It was a big day for Georgian-EU relations. The European Union and Georgia have successfully concluded negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), as part of the Association Agreement between them. The Association Agreement, together with the DCFTA, will provide for the close political association and economic integration of Georgia with the EU. Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze met with EU foreign ministers today in order to present the policy achievements of Georgia since the Georgian Dream Coalition came to power in October 2012. It is the last meeting between European foreign ministers and those of the Eastern Partnership until the EU’s foreign ministers’ meeting in Vilnius in November…
Panjikidze told journalists ahead of the meeting that immense progress had been made since the change of government last year. However, there is still controversy surrounding the administration, which has been condemned for the arrests of several figures linked to the regime of Mikheil Saakashvili. Furthermore, on 20 July there were clashes between opponents and supporters of Saakashvili’s UNM party at a presidential primary.
The Georgian Presidential elections are due to be held on 27 October, and there is much discussion about ensuring the fairness and transparency of the upcoming election. Panjikidze has said that the government would “guarantee” their fairness.
The October elections in Georgia will herald a new era, as Georgians will elect a successor to current President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been a mainstay of national politics for the past decade. Saakashvili is constitutionally restricted from seeking a third consecutive term, although he has not excluded future involvement in politics, as he told Georgian media:
“Georgia is a very small country, and there always will be a rotation of the same recognizable faces. Apparently, no one is to disappear, and all of these individuals will be seen in management and politics.”
When asked if he believe he had a chance to be the president again, Saakashvili cryptically answered:
“Anything that does not kill us makes us stronger, and all of us will not be killed. Someone will be killed, someone will die, and someone will be saved, based on this, we need to plan our future.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, has been holding meetings with many EU leaders and political figures, in order to discuss Georgia’s future prospects with the union. Last week, Ivanishvili met with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, to discuss the upcoming Vilnius summit, and deepening cooperation between the states. Ivanishvili also met with Polish Prime Minster Donald Tusk, to strengthen ties between the two nations. The meetings also come after the Georgian Prime Minster met with Štefan Füle, to reiterate that Georgia “pays special attention to the process of integration into the EU”.
The signing of the DCFTA with the EU today is another step in the changing landscape of Georgian geopolitics–as Georgia emphasises its “European perspective”. As the EU statement after today’s signing elaborates:
“The EU is Georgia’s biggest trading partner. Bilateral trade in goods amounted to €2.63 billion with Georgia in 2012…An independent study – a Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment – carried out for the EU forecasts that the DCFTA will increase Georgia’s exports to the EU by 12% and imports from the EU by 7.5%. Full implementation of trade-related reforms could increase Georgia’s long-term GDP by +4.3% or €292 million.”
The statement also outlines some of its benefits, explaining:
“The comprehensive FTA, negotiated in just 17 months and seven rounds, will see Georgia gaining better access to the EU market for its goods and services. The FTA also sets a path for further reforms in trade-related policies, such as hygiene standards for agricultural products and the approximation of regulations for industrial products. This will boost access for Georgian goods to the EU market whilst also increasing consumer safety in Georgia. The Agreement is expected to boost the inflow of European direct investment to Georgia thanks to an open, stable and predictable policy-making environment.”
Georgia has said that it is “confident” of signing its initial association agreement with the European union in November. Coming just on the heels of its landmark election, it promises to be a period of big change for the country.
— Max Fras (@fullofeels) July 22, 2013