What are the challenges Georgia faces in upcoming months preceding the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius this autumn? Perhaps how to deal with the internal struggle with the concept of “selective justice” in the light of former officials’ recent arrests, or of citizens’ rights, which are the centre of a public debate since anti-gay rallies in May? In foreign policy, the topics of EU integration and relations with the northern neighbor remain the priorities. The regional security is another problem the government – and citizens – debate on, remembering, among others, the recent deaths of Georgian soldiers in Afghanistan as the country participates in NATO operations. Some of these issues – regarding EU integration, friends’ support and foreign policy of Georgia – were also addressed in Łukasz Grajewski’s (Eastbook.eu) interview with Alex Petriashvili, State Minister of Georgia on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, that took place during WGF 2013 in Wrocław, Poland. Enjoy the reading.
Łukasz Grajewski: Right now we are at the Wrocław Global Forum in Poland where you attend the panel about the future of NATO. Is there a place for Georgia in this structure?
Alex Petriashvili: Everything is still in progress – working on the enlargement and improving global security. We carefully listen to the discussion about the criteria which are needed to obtain a NATO membership. We are preparing to became a NATO member, but is up to NATO to make the decision about enlargement. We hope that during the next NATO summit, the issue of enlargement will be among top issues under the discussion. And we will except a proposal that is a proper response to our efforts.
Is Georgia ready to become a member state of NATO?
Georgia has demonstrated more than once that we are developing in the right direction. The recent parliamentary election was the best test an the example. For the first time in history of independent Georgia the transfer of power happened peacefully, with no rallies and demonstrations after the elections. Now politicians of major political parties are discussing the future of our land inside the parliament building, not outside on the streets. It is a very good signal. We continue the reforms started by the previous parliament. There is no will for political revenge behind the new cabinet of ministers. In my ministry more than 90% of employees are people who also worked for the previous minister. We are getting closer and closer to international standards in terms of democratic values.
You mentioned the peaceful transfer of power. Some critics, however, claim that the situation of members of the previous parliament is similar to what we can observe in Ukraine under the rule of Viktor Yanukovych. Arresting a previous prime minister does look like a political revenge.
I could quote a big number of prominent politicians who think that there is no reason and no ground to draw a parallel between the Ukrainian and the Georgian case. It’s enough to say that Thomas Hammarberg, who is a well known public defender of human rights, made a similar statement, as well as members of the European Parliament after visiting Georgia. The Polish Institute of International Affairs has also issued a bulletin which strongly argues that there is no parallel between the both cases. We provide a maximum of transparency for the trial which is now taking place. Special adviser from the European Union Thomas Hammarberg is in Georgia, monitoring the whole trial. OSCE also joined the ranks of observers. We have offered to bring more experts if there is a need. Media are also covering the trial. Transparency is provided. The court and the judges are totally independent, free to make their own decision. The only task of the prosecutor’s office is to provide strong evidences against individuals under the trial and those individuals have a right to defend themselves. In my opinion, the priority is to have an independent court, not a certain verdict regarding a particular individual. Independence of courts is the core of the independent and democratic Georgia. Thus – whether I like a decision or not – an independent court is what Georgian society needs.
Your ministry is responsible for the European integration. We observe a huge crisis within the European Union. Should the EU accession remain the main goal for Georgia?
Yes, definitely it should. Perhaps it is not the right time to campaign for EU enlargement, as obviously it is not a popular issue at the moment. But when the time comes – when the EU overcomes the problems related to the euro zone – Georgia have to be ready to meet the accession criteria from Maastricht and Copenhagen. We will be in a privileged position., for the decision-makers could say: “They ticked all the boxes, they made the reforms, now let’s make the political decision about the enlargement”. We have a lot of supporters and allies inside the European Union. Poland is a great supporter of Georgia in regard to all our major issues, such as territorial integrity, sovereignty and integration with the EU and NATO. The support from Poland is fantastic. It is what I call a real strategic partnership.
While we are waiting for the EU to heal itself, what are your – perhaps smaller – more realistic goals in frame of integration with Union structures?
The closest goal in our agenda is the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius this autumn. We believe that we will be able to initial the Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. Commissioner Stefan Füle said once that signing this agreement would be a point of no return on the Georgian road to EU integration. Of course, more effort, 24-hour a day, is still required, but with the help from our friends in the European Union – and the “more for more” policy – it is possible. We are ready for hard work, we are ready to demonstrate that we are a democratic country, we are improving our economy and we are adopting a system of regulations and legislation which is common within the EU space.
Except relations with the EU, you also need to have a defined policy towards Russia. Vladimir Putin said to Russian media that Kremlin is ready to improve relations with Georgia. What is your response to this statement?
It is hard to predict the future. I need to say that we want to do our best to improve our relations. We want to come back to a normal contact with the Russian Federation. But we cannot forget what our priorities are. The strategic interest of Georgia is the restoration of Georgian territorial integrity and sovereignty within the process of integration with the EU and NATO. We have to talk with Russian colleagues and neighbors. Those negotiations will be tough, I have no doubt about it. We need the involvement of international community in order to find a formula which would pull Georgia out of the confrontation area with Russia and put into a “win-win” situation. Everyone should benefit from the stable, prosperous and secured Georgia.
Łukasz Grajewski: Thank you for the interview.
The interview took place during the Wroclaw Global Forum 2013.
Eastbook.eu was a media partner of the event.