Prime Minister’s message on US Independence DayTuesday, 05 July 2022 11:05
It is with enormous excitement that we are joining our strategic partner, the United States of America, and the American people, in celebrating the 246th anniversary of American independence.
The Fourth of July is a symbol of freedom, democracy, and commitment to our shared values not only for American people, but also for the whole democratic world. Georgia's contemporary history is also one of fighting for freedom, independence, and our European choice.
On this path, especially since regaining Georgia's independence, we enjoy continuous, firm support and solidarity from the United States of America, our loyal friend and partner.
Throughout thirty years of our diplomatic relations, we have been deepening our partnership with the US in nearly every area and direction.
Georgia draws strength from the unwavering support of the United States of America in safeguarding our country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, in ensuring Georgia's European and Euro-Atlantic integration, also cementing the country's democracy, reinforcing its defense capabilities, and promoting its economic development.
The Georgian people will always be grateful for this support.
Georgia will remain committed to our shared values and solid partnership.
We wish peace and prosperity to the United States of America and our friends, the American people.
Georgia and the Georgian people are joining our American friends in celebrating the Fourth of July!
Prime Minister of Georgia
PRIME MINISTER’S Full ADDRESS TO THE 71ST SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLYFriday, 23 September 2016 10:25
PRIME MINISTER’S ADDRESS TO THE 71ST SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY:
Mr. President, Dear Colleagues, Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my honor to address the General Assembly.
Georgia has promoted the values of the United Nations since regaining independence, 25 years ago. In return, the UN has served as a partner for us, one of the oldest nations in the world, in developing a free and democratic state.
Twenty-five years ago, few of us could have imagined this day.
Georgia has since transformed itself from a country ravaged by civil war into a dynamic European democracy.
We have made great progress in building strong and effective state institutions, ensuring:
- A free civil society,
- free media,
- free markets,
- social cohesion, and
- the rule of law.
We are proud to be ranked the 5th freest economy in the world, ensuring openness and integration into the global market and equal opportunities for all people interested in doing business in Georgia.
As of July, Georgia is an Associated country of the EU, harmonizing its policies, institutions, sectors and market rules with those of the European Union.
We are an aspirant country to NATO, having the deepest and most comprehensive partnership with the Alliance of any nation.
In the last few weeks, the US Government, the European Union, and NATO all took actions to emphasize that Georgia's future lies within the European and Euro-Atlantic community.
At its core, Georgia's foreign policy is aimed at building strong, mutually beneficial partnerships with the countries of our region and beyond.
This path, chosen by our people, leads to more stability, security, peace and prosperity in our country and the region.
The work never ends, though.
Today, we are poised to thrive in a new millennium. We are building an innovation-driven community with all generations looking over the horizon at an ever-brighter future.
We are building a country that will ensure the unification of war-torn communities and abolish the newest versions of the "Glienicke Bridge," which exist in the 21st century due to the continuous occupation of two of our regions, dividing peaceful societies on both sides.
A year ago we all together adopted a universal plan to better the world by setting 17 Sustainable Development Goals for the 2030 Agenda.
The much needed transformative agenda for 2030 is indeed impressive. But let's be frank. Despite the phenomenal blueprint of the MDGs, we as an international community could not live up to the challenge.
I welcome this year's focus on the transformative power of the SDGs. Let us make sure that in the 15 years that we have ahead we do our utmost to really fulfill if not all, at least a good majority, of the 17 goals.
To do so, we need to succeed nationally, and, at the same time, support others in meeting their national goals.
We also must remember how interrelated these goals are. We have to strive for peace and security by fostering development and vice-versa.
Our government has a vision for how to translate these goals into national actions.
This year, we launched a comprehensive 4-point reform plan, which is about making the development of our country a success for each and every citizen of Georgia and for the development and stability of the region.
Effective governance with transparent and accountable institutions is the key for building peaceful and inclusive societies and for sustainable development.
Focusing on SDG 16, we have made a clear break from the past by prioritizing good governance.
Two days ago, together with Estonia, the Republic of Korea and UNDP my country organized a special high-level cross-regional event aimed at sharing success stories on implementing SDG 16.
Let me reiterate that we remain committed to sharing our experience and extending support to those who are pursuing transformation.
Within Georgia, our goal is to ensure maximum inclusion of all stakeholders in the decision making process. We have created several platforms where we have regular dialogue with civil society and private sector representatives.
In promoting good governance, our aim is to make all public services even more accessible for business, and we have launched an ambitious project of a "Business House" in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia. It, together with an online platform, will serve as a one-stop-shop for businesses and as a front office for all government bodies.
Central to good governance is fair and efficient tax collection. Georgia is already one of the lowest tax burden countries in the world, but we are liberalizing our taxes further. In order to encourage business to invest in development, and thus in new jobs, we have taken a decision to abolish a profit tax on undistributed earnings.
Although it is a costly reform, it ensures the long-term sustainability of business and jobs.
We are also improving the tax administration system by strengthening the role of the judiciary in decisions on tax inspections, thus ensuring increased protections for the private sector.
Mr. President, the trend lines for Georgia are continuously improving:
The World Bank just reported that Georgia's poverty rate dropped more than 10 percent from 2012 to 2014. This is a major accomplishment.
In 2015, the unemployment rate continued to decline and is now at its lowest level in the past twelve years. Salaries and wages are up substantially compared to several years ago.
Georgia's economy is growing despite downturns all around us and foreign direct investment is way up, almost 100 percent higher than in 2012. This translates directly into jobs for Georgians.
Georgia now ranks 4th in terms of "ease of doing business" in Europe and Central Asia and is on the path to being a true "start-up nation."
In the history of independent Georgia there have never been so many opportunities for hard-working people with a dream to launch or grow their own businesses. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit have more chances to succeed than ever.
We have launched several projects that ensure access to capital and infrastructure for people with innovative ideas, especially those interested in manufacturing or farming in Georgia.
The path towards fulfilling sustainable development goals and building resilient and inclusive communities requires unlocking the hidden resource that every nation has: its people.
Accordingly, education is among our top priorities. We decided to tailor our education system to ensure it delivers for each individual and for our society and economy as a whole. We want every graduate of a professional or higher education institution financed by the government to be able to find his or her place in a competitive labor market.
We want an education system that is competitive and delivers quality education not only to Georgian citizens but also to foreign students.
The construction of two new private technical universities, with an estimated development cost of 1 billion euro, has started this year. We will soon be able to offer some of the best education opportunities in our region.
A healthy population is also key to further growth and development.
Several years ago, we launched a flagship program for universal health care. Today, all citizens of Georgia have heath care insurance, making medical care a reality for hundreds of thousands of our citizens for the first time.
We have also encouraged private investments in the health care system, which has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in new private hospitals.
A new national e-pharmacy system that will streamline the delivery of medicines to patients is now being tested.
With the help of our partners, special programs to eradicate persistent diseases have been started and Georgia is set to become one of the first countries to eliminate Hepatitis C. We are especially grateful to the United States for their help with this initiative.
Georgia's development agenda is first and foremost about our citizens and their equal rights. We believe in the power of free citizens and the role of government in ensuring freedoms and opportunities for them.
Sustainable development is not possible without human rights, access to justice, and effective, transparent, accountable, and inclusive institutions.
We have taken major steps to bolster the rule of law. We overhauled court systems, prosecutors' offices, judicial ethics, and attorneys' responsibilities. We gave more rights to defendants. We ended impunity by government officials.
All Georgians are now equal before the law and can benefit from a judiciary system that has gone through several waves of reforms to reach higher levels of independence and professionalism. We are continuing the reform process of the judiciary to achieve the highest international standards.
Today, Georgia is number 29 in the Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project, ahead of a number of old and new EU members.
Other important steps address a regrettable problem we inherited: past human rights violations, with particularly egregious infractions in our prisons. We have acted swiftly and decisively to correct this.
The UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture and Inhumane and Degrading Treatment recently observed that the Georgian government has turned this problem around since its election in 2012. The changes, he notes, are visible and quantifiable. We did this by putting in place legal and procedural mechanisms for combating the mistreatment of prisoners, including compensation to victims.
We have enacted new anti-discrimination legislation;
We have worked hard to concretely advance gender equality and women's empowerment; and
We are implementing a National Action Plan to ensure equal opportunities for persons with disabilities. But there is still more to be done. For that purpose, we have set in place a new long-term comprehensive Human Rights Strategy and Action plan.
In less than three weeks, we will be holding parliamentary elections in Georgia.
The campaign started more than three months ago, and this period has been evidence of Georgia's real democratic development. With a free and pluralistic media and political environment, strong and vocal civil society, and the relevant legislative and institutional framework, we are ensuring a free, fair and transparent election process.
On the 8th of October the people of Georgia will win, and our democracy will continue driving our country to a sustainable future.
Sustainable development cannot be fully realized if it is divorced from the overriding issue of security. In Georgia, we are reminded of this every day by a harsh reality: 20 percent of our country is occupied by foreign troops-who took it by force.
Hundreds of thousands of people continue to be denied the right to return to their homes. We are grateful for the support offered by the UNGA resolution on the "Status of IDPs and Refugees from Abkhazia, Georgia, and the Tskhinvali Regions/so-called South Ossetia, Georgia." It is time to translate this measure of support into action.
Barbed wire fences installed by the occupiers divide Georgian families and communities. The populations in the occupied regions endure constant ethnic discrimination and gross human rights violations. Their freedom of movement and their property rights are restricted. They are even denied education in their native language.
I condemn the recent act of holding elections to the Russian State Duma in Georgia's occupied territories, which is another part of Moscow's annexation policy.
And this all happens in the absence of any international monitoring, except for the limited involvement of the European Union Monitoring Mission, which has been denied access to the occupied territories.
The ongoing occupation and steps towards annexation remain the greatest existential challenge inherited by our government.
We have been seeking a workable solution with the Russian Federation. We have made some concrete progress in de-escalating tensions, but Georgia's steps forward have not all been reciprocated.
The Russian Federation has yet to honor even the EU-mediated ceasefire Agreement of August 2008.
Against this backdrop, I would like to once again reaffirm that this conflict must be resolved peacefully, based on the full respect of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
We will continue to respond to the concerns of people living in the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions and reconcile the war-torn communities across the occupation line. To this end, we will make all benefits of our European agenda and economic opportunities available to the people residing in the occupied territories.
Our investment in the prosperous future of a united Georgia is additional stimulus for building confidence and reconciliation.
We will invest more than 5 billion USD in connectivity and infrastructure in the next 4 years.
We will connect regions of Georgia with each other as well as connect Georgia with the wider region. Thanks to Georgia's strategic location, our ports, roads, and transport networks will be an important part of the ambitious and transformative Silk Road development plan connecting Europe and Asia.
We are investing not only in infrastructure, but in policy platforms as well.
The Tbilisi Silk Road Forum proved to be a major success, attracting the involvement of 35 countries.
In particular, we are honored and excited to be working with China and other nations of the Silk Road to provide a critical piece of a new trade and investment corridor that will benefit the entire world.
When we talk about connectivity, we must not omit the Internet, perhaps the greatest driver of global cooperation.
Therefore, we have started the development of a country-wide broadband system that will bring the benefits of the Internet to the most remote villages and farms. Georgia is proud to be on the list of top countries for internet freedom.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Mr. President and distinguished colleagues, I am proud to be speaking to you on behalf of Georgia at a time when we are on the rise and at the center of new developments connecting East and West.
It is in this spirit that we seek to create a more secure and prosperous region, grounded in principles of sustainable development.
We are working hard every day to take real actions that enhance the lives of our people while respecting their rights, their beliefs, and their cultures.
We look forward to continuing to work with the United Nations on achieving a shared vision for a better future.
I thank you.
Georgia’s European Choice ‘Irreversible,’ says Georgian Prime MinisterThursday, 15 September 2016 10:55
BY ASHISH KUMAR SEN
In an election season in which Georgia's NATO aspirations have been hotly debated, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili insists that his country's European choice is "irreversible."
"An overwhelming majority of the people of Georgia consider the goal of joining EU and NATO to be a necessity that will lead to a higher standard of democracy, security, peace, and prosperity in our country and region," Kvirikashvili said in an interview.
Georgia will hold parliamentary elections on October 8.
"While there are policy differences between many of the political parties running for office, it is remarkable that all major parties are unified in their commitment to further integration with the West," said Kvirikashvili.
A National Democratic Institute survey conducted earlier this year found strong support among Georgians for their government's Euro-Atlantic aspirations-68 percent in support of NATO and 71 percent for the European Union.
Nevertheless, in June, Nino Burjanadze, the leader of the Democratic Movement party, said: "Georgia should reject joining any kind of military bloc, be it NATO or any other military alliance. There should be no troops of any foreign country or a bloc on the Georgian soil."
In response, Davit Usupashvili, the leader of the Republican Party and speaker of the parliament, proposed a bill that would reflect Georgia's NATO aspirations in its constitution.
Georgia's quest for NATO membership has made little headway amid concerns among some members of the Alliance that such a move would incite Russia.
Asked about the Russian factor in Georgia's European aspirations, Kvirikashvili said: "[W]e firmly believe that embracing the European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Georgia and other countries of the region will send a strong signal that the re-emergence of spheres of influence and attempts to limit the foreign policy choices of sovereign states are unacceptable in the 21st century."
In our interview, Kvirikashvili also made the case for the EU to grant visa-free travel to Georgians. He contended that visa liberalization will be a "tangible benefit for our citizens, who overwhelmingly support European integration."
"It will also serve as a crucial reminder to the people in the occupied territories of the advantages of our European and Euro-Atlantic integration," he added, referring to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two provinces that were occupied by Russia following the war with Georgia in 2008. Russian President Vladimir Putin has since signed treaties with both provinces that give Moscow control over their defense as well as their borders.
EU enlargement commissioner, Johannes Hahn, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty earlier in September that a decision on visa liberalization for Georgia will be made later this year.
Giorgi Kvirikashvili commented on a wide range of topics in an e-mail interview with the New Atlanticist's Ashish Kumar Sen. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Q: What is the biggest challenge facing Georgia today?
Kvirikashvili: The biggest task we face is remaining a beacon of stability and driver of economic growth in a region where we are surrounded by complex challenges. We have made great progress in recent years with respect to economic development, social cohesion, and democratic consolidation. But there is still work to do. We will never stop working to create a more free and prosperous Georgia.
As a result of Russian aggression in the August 2008 war, 20 percent of our territory remains occupied, and hundreds of thousands of people have been forcefully driven from their homes. We are reminded of their plight every day, and the lessons of August 2008 drive our efforts to build a stronger, more resilient nation.
That's why we are focused on transforming challenges into opportunities and building a country where all Georgians can thrive.
Q: What does the recently deepened security cooperation with the United States mean for Georgia?
Kvirikashvili: Expanding Georgia's defense capabilities and military-technical cooperation with the United States is crucial in the context of our security challenges. Secretary [of State John] Kerry's visit [to Tbilisi in July] was another demonstration of the United States' tremendous support for Georgia, which has been vital throughout the past twenty-five years since we regained independence. This is especially true in terms of Washington's staunch support of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as our strong NATO and EU aspirations.
Secretary Kerry and I signed a Memorandum on Deepening the Defense and Security Partnership between our two nations that is aimed at enhancing Georgia's self-defense capabilities and resilience. Under this new framework, we will exchange information and work together to counter common threats. It will also enable enhanced cooperation in areas of critical importance for Georgia's military, including strengthening the long-term sustainability of Georgia's forces and supporting defense procurement.
The United States has a dedicated friend in Georgia-a stable geopolitical ally and a strategic partner with common values and shared global security priorities. For over a decade, we have served alongside US servicemen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, we are focused on territorial defense measures, which are important for Georgia's security and regional stability. Cooperation with the United States is the key to our success.
Last week, in a strong showing of bipartisan unity, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 660, conveying America's support for Georgia's territorial integrity by a vote of 410 to 6. This bill signifies a powerful statement by the United States in support of Georgia and its sovereignty.
Q: At its Warsaw Summit, NATO urged countries that aspire to join the Alliance, including Georgia, to continue to implement necessary reforms in preparation for membership. Do you believe that post-Warsaw Georgia is any closer to securing NATO membership?
Kvirikashvili: Yes, we do believe we are closer to NATO membership.
The Warsaw Summit demonstrated that Georgia is progressing on its path towards NATO membership in terms of both political and practical cooperation. The allies reconfirmed that Georgia will become a member of NATO in accordance with the Bucharest Summit decision. They underlined that the integration process is moving forward and Georgia has all the practical tools to prepare for membership.
In the context of practical cooperation, the allies agreed to provide additional support and assistance to strengthen Georgia's self-defense, security, and resilience. These important new decisions include: affiliation of the Joint Training and Evaluation Centre (JTEC) with training and educational activities of the Allied Command Transformation (ACT); a provision of support for the development of Georgia's air defense and air surveillance; and the establishment of a trust fund for financial support for effective implementation of NATO-Georgia projects.
The allies have underlined that both the existing and new initiatives are helping Georgia, an aspirant country, progress in its preparations towards membership.
And, in an event that sent a powerful message, just two months after the summit on September 7 and 8, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) visited Georgia to discuss the practical way to implement the Warsaw decisions. It was the Council's fourth visit to our country.
Q: What are Georgia's immediate priorities in terms of implementation of reforms?
Kvirikashvili: Domestically, our biggest priority is implementing our Four Point Reform Agenda to further modernize our country in a way that benefits all Georgians and creates new jobs.
This plan prioritizes further tax liberalization to foster a growth friendly tax system, aligning Georgia's tax system with the Estonian Taxation Model. This model provides an exemption from the profit tax for all businesses that don't distribute profit. The new rules will come into force in January 2017.
We also plan to accelerate the development of major highways to integrate them into the regional transportation network. This will bolster Georgia's role on the new "Silk Road" and distinguish it as a prime tourist destination.
Tourism is one of the important engines of Georgia's economy and a big job creator. The number of tourists from all over the world to Georgia is increasing nearly every year. Our hotels are heavily booked and new hotels are a key feature of Georgia's infrastructure development.
We are also focused on reforming our education system to improve instruction in secondary schools and higher education in order to bridge the gap between professional supply and demand.
Finally, by fostering open governance we seek to further increase private sector involvement in the legislative process and modernize the delivery of public services.
Q: Are you concerned that Russia wields a veto over Georgia's NATO membership? Why is it important for the Alliance to avoid such pressure?
Kvirikashvili: The decision that Georgia will become a member of NATO was taken at the Bucharest Summit and has been reconfirmed by the subsequent decisions. Therefore, it's not a question of "whether" but "when" will Georgia became a member.
As it was underlined by the [NATO] Secretary General [Jens Stoltenberg] during the NAC's recent visit to Georgia, NATO has a fundamental principle that every sovereign nation has the right to decide its own path, including what kind of security arrangements or military alliance it enters. The decision on Georgia's membership will be taken solely by the Alliance members based on the merits of Georgia and how it can contribute to security of the Alliance.
NATO membership is the sovereign choice of the Georgian people and the ultimate goal of our government. We are determined to do our very best to achieve this objective. At the same time, we understand that we have a challenging road ahead and we are ready to follow every step to accomplish this goal.
At the same time, we firmly believe that embracing the European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations of Georgia and other countries of the region will send a strong signal that the re-emergence of spheres of influence and attempts to limit the foreign policy choices of sovereign states are unacceptable in the 21st century. Georgia's membership in NATO will widen the zone of security and stability in Europe, thus serving common interests of both the allies and Georgia. Georgia has proven its political determination and ability to contribute to common security and stability. We have demonstrated that we are not looking just for the security guarantees, but stand ready to share the burden of collective security.
Furthermore, our membership will have a stabilizing effect on the region, which would positively influence regional security. Georgia's success on its path to European and Euro-Atlantic integration will be a powerful testimony that democratic transformation and respect for independent foreign policy choices are possible in our region.
Q: In the run-up to the October elections, some political leaders in Georgia have suggested that Georgia officially reject joining NATO. Are pro-Western leaders in Georgia being hurt by delays on securing NATO membership and visa-free EU travel?
Kvirikashvili: Georgia's European choice is irreversible. An overwhelming majority of the people of Georgia consider the goal of joining EU and NATO to be a necessity that will lead to a higher standard of democracy, security, peace, and prosperity in our country and region.
Our people have supported the government in carrying out an ambitious reform agenda. Visa liberalization will be a tangible benefit for our citizens, who overwhelmingly support European integration. It will also serve as a crucial reminder to the people in the occupied territories of the advantages of our European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
Georgia will hold parliamentary elections on October 8. While there are policy differences between many of the political parties running for office, it is remarkable that all major parties are unified in their commitment to further integration with the West. Prior to the Warsaw Summit, all major political parties signed a joint appeal to NATO member states to support Georgia's European-Atlantic aspirations. In addition, over twenty NGOs have formed a Coalition for Euro-Atlantic Georgia. In the past few years, we have successfully conducted free and fair presidential and local elections, and we will complete the circle with the parliamentary elections.
The project of European integration is ongoing and it is not complete without Georgia. With respect to democracy promotion, development, peace-building and liberalization, the project of European integration is unmatched.
Georgia has gained many economic, political, and security benefits from pursuing the European and Euro-Atlantic integration path. The Georgian people are patient and clear-eyed about the timing, and I am confident they will continue to support pro-Western political leaders. In the final analysis, Georgia benefits both from the journey and the destination.
Q: What steps is Georgia taking to address German concerns regarding organized crime-a concern that has held up visa-free EU travel for Georgians?
Kvirikashvili: Georgia remains a committed, capable, and reliable partner for the EU in the fight against organized crime. To address crime, Germany and Georgia have intensified cooperation over the last two years-with concrete results to show. Crime rates of Georgian citizens living in Germany are among the lowest of all migrant groups residing in the country, and liberalizing short-term travel between Georgia and Germany poses no risk of increased criminal activities.
In recent years, Georgia has cracked down on organized crime domestically as well. We will continue to build and expand our relationship with Germany and other international law enforcement authorities to combat these issues and prevent any risks of networks operating abroad.