“I was never in doubt that you are part of the great European civilization.” These were the words of Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, when addressing the Batumi International Conference last July to celebrate 10 years of the Eastern Partnership.
While in Warsaw to commemorate the 80th anniversary of World War II, President Andrzej Duda of Poland, President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia, and Vice-President Mike Pence of the United States all came out in support of Georgia, in support of our national sovereignty, our territorial integrity, and in support of our path to the West.
Since the beginning of my Presidency, I have met with Presidents, Prime Ministers, and government leaders from 13 of the 28 European Union member states. Each one of them was confident of Georgia’s European identity and European future.
Georgia is back on the world map.
For Georgia, the choice is clear: we have none but to return to Europe. Not only is joining Europe a guarantee for the preservation of our national sovereignty, it is a return to our family that we had been separated from by a 70-year Soviet occupation. Joining Europe is a guarantee for stability and the growth of our democracy.
10 years of the Eastern Partnership have brought us immensely closer to Brussels, Paris, Berlin, London, and every European capital. Thanks to the Erasmus program, thousands of Georgian students are receiving a strong education in Europe. Thanks to the visa liberalization program, hundreds of thousands of Georgians have had the chance to visit our EU neighbors and be immersed in the culture of Europe. Free trade has made the EU our first trade partner.
The fact that we inscribed our European ambition into our Constitution is a testament to how united our nation is on this path. While polarization and divisiveness have changed our political landscape, Georgians can stand across the aisle and walk together on the road back to our family, regardless of political affiliation, religious identity, or ethnicity.
Yet, my 40 years as a diplomat show me that our road ahead must be tamed with patience and inspired with creativity. Between Brexit, ever-increasing migrations, and the rise of populism and foreign interference in European politics, Brussels is not ready to pull its doors open for a new member, even one as European as Georgia is. This is why we must think of new and innovative ways to bring more Georgia in Europe.
We have already made sectoral integration a key part of our program. Beyond free trade and free migration, Georgian researchers and innovators are helped by the EU’s Horizon 2020, the largest European research funding program. Culturally, not only are we part of the EU’s Creative Europe, but I was one of the European leaders to sign the Berlin Call to Action of Europa Nostra, calling for the preservation of all European cultural heritage. During my visit to Munich in July, Georgia won the selection as one of the host countries for EuroBasket2021, the European championship of basketball.
But because I intend to knock on every door and turn every stone to get through the doors of membership, our outlook can be even more ambitious.
This is why I proposed during this year’s Batumi International Conference a way to start de facto chapter negotiations for EU accession without entering into the discussions about a candidate status.
President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a European Renaissance earlier this year, a Europe both strongly united and accepting of our cultural differences within this greater family, is exactly the type of leadership we need as we enter the third decade of the 21st century. Europe needs this outlook, especially at a time when Brexit is leaving a hole that will need to be filled.
I have said, half-jokingly, that Georgia is ready to take Great Britain’s place following Brexit. The truth is that I am confident that Europe will rise from its current crisis and will be able to build a union that is stronger, more united, more democratic, more prosperous, and freer.
Georgia has been a part of Europe since the time of Jason and the Argonauts. It is only a question of time until we will be able to say we have fully joined our family back.