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Georgia's European destiny

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On 18 June 2020 the Eastern Partnership Heads of State Summit was held in Brussels. The Eastern Partnership, which is linked to the European Neighbourhood Policy, is a joint initiative launched in 2009 between the European Union (EU), its member states and six countries of Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, writes Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis Director of Publication Analyst Didier Chaudet (www.capeurope.eu).

The aim is to support regional co-operation with the main priorities of security, prosperity, democracy and the rule of law. While the aim is to export the EU's values and promote trade relations with the countries in the area, it does not offer them a prospect of immediate accession. However, one country has made particularly great efforts in recent years to bring itself into line with European standards and it makes no secret of its pro-European intentions: Georgia.

In July 2019, the Republic of Georgia President Salome Zurabishvili (French-speaking, former French diplomat and a graduate of Sciences Po Paris) stated unequivocally that her country's objective was to one day become a member state of the EU. She even confided that Georgia "would be very happy to take the place left by [the United Kingdom]"! A country on the road to reform For several years the European Union and Georgia have been working to strengthen their bilateral relations. An Association Agreement and a comprehensive and deep free trade treaty entered into force on 1 July 2016.

Georgian citizens also benefit from the possibility of visa-free travel within the Schengen area since 28 March 2017. Through these treaties, Georgia reaffirms its commitment to the common values that determine the raison d'être of the European Union. On 29 June Georgia took another important step towards the EU, when the parliament adopted the amendments necessary for the electoral reform.

Without a doubt, this reform is a great victory for democracy in the country: it strengthens proportional representation, and makes sure no single party could obtain a disproportionate concentration of power. This way, it avoids the possibility for one single party to change the constitution single-handedly. On the economic front, the reforms undertaken by the Georgian government have already produced excellent results: the EU being its main trading partner, it continues to align its legislation with European norms and standards in order to facilitate trade. Georgia will of course be impacted by COVID-19, but it should nevertheless be noted that the country has enjoyed solid economic growth in recent years (GDP growth was +4.8% in 2018).

This success is due to the structural reforms that have been undertaken by the current Government and, in particular, thanks to the country's openness to foreign investment and trade. Strong administrative simplification measures have improved the business environment. According to the classification established by the World Bank in 2020, Georgia ranks 7th out of 190 countries in the "ease of doing business" index, whereas France, for example, only ranks 32nd. Of course, Europe is not limited to its economic dimensions. On issues of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, the Georgian Dream led government has also embarked on a reform process aimed at strengthening the independence of the judiciary, the functioning of institutions and the fight against corruption.

Last year Georgia adopted a fourth package of measures in the field of the judiciary. In its annual report on the implementation of the Association Agreement, the European Commission highlighted the improvements made on the issues of disciplinary violations, the rules of operation of the High Court of Justice and the reform of the latter, in particular as it is obliged to justify all its decisions. With regard to the procedures relating to judicial proceedings, the separation of the functions of investigator and prosecutor was enacted in 2019. While these points may seem technical, they prove the path taken by the Georgian government to ensure a more efficient justice system clearly separated from the executive and legislative branches.

The country is equally continuing to implement an anti-corruption strategy that is showing convincing results. In 2019, Transparency International ranks Georgia 44th in the Corruption Perceptions Index. The country ranks ahead of official candidate countries and countries in negotiations to join the EU (Serbia ranks 91st and Montenegro 66th). Above all, it does better than some EU member states (for example, Italy ranks 51st and Malta 50th). Georgia has acceded to the European Convention on Human Rights and for the first time in its history Georgia chaired the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from November 2019 to May 2020. The Georgian Foreign Minister, David Zalkaliani, made it clear that his country would work during these six months to strengthen human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

The country is continuing its efforts to ensure respect for fundamental rights. In May 2019, Georgia adopted a number of laws to eliminate, inter alia, all forms of discrimination and to protect the rights of the child. With regard to freedom of expression and the media, the index compiled by Reporters Without Borders ranked Georgia 60th out of 180 countries in 2019. Here again, it does much better than the EU candidate countries (Montenegro 105th and Serbia 93rd) or some EU member states (Bulgaria 111th, Greece 65th). Georgia already benefits from some European projects, such as the Erasmus + exchange programme. Last year they signed a cooperation agreement with the European judicial agency Eurojust. Georgia also works with Europol and the police services of the member states in the fight against organised crime. Finally, on the military front, despite being a non-EU country, Georgie has proved its solidarity as evidenced by the sending of 32 soldiers to the EU Military Training Mission in the Central African Republic. They also sent an officer to Mali.

Symbolic gestures perhaps, but significant of an understanding of security issues for Europe. Giving Georgia a European perspective Georgia has thus clearly embarked on the European path and the government led by Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia is making every effort to do so. Of course, it wants to be realistic because it is well aware that European capitals are cautious when it comes to EU enlargement. The difficulties experienced by the western Balkan countries that are already candidates or potential candidates in obtaining a clear vision of their entry into the European club reflect the road still to be travelled by Georgia. And yet this country of 4 million inhabitants has its rightful place in Europe by virtue of its history and geography.

President Zurabishvili recalls Georgia's historically European and Christian roots, which go back to the fourth century. She also likes to point out that Georgian women were granted the right to vote as early as 1918, when the country became a democratic and parliamentary republic, before being invaded by Soviet Russia in 1921. Although the Caucasus region may seem remote to a Western European, it should be recalled that for General de Gaulle, Europe is defined "from the Atlantic to the mountain ranges of the Urals".

For him it was "nonsense and a bad policy to separate Eastern Europe from its Western part" when Europe would be in a position "to decide the fate of the world". Over and above geopolitical considerations, it was also a question of responding to the aspirations of a people, the vast majority of whom wanted to be part of the European family. The latest opinion polls indicate that almost 80% of the population wants to join the EU. The policies and reforms carried out by Mrs Zurabishvili and Mr Gakharia only reflect an entire people's desire for democracy, freedom and prosperity.

The European Union must therefore prepare itself so that it can one day welcome this country into its midst. If it wants to continue to carry weight on the world stage, Europe must review its geostrategic position, including redefining its borders, and it must, of course, reform itself internally in order to be able to take decisions effectively at more than 27. The EU should be able to think about its development in the longer term, and prepare itself to one day welcome countries such as Georgia into its midst, when history, and even more so the political choices made by these countries, make them natural candidates for entry into the Union. This will, of course, involve internal reform work so that decisions can be taken efficiently, by more than 27 countries.

Redefining the way it operates while at the same time deepening relations with Georgia is the way forward for the EU. We must seize the opportunity and support a government that has chosen the path to the European Union. The support must be firm and unequivocal, otherwise we will disappoint a people who are fully committed, for the time being, to the European cause.

China

Huawei ban spurs new competition for Ericsson and Nokia

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The crackdown on China’s largest technology company has given startups such as Altiostar Networks Inc. and new entrants including Qualcomm Inc. a rare opportunity to grab a slice of the $35 billion the telecom industry spends each year on this crucial part of mobile phone networks.

“This could break up that tech vendor lock-in that’s been around for decades,” said Andre Fuetsch, chief technology officer of network services at AT&T Inc., the third largest U.S. wireless carrier. “It’s about how do you create a much more competitive, innovative ecosystem.”

Technology gets political

Position on including equipment from China’s Huawei in 5G mobile networks, as of 15 July, 2020

Source: Bloomberg

Base stations are the heart of cellular networks, powering millions of antennas that perch on cell towers and city rooftops all over the world. Until recently, these boxes were a proprietary combination of processors and software that had to be purchased all at once. Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia account for three quarters of this market, which is worth as much as $35 billion a year, according to researcher Dell’Oro Group.

Open radio access network, or O-RAN, changes this by creating an open standard for base station design and ensuring all the software and components work well together -- no matter who is supplying the ingredients.

This is a potentially radical shift. When telecom giants such as AT&T and China Mobile Ltd. want to expand their network they usually have to call their existing supplier and order more of the same because a box from Nokia won’t work with one from Ericsson. The new technology lets wireless carriers mix and match more easily.

The initiative also means that new suppliers can succeed by focusing on one or two components, or a single piece of software, rather than spending lots of time and money building a whole base station from the ground up.

O-RAN gear has been used sparingly since an industry alliance was formed to promote the technology in 2018. But when the U.S. toughened its stance against Huawei last year and encouraged other countries to crack down, interest in O-RAN adoption increased. The Chinese tech giant is a low-cost provider. Now it’s unavailable in some markets, carriers are more willing to look at alternative suppliers embracing the more flexible O-RAN approach.

“Increased geopolitical uncertainty is helping them to get an invite to the table they would not normally have had,” Dell’Oro Group analyst Stefan Pongratz said. “Multiple vendors, not just in Europe but across the world, are basically reassessing their exposure to Huawei.”

How Huawei landed at the centre of global tech tussle: QuickTake

Open standard base stations will generate sales of about $5 billion in the next five years, more than originally predicted, according to Dell’Oro.

Ericsson questions the performance and cost-efficiency of current O-RAN offerings. But the telecom companies, who decide where the money is spent, aren’t being shy about telling incumbent providers to get on board or risk being left behind.

“We’ve been candid with them: This is the architecture that the operator community is pursuing,” said Adam Koeppe, who oversees technology strategy, architecture and planning at Verizon Communications Inc., the biggest U.S. wireless carrier.

The list of companies vying to fill the gap left by Huawei is a mixture of some of the oldest names in technology and newcomers. Qualcomm, Intel Corp.Hewlett Packard EnterpriseDell Technologies Inc.Cisco Systems Inc.Fujitsu Ltd. and NEC Corp. are offering various parts of the new base station technology. Startups such as Altiostar, Airspan Networks and Mavenir Systems are trying to carve out niches, too.

O-RAN proponents point to the success of Rakuten Inc., a Japanese e-commerce provider that has used the technology to break into mobile phone services. The company began 4G wireless service in April and is upgrading to 5G now, using O-RAN suppliers including NEC, Qualcomm, Intel, Altiostar and Airspan. Rakuten said using this more open approach has cut capital expenditure by 40% and reduced operating costs 30%.

Dish Network Corp. is building a 5G wireless network in the U.S. with help from Altiostar. New projects like this are great, but the real opportunity is with operators that are shifting their existing networks to O-RAN, according to Thierry Maupilé, Altiostar’s executive vice president of strategy and product management. The Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based company has raised more than $300 million from investors such as Rakuten, Qualcomm and Cisco.

Why 5G mobile is arriving with a subplot of espionage: QuickTake

O-RAN is part of a broader push to make all kinds of computer networks more flexible and easy to control. By standardizing hardware and using more software in centralized data centers, companies can run networks more cheaply, while fixing and upgrading them more easily. 5G will need this flexibility to work well.

For AT&T, the new approach has already started to help. The company has introduced Samsung equipment based on O-RAN in areas where it had previously been limited to Ericsson gear, AT&T’s Fuetsch said.

Nokia expects to have a full range of O-RAN offerings available in 2021. Some of the final standards aren’t yet set and they need to be completed and tested which will take time, according to Sandro Tavares, global head of marketing.

“O-RAN is supported by more than 20 major operators around the world, so it is pretty clear that there is a strong push for it to happen,” he said. “This is a big move for our industry, and it is clear for the main players that we should not be cutting corners in this process.”

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coronavirus

Ireland tightens Dublin COVID-19 restrictions as cases surge

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The Irish government on Friday (18 September) announced strict new COVID-19 restrictions for the capital Dublin, banning indoor restaurant dining and advising against all non-essential travel, after a surge in cases in recent days. Ireland, which was one of the slowest countries in Europe to emerge from lockdown, has seen average daily case numbers roughly double in the past two weeks and significant increases in those being treated for the virus in hospitals, writes Conor Humphries.

“Here in the capital, despite people’s best efforts over recent weeks, we are in a very dangerous place,” Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in a televised address to the country, announcing the restrictions.

“Without further urgent and decisive action, there is a very real threat that Dublin could return to the worst days of this crisis.” The measures, which include a ban on indoor events, will last for three weeks, he said. Ireland had the 17th highest COVID-19 infection rate out of 31 European countries monitored by the European Centre for Disease Control on Friday, with 57.4 cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days.

The government reported three deaths from the virus on Friday, bringing the total toll to 1,792. Countries across Europe, including Britain, Greece and Denmark, on Friday announced new restrictions to curb surging coronavirus infections in some of their largest cities. Ireland on Thursday tightened its COVID-19 travel restrictions by imposing quarantines on travellers from major holiday markets Italy and Greece.

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Belarus

Belarus warns EU against inviting Lukashenko's rival to meeting

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The foreign ministry in Belarus said on Saturday (19 September) that it saw the possible participation of opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in an EU ministerial meeting as an interference in domestic affairs, the Belta state news agency reported, writes Maria Tsvetkova.

Tsikhanouskaya has led the biggest challenge to President Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule in Belarus.

The foreign ministry said it had informed European diplomats about its view.

Russian state news agencies reported earlier that Tsikhanouskaya is expected to take part in a meeting of European foreign ministers next week.

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