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.
COVID-19 vaccines: EU must respond with unity and solidarity
MEPs expressed broad support for the common EU approach to fighting the pandemic and called for complete transparency regarding contracts and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines.
In the plenary debate on Tuesday (19 January), MEPs exchanged views with Ana Paula Zacarias, Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs, and Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.
A large majority of MEPs showed their support for the united EU approach, which ensured vaccines are being developed quickly and secured access to vaccines for all European citizens. At the same time, they deplored “health nationalism”, including alleged parallel contracts signed by member states or attempts to outcompete each other. In order to uphold the European success story, the EU must respond with unity and solidarity, with all levels of government working together, say MEPs.
Members called for the terms of contracts between the EU and pharmaceutical companies involving public money to be completely transparent. Recent efforts by the Commission, to allow MEPs to consult one incomplete contract, were deemed insufficient. MEPs reiterated that only complete transparency could help combat disinformation and build trust in the vaccination campaigns across Europe.
Speakers also acknowledged the global dimension of the COVID-19 pandemic, which requires global solutions. The EU has a responsibility to use its position of strength to support its most vulnerable neighbours and partners. The pandemic can be overcome only once all people have equal access to vaccines, not only in rich countries, MEPs added.
The debate also touched upon other issues, such as the need for comparable national data and mutual recognition of vaccinations, the need to avoid delays and increase the speed of vaccination, as well as the unconstructive nature of blaming the EU or the pharmaceutical industry for any failures.
Watch the video recording of the debate here. Click on the names below for individual statements.
Ana Paula Zacarias, Portuguese Presidency
Stella Kyriakides, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety
Esther de Lange, EPP, NL
Iratxe García Pérez, S&D, ES
Dacian Cioloş, Renew Europe, RO
Joëlle Mélin, ID, FR
Philippe Lamberts, Greens/EFA, BE
Joanna Kopcińska, ECR, PL
Marc Botenga, The Left, BE
The Commission published an additional communication on the EU’s COVID-19 strategy on 19 January. EU leaders will debate the pandemic state of play during the European Council meeting on 21 January.
On 22 September 2020, Parliament held a public hearing on “How to secure access to COVID-19 vaccines for EU citizens: clinical trials, production and distribution challenges”. During the December 2020 Plenary session, Parliament expressed support for the speedy authorization of safe vaccines and on 12 January 2021, MEPs blamed a lack of transparency for fuelling uncertainty and disinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccination in Europe.
'Brexit carnage': Shellfish trucks protest in London over export delays
Many fishermen have been unable to export to the EU since catch certificates, health checks and customs declarations were introduced at the start of this year, delaying their deliveries and prompting European buyers to reject them.
Trucks with slogans such as “Brexit carnage” and “incompetent government destroying shellfish industry” parked metres from Johnson’s 10 Downing Street office in central London. Police were asking the truck drivers for details.
“We strongly feel the system could potentially collapse,” said Gary Hodgson, a director of Venture Seafoods, which exports live and processed crabs and lobsters to the EU.
“Prime Minister Boris Johnson needs to be honest with us, with himself and with the British public about the problems for the industry,” he told Reuters. One operator, he said, needed 400 pages of export documentation last week to enter Europe.
David Rosie at DR Collin & Son, which employs 200 people, used to send one or two trucks a night to France carrying live crab, lobster and langoustine worth around 150,000 pounds ($203,000). He said he had not exported a single box this year.
Fishermen, he said, “lost their livelihoods in the turn of a clock” when Britain left the EU’s orbit on New Year’s Eve.
Under a deal reached last month, British trade with the EU remains free of tariffs and quotas. But the creation of a full customs border means goods must be checked and paperwork filled in, shattering express delivery systems.
Using a phrase that has angered many business owners, Johnson described the changes as “teething problems”, and said they had been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson said an additional £23 million ($31.24m) fund had been created to compensate businesses that “through no fault of their own have experienced bureaucratic delays, difficulties getting their goods through where there is a genuine buyer on the other side of the channel”.
The government said this extra cash was on top of a £100m investment in the industry over the next few years and nearly £200m provided to the Scottish government to minimize disruption.
Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that as well as financial support, it was working with the industry and the EU to address documentation issues.
“Our priority is to ensure that goods can continue to flow smoothly to market,” a government spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Fishing alone contributes 0.1% of Britain’s GDP if processing is included, but for coastal communities it is a lifeline and a traditional way of life.
The Scotland Food & Drink association says exporters could be losing more than 1 million pounds in sales a day.
Many in coastal communities voted for Brexit but said they had not expected this impact.
Allan Miller, owner of AM Shellfish in Aberdeen, Scotland, said times for his deliveries of live brown crab, lobster and prawns had doubled from 24 hours. This mean lower prices and some of the product did not survive, he said.
“You’re talking 48 hours to 50 hours. It’s crazy,” he said.
Commission takes further steps to foster the openness, strength and resilience of Europe's economic and financial system
Von der Leyen praises Joe Biden's message of healing
Europol supports Spain and US in dismantling money-laundering organized crime
GSK vaccines laboratory acquired by Nexelis
European Greens welcome Biden as president
Reaching the goals of the Paris Agreement
Romania city of Timisoara becomes European Capital of Culture in 2023
Bank embraces blockchain to facilitate Belt and Road trade
#EBA - Supervisor says the EU banking sector entered the crisis with solid capital positions and improved asset quality
The war in #Libya - a Russian movie reveals who is spreading death and terror
First president of #Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev’s 80th birthday and his role in international relations
EU solidarity in action: €211 million to Italy to repair the damage of the harsh weather conditions in autumn 2019
PKK’s involvement in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict would jeopardize European security
Von der Leyen praises Joe Biden's message of healing
European Commission launches New European Bauhaus
International observers declare Kazakh elections 'free and fair'
EU reaches agreement to purchase 300 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine
Commission chief spokesperson reassures vaccine roll-out on track
EU signs Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the UK
Central African Republic (CAR)3 days ago
Tensions in Central Africa: Forcible recruitment, killings and looting among rebels' confessions
Frontpage3 days ago
New US president: How EU-US relations could improve
coronavirus3 days ago
EU lagging on vaccination efforts
coronavirus2 days ago
Coronavirus response: €45 million to support Opolskie region in Poland in fighting the pandemic
US3 days ago
Xiaomi in US crosshairs over military links
Economy2 days ago
European Commission launches New European Bauhaus
Brexit3 days ago
Scottish fishermen land fish in Denmark to avoid post-Brexit red tape
coronavirus3 days ago
Latest on worldwide spread of the coronavirus