Prime Minister’s Speech at the Georgia’s European Way International Conference in Batumi Print Version

2017-07-13

Greetings, everyone!
Mr. President,
Mr. Speaker of the Parliament,
I welcome Vice President of the European Commission, Mr. Maroš Šefčovič,
I welcome Vice President of the European Investment Bank, Mr. Hudák!
I welcome the Head of the Government of Adjara and our guests who have joined us in Batumi, one of the most gorgeous cities in the world, to attend this crucially important annual international conference, Georgia's European Way. It is exciting to see that, over the years, this conference has transformed into one of the key for a in the region to discuss issues pertaining to European integration.

I have to admit that this year's conference is special in that it is the first time this forum is held after the enactment of visa waiver for Georgia citizens, a historic success for Georgia, something that belongs to every Georgian citizen and a result of the tireless efforts of politicians.

This success was preceded by far-reaching reforms, and a complex process of fundamental transformation of democratic institutions and legislation seeking to ensure alignment with European legislative and institutional standards. This path has not been easy, with significant challenges along the way, yet we can say with all assuredness that our efforts have not been in vain; today we already have concrete and tangible results. Visa-free travel to the EU is a strong message for every Georgian, every citizen, because it is about our dignity and national pride and, most importantly, it sustains our faith in Georgia as part of Europe and a full member of the European family of states.

Visa waiver is a positive message for our citizens in the occupied territories, because now they have an opportunity to enjoy every benefit offered by visa-free travel.

Georgia and the Georgian people see European integration as an irreversible process with no alternative. Being European is a characteristic of our national identity and a value cherished and defended by numerous generations.

Since the restoration of Georgia's independence, European integration has been one of the key drivers of our country's development and reforms. Georgia's democratic development and its European and Euro-Atlantic integration is a clear result of our European aspirations, and we are committed to this goal.

We are steadfast in our continuous building of a strong democratic European state that is about effective democratic institutions and a system of open governance, political pluralism, free media, and an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and unwavering respect for human rights, a strong market economy, and a business-friendly environment.
Equally important to our country and people are the benefits offered by the economic integration with the EU. Today, these results are clear to all.

The implementation of the Association Agreement, including DCFTA, is one of the top priorities of our Government. Its successful implementation offers brand new opportunities for economic growth and development. Allow me to state that our country has real potential for attracting investments, developing its economy, and becoming a vital link, in turn, promoting regional stability.

The European Union, as a single market, is Georgia's largest trade partner. Preliminary statistics show that, in January-May 2017, our turnover grew 15.3% year-over-year, while export is up by almost 41%. The introduction of European standards have enabled Georgian products gradually to gain a foothold in the European market.

Dear Friends,
The reforms implemented by us, and the results of the alignment of Georgian legislation with European standards, are clearly reflected in international ratings. Allow me to cite some of them:
• According to the 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum, Georgia has upgraded its positions from 66th to 59th place among 138 countries.
• According to the Ease of Doing Business Index, Georgia ranks 16th among 190 countries.
• According to the 2017 Tax Burden Report by the World Bank Group, Georgia has improved its position by 18 points compared to 2016 and ranks 22nd today.
• According to the Economic Freedom Index by the Heritage Foundation, Georgia has improved its position by 10 points compared to 2016 and ranks 13th today among 180 countries.
• According to the 2017 Press Freedom Index by Reporters beyond Borders, Georgia ranks 64th in the world, with the highest level of media freedom among the Eastern Partnership member states.
• According to the 2016 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Georgia ranks 44th in the world and first in the region.
All this motivates us to double our efforts and ensure the country's rapid advancement, and this is exactly what the Government's four-point agenda seeks to accomplish, involving the creation of a business- and entrepreneurship-friendly environment through reforming profit taxation, also reforming the system of education focusing on the encouragement of higher and professional education in line with market requirements. In addition, the four-point agenda seeks to improve in-country communications and the development of high-level infrastructure connecting different regions of Georgia. All this will ease domestic travel, develop local businesses, and increase Georgia's transit potential as a link between Europe and Asia.
Georgia's location on the crossroads between the Caspian and Black Seas, besides offering a variety of diverse opportunities, also poses challenges to our country. Especially vital is energy security in light of the threats facing the Euro-Atlantic community. The Black Sea Region and the South Caucasus are key to Europe's energy security, and one of the most promising and efficient routes for the diversification of Europe's energy supply passes precisely through the South Caucasus region.

As a free, democratic, and open state, Georgia plays a key role. Georgia has transformed into a vitally important transit and energy corridor. Highway, railroad and, most importantly, pipeline networks pass through Georgia, which connect Caspian oil and natural gas fields to Turkey and Europe. We hope that the upcoming development of Black Sea ports, including the Anaklia Deep Sea Port, will transform Georgia into yet another important logistics hub linking Europe and Asia.

Georgia will continue actively supporting all natural gas corridor projects and promoting further strengthening the EU's energy security in terms of transit to Europe through Azerbaijan and, possibly, through Turkmenistan at the next stage.

In addition, the revival of the Silk Road becomes more relevant on a daily basis. I am convinced that the cooperation with the Silk Road Belt states in such areas as transport, trade, energy, industry, and communications will benefit both the region and Europe in general.

Dear Friends,
Ahead of the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit, it is important to consider new opportunities. It is no secret that our ultimate goal is to see Georgia become a full member of the European Union.

We are committed to double our efforts to further our legislative and institutional alignment with the EU through the full and effective implementation of the Association Agreement. At the same time, we are working hard to enhance Georgia's engagement in EU-led programs, deepen our sectoral cooperation, and achieve a higher level of transport, energy, and communications integration with the EU, also boosting our defense and security cooperation.

We welcome the EU's global strategy, and we are ready to play our role in the fulfillment of the regional objectives thereof.

I must emphasize that Georgia is not only a consumer of the policy of peace and stability but also an active contributor. Since 1999, we have been contributing to the cause of international security.

Georgia condemns violence in any form and supports the international community in its fight against terrorism.

In terms of cooperation under the EU Security and Defense Policy, Georgia has successfully completed its participation in the EU-led military advisory mission in the Central African Republic, currently participating in the EU training mission in the Central African Republic and Mali.

When discussing stability and security, I would like to reiterate that Georgia has always been and will be a reliable partner of the European Union.

We have a clear vision when it comes to European integration, and we have a plan to make vision a reality. We aim to achieve the highest possible level of integration, after which accession to the EU will be a matter of political decision.

I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to thank the EUMM in Georgia as the only international mechanism making a tremendous contribution to security and stability, confidence-building and prevention of escalation on the ground since the 2008 war. As you know, all this is of vital importance to us in terms of peaceful conflict resolution. In this regard, the institute of the EU Special Representative, co-chairmanship in the Geneva Talks, the EU Monitoring Mission, engagement programs, and other types of assistance play a vital role.

Unfortunately, despite these efforts, the situation in the occupied territories remains very difficult. The occupation of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali Region, along with Russia's actions in Ukraine, and the militarization of said regions, has tilted the balance and worsened the security-related situation in the South Caucasus and the Black Sea region. Russia continues its policy occupation and factual annexation on a daily basis. The installation of barbwires, artificial barriers, and so-called demarcation signs to secure the occupation lines has become a permanent practice. In addition, movement over/along the occupation lines is restricted to the full, and detentions and kidnapping continue on the pretext of so-called illegal border crossing. All this undermines the peacemaking efforts of Georgia and the international community, and poses as serious threat to regional peace and stability.

In light of the foregoing, naturally, the need to consolidate the efforts of the international community become even more important, so that Russia may receive a strong message about fulfilling its assumed obligations and the need to regulate the conflicts peacefully, in line with the principles of international law.

Most importantly, our joint efforts must become even more effective, and peacemaking processes must be consistent and result-oriented. To this end, the traditionally decisive role is played by the proactive engagement of the European Union.

From this platform, I would like to address everyone once again and emphasize specifically that it is our number one concern and priority. We will never accept occupation, violation of Georgia's territorial integrity, and we will make use of all mechanisms, use every platform, to ensure Georgia's unity and to free our future generations from this grievous legacy.

In conclusion, allow me to reaffirm that Georgia will always remain steadfast on its path to the European Union. European and Euro-Atlantic integration is the way that requires great effort and unity from all of us, including the authorities, political forces, and society as a whole. We are ready for it, because we fully realize that the European path is the only path to guarantee our country's decent tomorrow.

Once again, thank you for visiting Batumi. Lease accept my sincere wishes for productive work during this conference. I hope you will enjoy your stay in Batumi, a city that offers ample opportunity for that.