Good morning ladies and gentlemen, thank you for attending this press conference today.
We are very happy to be visiting Georgia, yesterday and today. This is my first visit to the South Caucasus since my election as Chair of the Foreign Affairs committee of the European Parliament. Above all, this visit is an opportunity to discuss our very strong EU-Georgian relations and to support Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
This week, 8 Members of the European Parliament, representing all of the 6 largest political groups in Parliament are visiting Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.
Yesterday, we had a very good discussion with President Margvelashvili preceded by several meetings in the Parliament with the leadership, the opposition parties (European Georgia, National Movement, Patriots of Georgia), the Public Defender and with the civil society representatives. We also met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Mr Janelidze), the Minister of Justice (Ms Tsulukiani) and State Minister of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration (Mr Dolidze).
Later today we will visit the EU Monitoring Mission in Mtskheta and the administrative boundary line then travel onwards to Armenia for the last part of our mission.
We come with a clear message: Georgia is the front runner in the Eastern Partnership. The reforms that are taking place in this country are impressive. And we welcome the ongoing work on the implementation of the Association Agreement. The European Union recognises this and, for this reason, we also agreed in March this year – and with a very large majority in the European Parliament – to allow Georgian citizens to travel without visa to the EU (except U.K. and Ireland) for up to 90 days.
The European Parliament is also working closely with the other institutions on providing the necessary financial support to Georgia, in order to implement the important reforms that will allow for further economic growth and a strengthening of institutions, including the Rule of Law.
At the same time, we would like to encourage the government to continue with the reform efforts, especially the reform of the Judiciary, the fight against corruption and the protection of minorities. We see progress but much has yet to be done.
We discussed the constitutional amendments which are expected to bring major changes, including to the electoral system. We know that no one system is perfect. Therefore, we welcome the fact that the government is consulting the legal experts in the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and we support a broad consultation, with the opposition and civil society, so that these major reforms are as inclusive as possible.
In this context, I would also underline the importance of checks and balances by independent institutions, including the Public Defender and State Audit Office.
We also discussed media pluralism in Georgia. As part of building a stronger democracy, it is important that the authorities defend the independence and plurality of the media. The Rustavi 2 case is emblematic in this respect and we hope that a solution that is acceptable to all will soon be found.
At this point I would like to say a few words about an issue on which the European Union has been unequivocal, time and time again. We fully support Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. At the same time, we commend the authorities for their constructive and pragmatic engagement with the occupied territories, in the interests of all its citizens.
In this spirit, the EU is deepening its cooperation with Georgia – with the Association Agreement which includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area and of course the visa waiver I already mentioned. We want nothing less than all Georgian citizens and businesses to benefit from these opportunities.
Finally, let me mention another point of importance in the European Parliament’s relations with Georgia. I am referring to the launch of the Comprehensive Democracy Support Programme for the Georgian Parliament. This is a follow up to the 2016 parliamentary elections and it aims to assist the Georgian Parliament with the implementation of the related recommendations. The European Parliament was present to observe the elections and we are now working side by side with the Georgian Parliament to support this implementation before the next elections.
Thank you very much.