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EU Commissioner confirms support for Georgia

By Etuna Tsotniashvili
Thursday, January 22
On January 20 European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner paid a one day visit to Georgia where she held some very important meetings.

During her visit the EU Commissioner and Georgia’s State Minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration Giorgi Baramidze signed a joint statement under which the EU will give up to EUR 500 million in aid to Georgia over three years. The funds form part of the Growth and Stabilisation Package for Georgia for 2008-2010 pledged by the European Commission after last summer’s Russian invasion. The objectives of the assistance package are to provide humanitarian aid and assistance to IDPs, support economic recovery, ensure macro-financial stabilisation and rehabilitate infrastructure.

The Commissioner said on the eve of her visit that “The Commission acted swiftly to help Georgia in its time of need. Providing accommodation for Internally Displaced Persons is crucial. The money released so far is making a real difference and alleviating the suffering of those who need it most. The EU is the biggest donor supporting Georgia after the conflict and by working together closely, we will help to relaunch the economy, which has suffered greatly. It is also the EU that has mobilised other donors to pledge unprecedented sums to support the country to ensure that Georgia finds its way back to prosperity and stability,” the EU Commissioner said.

After signing the aid document Benita Ferrero-Waldner also talked about democratic reforms in Georgia and said that, along with democratic reforms, there was one further precondition of granting aid funds. “Vice Prime Minister (Giorgi Baramidze) has informed me and now confirmed to me that a new wave of democratic reforms will become legislation, but we want this legislation also to concern the judiciary, the fight against corruption, media freedom and freedom of assembly, and we also want to see better dialogue between the political parties. …. We also do not want to see any Euros spent for military purposes and I think that is the most important thing,” she added.

The EU Commissioner also held a meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, at which the sides talked about visa facilitation for Georgian citizens and a free trade agreement. Saakashvili stressed the importance of the EU’s support for Georgia. He said that the assistance the EU has allocated Georgia is very important in helping Georgia avoid the worst effects of the global financial crisis and create better conditions for Georgian entrepreneurs.

Prior to her meeting with the President Benita Ferrero-Waldner met the Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary opposition in the Tbilisi Marriott Hotel, where she listened to opposition representatives’ ideas for developing democratic institutions in Georgia. Former Speaker of Parliament and now leader of the Democratic Movement for United Georgia Nino Burjanadze stated that the meeting was very important. She said that Benita Ferrero-Waldner is interested in opposition members’ points of view, and has again confirmed that democratic reforms in Georgia are important for the EU.

“It was said at the meeting that democratic reforms are essential in order for our country to receive support from the EU and continue talks about the new neighbourhood initiative. The EU Commissioner thinks the number one priority for Georgia’s stability and development is to create democracy in the country,” Burjanadze said.

The EU Commissioner also paid a visit to the collective centre where the European Commission and UNHCR have completed a joint winterisation project, implemented by the Danish Refugee Council. The Commissioner was satisfied with the work carried out during the renovations process – a change of roofing, improving electricity and water sewage systems, erecting partitions, etc. Ferrero-Waldner also sought to obtain information about IDPs from South Ossetia and Abkhazia at the centre. Speaking to the displaced families, the Commissioner underlined that they have a right to return, “But while in exile people have to have decent living conditions,” she added. “Since the very first minute of the crisis you and your sufferings were our main concern,” she told a displaced mother of 3 from Ergneti village.

To The Messenger’s question regarding what the EU’s next step would be now that the Russians have not fully complied with French President Sarkozy’s six point plan and have recognised the breakaway territories as independent states, the EU Commissioner stated that “We are in favour of Georgia’s territorial integrity and we keep this position. You also know that there are talks underway in Geneva, three rounds, and the next round will be there in February. These will enhance the position brokered by President Sarkozy together with the mission and accepted by President Medvedev,” Ferrero-Waldner said.

The EU Commissioner also commented on thet EU monitors, saying that Georgia is lucky because the EU monitoring mission is here and does its job perfectly. “Georgia should be very happy that the EU monitoring mission has come to Georgia. It has come here very, very quickly and it’s doing an excellent job,” she said. “I visited them today, I had meetings with the monitors. It is very important now that they bring calm into this situation, it is very important that there are no more incidents, no more shootings, and that both sides respect each other. This then is a good basis for the Geneva talks,” Ferrero-Waldner told the Messenger.