lot of Georgian criminal groups in the EU. It’s a lie. The French used old statistics and they looked for Georgian last names. Some criminals with Georgian last names were citizens of Russia, not of Georgia. This is a visa-free regime for citizens of Georgia, not citizens of Russia. The same situation is seen with Sweden now. It’s a very sensitive question inside Swedish society but again, this is not the question of Georgian citizens. It’s their internal ongoing political discussion. Georgian citizens are very disciplined, are good students; they are excellent tourists, they spend money in our countries, in our economy. This is what we call people-to-people contacts.

So you would say there’s no reason to be afraid about the suspension of the visa-free regime?

This is speculation. Of course, the suspension mechanism exists in the agreement of the visa-free regime. It could be used but not now, not at the current moment. I am absolutely sure.

DO WE HAVE THE INSTRUMENTS TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN GEORGIAN CITIZENS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES COMMITTING CRIMES IN EUROPE AND GEORGIAN CITIZENS WHO ARE ABUSING THE VISA-LIBERALIZATION?

Please, trust me. We don’t have Georgian criminal bands in the EU. It’s all speculation and the political rhetoric of some ministers or some members of the EU Commission. This is an old mistake which was made by the French Minister of the Interior one year ago. We are still operating even in the European Commission with old statistics, with stereotypes, with newspaper articles. We don’t have criminal bands; we don’t have problems of a criminal nature with the citizens of Georgia. I have spoken with many ministers of many member states. Really, this regime is working very well and we don’t have any problem except for the rhetoric of some politicians here in the European Parliament.

The Georgian GOV’T STILL WANTS TO GET INVOLVED, ASKING EU MEMBER STATES TO RECOGNIZE GEORGIA AS A SAFE COUNTRY

Georgia is a safe country. I can tell you about my country, Latvia. We have some 20 asylum seekers from Georgia. But these citizens are from breakaway or occupied territories. Those people lost their homes, their villages; they are really refugees. That’s why they got this status in my country. They try to be integrated or reintegrated into Latvian society. My country helps them. Again, we cannot speak about hundreds or thousands of illegal asylum-seekers from Georgia. This is speculation.

What do you think is the next step of closure between Georgia and the EU?

We have our Association action plan, renewed every three years. Now we here in the European Parliament we will vote on the plenary in November on the Association Implementation Report. I will prepare it as a standing reporter. Integration into the European Union is a step-by-step process. You know the current position of the President Jean-Claude Juncker: no enlargement until the end of his office. But we will have a new European Commission in 2019. And we know there is European perspective for the western Balkans.

Can we assume that we will be next in line?

This is my hope. This is my dream. I cannot say now on behalf of the European Parliament or European Union that Georgians will join the EU in 2020. But this is a realistic and feasible idea in 10 or 15 years. It’s very realistic that Georgia could be a member state of the EU. All of us here in the European Parliament know that, culturally, Georgia is a part of the European civilization; economically, Georgia is a part of the European economy. My vision and my dream is for Georgia to be a part of European Union politically.

How do Russians come into this equation? How do you see Russia’s impact on Georgia’s chances of becoming a member?

I think it’s in the interests of Russia to have a more integrated Georgia with the EU. Because naturally we Europeans and Russia are closely connected energetically, economically, and though we have sanctions against Russia, we also have a lot of people-to-people contacts with citizens of Russia. I think sooner or later Russia will verbalize very clearly this interest that Georgia as part of the EU is also in the interests of Russia, at least economically.

Do you really see the current Kremlin leadership not considering the Eastern Partnership a threat?

I think sooner or later we will hear from the establishment of the Russian Federation that good relations between Russia and Georgia, at the same time between Georgia and the EU, Russia and the EU, are in our common interest because this is the guarantee of the peaceful future of the European continent.

If relations between the EU and the Kremlin do get better, how would that affect the Eastern Partnership and its member countries?

First of all, the Eastern Partnership many years ago was an idea to integrate Russia into a number of European political processes. Unfortunately, the Russian political establishment pulled out. But one day, we will have Russia together with the EU. I remember the words of the Patriarch of the soviet diplomacy, Gromyko: “It’s better to have 10 years of negotiations than one day of war.” I really believe we must have this political dialogue on all levels. Unfortunately, we don’t have this direct political dialogue between Georgia and the Russian Federation at the current moment but, for example, we have excellent cooperation between the Georgian Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox Churches.

There are many in Georgia who see the Church in Russia as a political instrument of Moscow. And the Georgian Church having good relations with the Russian Church is considered one of the most negative things about the Church in general. What is your take on this?

I don’t like this speculation because the Georgian Orthodox Church is more ancient than the Russian. You have the absolute authority of the current Georgian Patriarch inside Georgian society and abroad. This is your spiritual leader. I think we must not encourage confrontation between churches or people because many Georgians have friends in Russia, and many Russians really like Georgia. This is very important. We still have these stronger ties between people, even if we don’t have strong ties politically. A lot of Georgians are still working in Russia; a lot of Russians buy properties in Georgia.

The tragic death of Archil Tatunashvili triggered demonstrations in Tskhinvali, with people demanding his body not be given to his grieving family. With this kind of mindset, do you see people-to-people diplomacy working in the near future?

It’s very hard to talk about this when you see your friends, your relatives, representatives of your nations, Georgians losing their lives. I know such conflict will naturally escalate the situation. But this is why it’s important to have this dialogue, this negotiation. Each life is unique, each person is unique. All the people of the constitutional space of Georgia are part of Georgia, of its culture, of its political life.

Author: Vazha Tavberidze

Source: Georgia Today

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