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Joint press statement following the 8th Association Council meeting between the EU and Georgia

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On 20 February 2024, the European Union and Georgia held the 8th meeting of the EU-Georgia Association Council in Brussels.

The Association Council welcomed the historic decision of the European Council to grant Georgia the status of candidate country on the understanding that the nine steps set out in the European Commission recommendation of 8 November 2023 are taken. This took the EU-Georgia relations to a new strategic level. The EU took note of the adoption of the action plan to address the nine steps by the Government of Georgia in advance of the European Council decision and encouraged Georgia to further progress on reforms. It emphasized the importance of fulfilling the conditions specified by the European Commission through meaningful and irreversible reforms, prepared and implemented in consultation with the opposition and civil society. The EU stressed that Georgia’s progress towards the European Union will depend on its own merit in meeting the accession criteria.

The Association Council reiterated the EU’s commitment to strengthening EU-Georgia relations, emphasising the importance of fully exploiting the potential of the Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, and the effective implementation of the EU-Georgia Association Agenda 2021-2027. The Association Council recalled that the effective implementation of the Association Agreement and its DCFTA, linked to the broader process of regulatory approximation and related necessary reforms, contributes to establishing conditions for enhanced economic and trade relations with the EU leading to Georgia’s further gradual economic integration in the European Union Internal Market.

The EU recognised that Georgia carried out significant reforms in a number of areas and successfully approximated its legislation with the EU acquis in many sectors as noted in the European Commission report on Georgia of 8 November 2023. It was noted that the objective of becoming an EU member, strongly supported by Georgia’s people, the Government and across political spectrum has been a key driver in this respect. The EU urged all political actors in Georgia to demonstrate constructive cross-party cooperation and dialogue, overcome polarisation and refrain from actions that could further deepen the political tensions and hamper the country’s reform agenda. The Association Council commended Georgia’s vibrant civil society and underlined the importance of inclusive, meaningful and systematic engagement with civil society in the policymaking processes.

Emphasising the importance of fighting disinformation, anti-EU rhetoric and foreign information manipulation and interference, the EU called on Georgia to take meaningful steps in this regard, while noting the efforts made by the Government.

The Association Council stressed that the full independence, accountability and impartiality of all State institutions need to be ensured, in line with European standards and the recommendations of the Venice Commission, in particular all judicial, prosecutorial, anti-corruption and monetary institutions. The EU underlined the need to further improve the implementation of parliamentary oversight notably of the security services.

The Association Council recalled that the EU and Georgia are bound by a joint determination to further strengthen democracy and the rule of law in our societies. The EU noted the work undertaken to improve the legislative framework and the overall capacity and organisation of the justice system. The EU stressed that further efforts were needed to pursue a comprehensive judicial reform in particular to ensure the full independence, accountability and impartiality of all judicial and prosecutorial institutions.

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The Association Council noted the reforms undertaken to improve the electoral framework and called on Georgia to finalise electoral reform well ahead of the upcoming elections, in line with the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, and to ensure a free, fair and competitive electoral process. The EU welcomed Georgia’s invitation of the OSCE-ODIHR long-term observers ahead of the parliamentary elections of 2024.

The Association Council took note of the adoption of the second National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights in Georgia 2022-2030 and the Human Rights Action Plan 2024-2026.

The Association Council welcomed the work undertaken to ensure gender equality, to fight gender-based and domestic violence, as well as the work on legislation related to the European Court of Human Rights judgments and the appointment of the Public Defender. The EU underlined the need to continue this work and ensure enhanced respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including guaranteeing freedom of expression, assembly and media and ensure the full independence and effectiveness of human rights institutions.

The Association Council noted the work undertaken on deoligarchisation, avoiding the excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political and public life in Georgia and stressed the need to implement the current Action Plan efficiently through a multi-sectorial, systemic approach. The EU welcomed the creation of the Anti-Corruption Bureau and stressed the importance to ensure the Bureau operates independently and effectively. The EU underlined that further efforts are needed to tackle all forms of corruption, including as part of deoligarchisation efforts. The EU welcomed Georgia’s continuous fulfilment of the visa liberalisation benchmarks and its actions to address European Commission recommendations.

The Association Council underlined the strong expectation for Georgia to substantially increase its alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy positions and restrictive measures and called on Georgia to progress towards full alignment. The EU welcomed Georgia’s pro-active engagement and constructive cooperation on preventing circumvention of EU sanctions against Russia.

The EU commended Georgia on its active engagement to the EU CSDP missions and operations since 2014 and encouraged it to further contribute to EU CSDP missions and operations; the Association Council also discussed possibilities for further cooperation in the security and defence field. The EU expressed its willingness to further support Georgia in addressing the challenges it faces as a consequence of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and strengthen its resilience through increased cooperation on cyber and hybrid threats, as well as support to the Georgian Defence Forces through the European Peace Facility. Georgia expressed willingness to launch cooperation with the EU specialised agencies as well as participate in PESCO projects.

The EU underlined its support for Georgia's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, emphasising EU’s firm commitment to conflict resolution and its policy of non-recognition and engagement in Georgia. The EU and Georgia reaffirmed their commitment to the Geneva International Discussions, including the upcoming 60th round, which, together with fully operational Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms (IPRMs), are crucial for addressing and resolving the challenges stemming from the conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008.

The EU and Georgia expressed concern regarding Russia’s steps to incorporate the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia into Russia’s political, security, military, economic, and other spheres, in breach of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Council condemned the recent killing of a Georgian civilian Tamaz Ginturi by the Russian forces illegally stationed in Georgia. The Association Council expressed deep concern over the deteriorated situation in Georgia’s regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia in terms of security, humanitarian and human rights, including violations of the rights to freedom of movement, property, education in mother tongue, and ethnic discrimination of Georgians.

The EU and Georgia reiterated the obligation for the Russian Federation to implement the EU-mediated 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement, inter alia to withdraw its military forces from Georgia’s territory and allow the establishment of international security mechanisms on the ground. The Council stressed the obligation to ensure safe and dignified return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes.

The Association Council highlighted the important role of the EU Monitoring Mission and underlined the necessity of access of the EUMM to the whole territory of Georgia as per its mandate.

The Association Council recalled the judgments of European Court of Human Rights and the investigation of the International Criminal Court confirming Russia’s responsibility as a State exercising effective control over the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia.

The Association Council stressed the importance of intensifying support to people-to-people contacts and increase confidence building measures across the divides as well as reiterated its support to the reconciliation and engagement efforts.

The Association Council welcomed Georgia’s successful economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and its GDP growth. The EU commended Georgia’s sound fiscal and monetary policies which allowed to weather well the shock related to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. The EU recalled the instrumental role in safeguarding macroeconomic stability of the National Bank of Georgia and stressed the importance to guarantee its independence and credibility.

The Association Council highlighted that the EU remains Georgia’s largest trading partner and welcomed Georgia’s growing exports to the EU. The EU underscored its continued commitment to support Georgia in further alleviating obstacles to trade and underlined the importance to continue implementing obligations under the DCFTA. The Association Council welcomed the agreement reached to start working towards setting up a Priority Action Plan (PAP), recognised the good progress made so far to agree on the content of the PAP and stressed the importance of properly implementing the actions listed therein to enhance the implementation of the DCFTA.

The EU stressed the importance of accelerating the implementation of the Economic and Investment Plan, notably through its flagship projects, including those geared towards developing connectivity between Georgia and the EU as matters of mutual interest. The EU reiterated Georgia's role as a partner for European energy security, and notably its transit role for Caspian hydrocarbon resources.

The EU welcomed the steps taken by Georgia and expressed willingness to support Georgia’s further efforts towards ensuring the necessary preparations and taking the required steps, especially in the area of anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism, to meet the criteria for joining the geographical scope of the Single Euro Payments Area schemes.

The Association Council welcomed Georgia’s commitment and steps to harmonize its legislation aimed at integrating it into the EU’s "Roam like at Home" regime and EU’s readiness to adopt a decision on amending the Association Agreement to include related acquis.

The Association Council appreciated Georgia’s strong involvement in Erasmus+, Horizon Europe and the Creative Europe programme.

The Association Council welcomed Georgia’s efforts towards modernising its civil protection system and capacities and looks forward to Georgia adhering to the pathway document handed in the margins of the Council meeting, aimed at guiding Georgia’s integration into the Union Civil Protection Mechanism.

The Association Council emphasised that the Eastern Partnership and its resilience-oriented framework remain relevant and will continue in complementarity with the enlargement process, and highlighted the need for concrete deliverables for 2024.

The meeting was chaired by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Kobakhidze led the Georgian delegation. The Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Mr Olivér Várhelyi, also participated.

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