Lecture in Estonian Foreign Policy Institute

Mikheil Janelidze Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia

It’s my great pleasure and honor to be here today. To be in Estonia with my first official visit, in my new capacity as a Foreign Minister.  Yesterday I had very useful meetings, first starting with the meeting with the Foreign Minister, then with the Prime minister and then with the President. All meetings went in an extremely friendly atmosphere, though we didn’t expect otherwise. During the meetings we have exchanged our views, as to why Georgian – Estonian relationship is not called strategic co-operation. Elaborating on this issue we came to the conclusion, that while it is a strategic partnership based on friendship, it’s thus more appropriate to call it strategic friendship. It was the main headline of our yesterday’s discussions. I personally feel that here in Estonia I am in hands of my friends and we, Georgian people highly appreciate the support we got from Estonia, Estonian government, Estonian people in achieving all what has been achieved in Georgia up to today and supporting our European and Euro-Atlantic inspirations and deeper integration with the EU.

I have the opportunity today to talk with you on issues of key priorities for Georgia’s foreign policy, our key priority and foreign policy is ensuring security and stable development of our country.

We consider our European and Euro-Atlantic integration as strategically important prerequisite for achieving it, that’s why our decision to come closer to the European family is not made on a whim, but it is a conscious choice of the Georgian people. We all understand that it is best way to guarantee the democracy, security, peace and prosperity in our country and in the region at large.

In our relation with the EU, the Eastern Partnership remains one of our priorities as a consolidated policy platform for co-operation with Eastern European Partner States. We are committed to continue developing strengthened, closer, differentiated relations along with the other partners. In this context, we are ready to make the best possible use of the particular innovative approaches and targeted co-operation priorities reflected in the new European Neighborhood Policy.

We are glad that Riga Eastern Partnership Summit last May sent a clear message, reiterating that the EU stands by Eastern Partners by reaffirming its strong commitment to the Eastern Partnership. The EU in May reaffirmed that the Eastern Partnership is first and foremost about the bilateral relations between the EU and its partners, based on their free and sovereign choice. Considering the complex geopolitical context such a commitment is more important than ever.

Of course, it is impossible to secure a country only by military means, so bringing Georgia closer to Europe means consolidating democracy, establishing European standards, and guaranteeing the political, economic and social rights of every citizen of Georgia. It represents an effective and powerful tool to counter Georgia’s external threats. That’s why Georgia has the clear ambition to be a success story in the Region by primarily using the transformative and modernizing effect of European integration.

Here I have to mention that, it’s harder to find any Institution in Georgia where we don’t have Estonian expert. Because we look at Estonia as a role model in European transformation and development, we are becoming stronger with the help of Estonian and other our friends and partners, European member states and the European commission following their recommendations. We are becoming role model for our Region and we are happy with the result. But we know that it is not the final stage and we need to move forward. We are determined to unlock the full potential of the EU - Georgia relationship in order to achieve the shared goal of closer political association and economic integration.

To this end, we are committed to the effective implementation of the Association Agreement, which remains a top priority of our Government. We already have a solid track-record to look back on since we started the provisional application back in September 2014. But we firmly believe that the Association Agreement is not the end of our journey to the European Union.

With the solid support of the EU and our partners, we have advanced in numerous areas, namely consolidating democracy and good governance, strengthening the rule of law and independence of the judiciary, protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, promoting freedom of speech and media pluralism, investing in agriculture, as well as developing small and medium-sized businesses. Through the Association Agreement, Georgia has launched a comprehensive process of legislative approximation with the EU. European norms and standards are gradually introduced in each and every aspect of our political, economic and social life. We have stepped up cooperation in key areas such as energy security, transport, environment, education, science, culture, innovation and information technologies.

I would like to underline the importance of trade, which plays an integral role in Georgia-EU relations. The DCFTA, which is part of the association agreement, offers us a unique opportunity to modernize Georgia's economy, as well as huge stimulus to reform. The economic reforms implemented under the DCFTA contributed to enhanced trade with the EU and increased FDI inflow. I have to mention here very important statistics, which have been achieved after signing the implementation of DCFTA. If two years ago share of exports going to the CIS market in total exports was more than 50%  and share of EU exports only 19%, now the distribution is following: share of exports to the CIS Market is approximately 28%, when share exports to the EU is around 30%. This is a really big structural change in our export and it’s a right direction leading to the diversification, which is so needed for Georgian exports and for our economic relations, especially, when we see a big downturn in the region, economic crises in our trade and economic partners and we need to find more export opportunities.

EU is one of the major target markets for our exports and we are glad to see that even though exports to all other countries are decreasing, exports to the EU Markets are increasing. We see some, nontraditional Georgian goods, produced in Georgia during last years and exported to European Market, agricultural goods like Kivi and blueberries, which were never a traditional product of Georgia, now produced and successfully exported to the European Market, but it’s not only about agriculture. We have some technology based goods also finding place on the European Market, and we have European investments going into real property and industrial sectors of Georgia.

We believe that the human dimension represents an important part of the political association and economic integration with the EU. In this regard Visa liberalization is a crucial element of our European integration agenda. It is set to boost tourism and cultural, business and student exchanges, as well as civil society partnerships and it will also help the full realization of all the benefits of the deep and comprehensive free trade area agreement, because it will give new opportunities for SMEs, for small businessman to go to European Markets, to European Member States and find partners, attend trade fairs and use all the benefits which is provided by this agreement.

With regards of the visa liberalization our efforts were widely praised and approved by the Commission’s fourth and final report of December stating that Georgia fulfilled all VLAP benchmarks. In fact, Georgia in its implementation process went even beyond the VLAP requirements. Because we understand that, we should not be doing everything only due to the EU recommendation, but we have seen in this process also benefits for our society. Building Democracy, strengthening our institutions, it’s in our core interest and it should not be done only in accordance with the recommendations, it should follow the recommendation, but we should not stop there and we should continue our movement forward into farther strengthening of our institutions.

We hope that and we look forward to the Commission’s formal legal proposal on abolishment of visa requirements for Georgian Citizens amending the respective EC Regulation to be presented to the European Council and the Parliament in the coming weeks. Before coming to Estonia I was in Brussels together with the Prime Minister. We had meeting with the President of the Council, we had meeting with the President of the commission, we had meeting with the commissioners and we were promised that this proposal will be submitted in coming weeks and we really look forward that EU will make its decision regarding Georgia on a merit-based approach and the revised regulation will be adopted without undue delay. Also we see that there are different risks associated with this kind of decision. The environment is not very supportive to it, but we hope very much that all our friends, including Estonia will be supportive to Georgian case and Georgia will get what it deserves and people will get what they deserve.

I have to underline very clearly that apart from delivering more benefits to the Georgian people, we truly believe that the EU also stands to benefit from bringing Georgia closer. Thanks to our strategic location, the stability of our country, reforms accomplished and ongoing investment in infrastructure, Georgia is set to play an ever growing role in international trade, namely to capitalize on increasing trade flows between Europe, the Caspian region and China. We provide the shortest route between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea regions. Railways connecting Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, which are nearly completed, will further increase the trade of goods throughout the region and towards EU countries.

A few days ago, Prime Minister announced about the finalization of the process of choosing the investor for construction of a new deep sea port at the black sea, it will be a new opportunity for the development of not only of our country, but farther development of regional co-operation. It will create new opportunities for transit and trade and for the benefit of all players, particularly for Europe.

Georgia positions itself as a Eastern part and Eastern Gate of Europe, we are part of Europe but we are a Gateway for Asian companies to Europe, this is important and this is a key. We are not just bridge.  We are Europe, opening doors to Asian companies, Asian goods, Asian investments and we want to ensure that we are reliable partners for the EU first of all and for all other countries in the region or beyond.

Furthermore, strengthening interconnections especially in the fields of energy security and transport is of strategic importance for both Georgia and the EU. Georgia remains a secure route for transit of Caspian gas. Georgia as the EU’s reliable energy transit partner and key actor of the transport axis is committed to actively participate in major strategic projects and initiatives. In this context, we deem that the potential of the Southern Corridor, as well as the new Silk Road, has to be fully explored.

Georgia has established a very interesting forum last year. It is the Tbilisi Silk Road Forum, which has been established with a COR organization of the Chinese government. It was first time this type of event was held in our region and it was supported not only by the Chinese government but by the United States as well and we had high level delegation from the United States, headed by the deputy secretary of commerce, also other relevant agencies represented on this forum, there were more than one thousand participants on this forum and more than 35 countries represented with the government bodies and privet sector. It was a good example of how Georgia can be used as a platform for bringing all interests together oriented not on confrontation, not on conflict, but on development processes. Although we had ministers from several EU Member States participating in this conference, we look forward that during this year’s conference there will be more high representation from the European Commission side as well as from European Member States.

We are very much committed to Euro-Atlantic integration process and we understand that it is a process and we are ready to take every step this process entails. In this regard, Georgia has laid solid foundations to further progress in its relations with NATO.

Implementation of the NATO-Georgia Substantial Package endorsed at the Wales Summit has become one of the main priorities of the Government. We consider the Package as an important mechanism to strengthen Georgia's defense capabilities and help the country to move towards NATO membership. In this context, the opening of the NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Centre during the visit of the Secretary General of NATO in Georgia last year was a significant step forward. A lot of work has been done to bring Georgia closer to NATO. We have fully assumed our responsibilities as a reforming country in the internal political and military field. But, I think what is important is our demonstration that the country is not just looking for security guarantees but also stands ready to share the burden of collective security. Over the 2015-2017 period, Georgia is providing a substantial unit to NATO’s Response Force. Georgia is a part of NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partner’s group. Georgia is the second largest troop contributor to the NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan with up to 900 personnel, mainly deployed in the most volatile Helmand province. Successful participation in the EU CSDP military mission in CAR paved the way to our further engagement in other EU missions such as the Military Advisor Mission in the Central African Republic, in the Military Training Mission in Mali and in the Advisory Mission in Ukraine. We are proud that we are contributing to international peace and security and we are committed to it.

We are now at a very important juncture of Georgia’s NATO integration process – we are preparing for the next Summit of the Alliance this July in Warsaw. It is essential that the outcome of the Warsaw Summit should be a clear-cut and evident step forward in the direction of membership, which is the ultimate goal for Georgia. For this purpose we continue to work closely with member countries and with NATO, but considering that consultations have just started, it is too early to predict the concrete results of the Summit deliberations.

We are just in parallel Meeting, now the Georgia - NATO commission with the participation of defense Minister in ongoing in Brussels and further steps and preparation are discussed.

From our point of view, the Summit outcome should have two dimensions – one is political support and reconfirmation of the irreversibility of Georgia’s integration process and the second dimension is strengthening Georgia’s defense capabilities, through deepening practical cooperation with NATO and alliance Members. We look forward to constructive discussions in the run-up of the NATO Summit and we have also discussed these issues with Estonian Government and my counterpart yesterday.

In closing remarks, let me reiterate the main message of our government – we are committed to our European and Euro-Atlantic choice. We have a clear and strong mandate, as well as support from our people to move towards the European family. We know well that it is a long and difficult process. Nevertheless, we believe that the gradual integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic space will provide long-term political and economic advantages to us and all our partners.

The new Prime Minister is very much committed to ensure first that all reforms which are needed in justice sector, in human rights and ensuring free and fair political environment, especially during the election year is ensured and there is a clear vision from the government side on the issues needed for the development, and he has clear four point plan for the development, which includes further simplification of business environment, implementation of tax reforms, oriented on further motivation of private sector to invest and reinvest in Georgia. It is actually based on the tax reform and profit tax system of Estonia, we are following you experience in that regard, and we hope very much that it will be successfully implemented in Georgia and will create new incentives for creation of new jobs. We are promoting entrepreneurship; this is also key pillar in the priorities of the new Prime Minister. We want to change the culture of the young generation to shift them from job seekers to job creators and we want to finance their business ideas and to provide them this opportunity.

Another pillar of reforms is oriented on open governance and more inclusion, co-operation with all stakeholders, especially with the political parties, with opposition, with NGO sector. It was the major message provided by the Prime Minister, during his first address to the parliament, he is ready to have a very constructive dialogue with all interested stakeholders, interested in constructed dialogue with the government and it is already happening, there are already dialogue formats established with opposition, NGO sector and situation is really moving from polarized to depolarized one, which is so critical in this electoral year.

At the same time, it is important that we speed up infrastructural projects and it’s a third key pillar in Prime ministers reform agenda and we want to built major infrastructure as soon as possible, to use all the financial assistance coming to Georgia effectively in order to speed up all this projects, in order to ensure correlation and integration within the country as well as integration of Georgia within the regional networks.

Fourth major pillar of reforms is an education system. We want to make our education system more effective. We want to analyze well the labor market and to direct our financing of educational sector towards the market needs, we don’t want to produce, young generation which will not be able to find jobs when they will graduate. In this major pillar we have assistance coming from Estonia, it’s included in development assistance for 2016 - 2020 and we are very much grateful and highly appreciate all the support coming from Estonia, from the government, from the people of Estonia.

Thank you very much for your attention