During a joint press conference after the EU-Georgia Association Council on September 6, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell emphasized that the European Union accession is a “merit-based process. There are no shortcuts and no magic involved. It is not a matter of political declarations, but [of] political will that converts wills in results.”
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, who led the Georgian delegation, and Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi also spoke during the press conference.
The EU-Georgia Association Council is a joint body established to supervise the implementation of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. The meeting was the first since European states recognized Georgia’s European perspective on June 23 and outlined the reforms it needs to undertake in order to receive EU candidate status. It was chaired by the High Representative, while the PM represented Georgia, and Commissioner Várhelyi attended.
High Representative Borrell underscored that the granting of European perspective is “clear proof of the European Union’s commitment to further strengthen our relations, responding to the European ambitions of Georgia.”
The High Representative highlighted however that these ambitions “come with responsibilities” including “a responsibility to continue with important reforms, especially on the priorities – the 12 priorities – identified by the European Commission.”
He denoted that overcoming polarization, building “bridges across the political spectrum” and focusing on the collective efforts of the Georgian nation to achieve its goal of joining the European Union is another key responsibility “which is not only something that the government has to do but the whole political spectrum and the whole society.”
“Only visible and tangible progress in reforms can drive this process forward,” he said and added that the “criteria and expectations are very clear” when it comes to issues like having a political culture based on inclusiveness, respect for democracy, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, press freedoms, or alignment with the EU’s standards and policies.
“Georgia has decided to embark on the European Union path and also to take on these responsibilities,” High Representative Borrell stressed. “And now, [what] is relevant is to deliver.”
The High Representative also highlighted that the accession process requires “national consensus, and the political forces have to find a way to work together.” “And, once again, it is not just a matter of the government but all political parties,” he said.
“That is why we call the process an “inclusive process” because it has to reflect the wish of the overwhelming majority of the population to link their future to the European Union,” High Representative Borrell remarked while emphasizing the importance of civil society.
While noting that the process is “not easy” he underscored that Georgia has the support of the EU and all of its institutions.
In that context, the High Representative highlighted the importance of the political dialogue that the trio held as part of the Council and stressed the need to continue talking openly about the work that has been done successfully and areas where more efforts are needed.
Along those lines, he explained that during the meeting they shared their concerned assessment of Georgia’s performance in the judiciary, the rule of law, media freedom, and “increasing political pressure on independent oversight institutions and opposition media.”
High Representative Borrell underscored that these areas are “crucial” when it comes to European values and principles. “We count on Georgia’s efforts to address the existing shortcomings,” he said.
The High Representative also brought attention to the occupied regions of Georgia, Abkhazia, and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia, and stressed that the EU stands “firmly” by Georgia and supports its territorial integrity.
In that context, he said that the EU will continue its efforts through Toivo Klaar, the EU’s Special Representative for the region, and the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM).
High Representative Borrell noted the government’s “efforts to contribute to the peace in the region” and reiterated condemnation in “the strongest possible terms” of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
He emphasized that the EU is determined to support the resilience of partners in the Eastern neighborhood as part of which they are working to strengthen Georgia’s defenses, especially in cyber security and the fight against disinformation.
He acknowledged that Georgia has been “seriously impacted” by the new geopolitical situation and that during the meeting they discussed ways to help Georgia overcome challenges and continue the reforms process despite existing difficulties.
The High Representative concluded by expressing hope that “Georgia’s political forces will seize this historic opportunity and step up their efforts to obtain the [EU] candidate status and advance closer to the European Union.”