High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell and EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Olivér Várhelyi
In this challenging time, marked by the coronavirus outbreak, we can see how important international cooperation is. Over the last decade, the Eastern Partnership has brought concrete benefits for people in Georgia and across the European Union’s eastern neighbourhood. In particular:
- Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Georgia’s economy, and since 2009, EU support has helped over 40,000 Georgian SMEs and microenterprises access loans on better terms to develop their activities, increase incomes and create jobs;
- Since 2013, EU assistance to link Georgia’s education programmes to market needs have helped over 30,000 Georgians find employment through more relevant vocation education courses and labour market tools such as Worknet.ge;
- Over 90,000 Georgians living in smaller towns and villages have easier access to 200 public and banking services as well as free internet and libraries through the EU’s support to the establishment of 76 Government Community Centres throughout the country
- Under Erasmus+, almost 7,500 students and academic staff exchanges have taken place between Georgia and the EU. Over 9,300 young people and youth workers from Georgia have been involved in joint exchanges, training and volunteering projects.
To ensure our partnership continues to deliver in the fast changing world of today, we need to do even more and better. To shape our priorities, we consulted last year with people, businesses, organisations and governments of 33 countries from across our shared region. While there was an appreciation for the results achieved, there was also a clear expectation that we enhance our cooperation when it comes to jobs and prosperity, investments, connectivity, good governance and common challenges such as climate change and the digital transformation.
And now we presented our response to these consultations with long-term objectives for our policy beyond 2020. Our continued engagement with the Eastern Partnership countries remains a key priority for the European Union. Our proposals for the future are ambitious yet achievable. They build on existing cooperation but also identify areas where we need to go further. They are built on fundamental values as the heart of the EU project, such as the rule of law, protection of human rights and fight against corruption.
Concretely, we are proposing to our partners to work together on the following objectives:
- Together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies: Strengthening the economy is key to meeting citizens’ expectations and reducing inequality and for making our partnership a success. We will focus on job creation and economic opportunities, through increased trade, investments, stronger connectivity, in particular in transport and energy, and linking education, research and innovation better with private sector needs.
- Together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security: Good governance and democratic institutions, the rule of law, successful anti-corruption policies and security are essential for sustainable development and the consolidation of democracy. They are the backbone of resilient states and societies as well as strong economies.
- Together for environmental and climate resilience: To protect our world for generations to come, we all need to take responsibility. The EU will work with its partners to improve the resource-efficiency of economies, develop new green jobs and promote local and renewable sources of energy.
- Together for a resilient digital transformation: The EU will further invest in the digital transformation of our partners, aiming to extend the benefits of the Digital Single Market to partner countries. Our joint work will also focus on strengthening e-Governance, scaling up digital start-ups and supporting the cyber resilience of partner countries.
- Together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies: Free and fair elections together with transparent, citizen-centred and accountable public administrations are essential for democracy. The EU will continue to focus on these key areas, engaging with civil society, which needs to be given sufficient space, and supporting free, plural and independent media and human rights, as well as ensuring mobility and people-to-people contacts, all particularly important also due to growing disinformation against EU values.
Over the past decade, trade between the EU and its eastern partners has nearly doubled. Over 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses have directly benefitted from EU funding, creating or sustaining more than 250,000 jobs. We are better connected thanks to improved transport links and easier access to high capacity broadband. And according to recent surveys, the EU is the most trusted international institution among Eastern Partnership citizens. We will keep this results-oriented approach and look to do much more together in the face of today’s challenges, including when it comes to crises such as COVID-19 pandemic.
And through this we will build an even more ambitious Eastern Partnership that delivers for all and continues to bring our shared continent closer together.
Spain supports Georgia’s aspiration to become a full member of the EU and NATO - the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Co-operation Josep Borrell said at a joint press conference held with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Zalkaliani.
The foreign ministers of the two countries highly appraised Georgia-Spain relations and Georgia’s significant progress on the path of development.
According to Zalkaliani, Spain strongly supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, while Georgia, on its part, reconfirms its frim position regarding Spain’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. David Zalkaliani provided his Spanish colleague with detailed information on the situation in Georgia’s occupied territories and underlined the necessity of peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The Ministers positively appraised an increasing level of business and economic contacts between the two countries, as well as the successful operation of Spanish companies in Georgia. In this context, the two ministers highlighted Georgia’s transit opportunities and favourable investment and business climate, which, along with Georgia’s good international ratings, provide ample grounds for the European companies to get interested in Georgia as a bridge between Asia and the Far East. David Zalkaliani also spoke about the importance of developing tourism in Georgia and learning from the Spanish experience in this regard.
While on the theme of EU integration, Zalkaliani highlighted the successful reforms ongoing in Georgia that make irreversible Georgia’s European integration. Special attention was paid to the EU Integration Roadmap – the Georgian Government’s recent initiative. According to Zalkaliani, Georgia is committed to make much more than required by the Association Agreement in order to achieve its ultimate goal – full-scale membership of the EU.
The ministers also reaffirmed that Georgia has all practical instruments for NATO membership. Georgia’s essential role in ensuring international security and stability was also highlighted.
David Zalkaliani invited his Spanish colleague to attend the Batumi conference this year, dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the EU Eastern Partnership initiative.