EU Ambassador Speaks on Georgia’s European Perspective

On July 14 EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell released answers to the questions submitted to him by the Georgian public regarding the country’s European perspective and key outstanding issues required for the fulfillment of the European Commission’s 12 recommendations for candidacy.

In a question about the extent to which a denial of Georgia’s candidacy is linked to there being no military operation in the country, the Ambassador emphasized, “The Commission assessed Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova on their own merits and based on set criteria. The presence of military operations is in no way such a criterion.”

He added that the EU has been Georgia’s “strong partner” since independence and that the recognition of its European perspective is a “great achievement on which to build further.”

Speaking on if there is a degree of truth behind the claims that the West is dragging Georgia into war Amb. Hertzell said, “absolutely not, and I am really disappointed to see those trying to make such false claims, whether directed at the EU or the US.” “At no point in the past, or in the future, has or will the European Union want to see this war spreading further,” he underscored.

Addressing the timeline for Georgia’s accession to the EU, the Ambassador underscored, “the pace of accession depends on the progress of reforms, first and foremost in the fundamental areas linked to the core values of the European Union, including the rule of law, democratic institutions and human rights for all.” He reiterated that Georgia must work towards the recommendations outlined by the Commission.

In reference to the EU-brokered April 19 agreement, Amb. Hartzell stated: “It is not accidental that the Commission speaks about ‘the spirit of the 19 April Agreement’ in its Opinion, as it [the agreement] set an example for the type of cross-party work now needed. The parties will now have to sit down and agree on the way forward, and the 19 April Agreement remains a good starting point on both process and content.”

In connection to the imprisonment of opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV chief Nika Gvaramia and ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, the Ambassador noted that while it is not part of his mandate to speak on individual cases, “in general terms, upholding the rule of law is of critical importance for any democracy. The same goes for Georgia.”

“We are closely following the health conditions of the former President, and have insisted on the authorities’ ultimate responsibility to uphold his rights as a prisoner, his proper health treatment, and right to a fair trial,” he added. “Mr. Gvaramia’s case follows the same principles. This case also raises issues regarding media freedom, which is seen in Georgia to have come under stress as of late.”

Asked about the current state of the government and opposition vis-à-vis depolarization, Amb. Hartzell said, “I believe successful implementation of the 12 priorities needs to start and end with depolarization efforts. In the short term, it will be about reaching out and providing a platform and an agenda for the implementation of the necessary reforms.”

He noted that the different ideas presented by the ruling party, CSOs, and others for reforms can be “usefully combined to set out a broader, common agenda for the work ahead. The government has a special responsibility in this respect, but all sides have to assume responsibility for the depolarization process.”

Amb. Hartzell also addressed a question on LGBTQ rights in Georgia and same-sex marriage, underlining, that “the EU does not ask of Georgia to approve same-sex marriage.” “What the EU demands of all its Member States is non-discrimination and the protection of all minorities, including sexual minorities,” he said.

In a similar question about the government’s role in protecting the LGBTQ pro-equality organization Tbilisi Pride, the ambassador said, “protecting citizens from violence and ensuring every person’s right to freedom of speech and assembly, are core values of the European Union and, arguably, of any democracy.”

“It is the responsibility and duty of law enforcement to uphold these rights without exceptions,” he underlined. “The readiness and capacity of authorities to protect those rights for all citizens, including for minorities, will be assessed in the context of Georgia’s EU accession process.”

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