Tbilisi sells itself to EU17.07.2011 | 12:30
Georgia is still hopeful to sign a free trade agreement with the EU and get an access to European markets at last. Yet, the document has been discussed for too long. Brussels keeps making new promises and - more seldom - offers new tranches while representatives of the Georgian authorities claim that the strategic goal of the republic is to join the EU. Will Sakartvelo find customers for its produce in Europe - at least theoretically? GeorgiaTimes correspondent discussed that with Arnold Stepanyan, chair of Multinational Georgia public movement.
The European vector of Saakashvili's foreign policy fails to justify itself. So far there has been no serious progress on a visa-free agreement with the EU. Last summer Tbilisi and Brussels did sign a document on facilitated procedure of visa issuance. But despite all that, Cecilia Malmstrom, European minister of the interior, referred to the agreement as to a sort of message reiterating that the European Union is open to citizens of Georgia when facilitation of document routine concerned only students, business people, family members of citizens residing in EU as well as journalists and specialists in various areas. As it was expected, life did not become easier for the majority of citizens.
EU's initiative Eastern Partnership is presently on halt too. The idea was to foster close cooperation between former Soviet republics - Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldavia and Ukraine. At first it was promised that these countries would be given mountains of gold and free movement of citizens in the territory of the European Union. However, realizing that millions of migrants are unwelcome in Europe Brussels slowed down and is now keeping the inspired "six" at bay. In order to prevent alienation of the repulics, the EU lends money from time to time. For instance, it was reported today that this year the EU would offer the countries above 180 mln EURO in total with EUR 50 mln to be transferred to Georgia.
Finally, most complicated talks on a free trade agreement between Tbilisi and Brussels are still underway. Having lost the important Russian market for folly, Georgia is now trying to sell its produce abroad. Yet, Western partners don't stand in a line asking for mineral water and wine.
In view of this, the event that took place yesterday is particularly interesting. It was a special conference focused on conditions required for preparation of the document by the Georgian side. There are 11 conditions overall on observance of EU standards in trade system, protection of human rights and a number of economic aspects. Phillip Dimitrov, head of the EU representative office, made it clear that Georgia indeed can become part of the European market and this will be beneficial not only in terms of economy.
That means Tbilisi still has something to hope for. It is crucial not to exaggerate and avoid ambiguous statements that Georgia's economy minister Veronika Kobalia loves making. Earlier in July she said that one of the goals pursued by Georgia's current government is to make Georgia a EU member. According to her, the next step after stipulation of the free trade agreement must be the republic's accession into EU. Georgi Baramidze, vice PM is overly frank too: "Georgia is not going to stop at the achieved level of relationships with the European Union. Our goal is to deepen our relationships with this organization".
What will be the end of Tbilisi-Brussels negotiations and will the free trade agreement be signed? In an interview with GeorgiaTimes chair of Multinational Georgia public movement Arnold Stepanyan remarked that the conference itself was an important event for the republic. "Considering our failed relationships with Russia, Georgia's economy needs an exit", - our interlocutor believes. - And the best way out will be the European Union. I think both Tbilisi and Brussels realize that. If the EU preserves its intention to open its market to Georgia, and this intention must survive as we see it from current developments, and provided the Georgian government complies with all requirements set forth by Europe, most probably this agreement will be signed in the nearest future".