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The News in Brief

Monday, January 16
EU parliament committee approves visa-free access for Georgians

3.7 million Georgian nationals came one step closer to getting visa-free access to EU’s vast borderless Schengen area on Tuesday, as members of the LIBE committee in the EU parliament added their seal of approval to the plan.

The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs approved the informal deal by 42 against 2 votes with one of its members absent.

The EU has used visa-free entry for short visits as a carrot to encourage reforms in the former Soviet country, which is lodged against Russia’s southern borders in the Caucasus. Russia has eyed the measure with suspicion as an attempt to wrest the country out of its orbit.

Member countries were near approving a visa waiver program for Georgia in 2016, but the plan ran into resistance from Germany and other countries that were dealing with the an influx of more than a million migrants to the Schengen zone.

The plan came back on track in December after members agreed to a new suspension mechanism which allows individual countries to hit the brakes on the visa waiver plan without asking the EU for approval if certain conditions should arise, such as a wave of unjustified asylum requests from Georgians.

The visa waiver program for Georgians will enter into force on the same date as the review of the visa suspension mechanism. It is unclear exactly when this will happen, but the next stage in the complicated procedure is a vote by the EU parliament at a plenary session, probably in February.

Once the change is formally approved, Georgians will be able to enter the EU visa-free for 90 days in any 180-day period, provided they hold a biometric passport.

The visa waivers apply to the Schengen area, which includes 22 EU member states (all except Ireland, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria), plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
(DF watch)

President awards 16 persons posthumously

The President of Georgia has awarded 16 persons posthumously for their outstanding courage and devotion in the fight for territorial integrity and in the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.

The awards were handed over to the family members of the deceased.

In addition, a national flag was hoisted in the yard of the Presidential Palace by the children of Georgian national hero Giorgi Antsukhelidze. An event dedicated to the National Flag Day was hosted by the Presidential Administration today.

Abkhazia to Face Electricity Supply Problems, Georgian Officials Say

Officials in Tbilisi are predicting a complete blackout in Abkhazia from late February in case of a failure to reduce the region’s power consumption or to secure additional supplies of electricity from sources other than the Enguri hydropower plant, Abkhazia’s main energy supplier.

When asked about the issue, Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze said on January 11 that he would meet the Abkhaz side “in the nearest future”. “There are problems with electricity supply …we will talk on this matter. But like last year, we will make sure that they have no problems with respect to their electricity supply,” Kaladze added referring to the government’s decision in February 2016 to import Russian electricity to prevent power shortages in Abkhazia.

“The current level will be sufficient until February 20 …if the Abkhaz side does not import [the electricity], they will have serious problems or they will need to reduce the power consumption before that, so that the water level stays sufficient until the first week of April,” Engurhesi Ltd’s General Manager Levan Mebonia told the press on January 11.

Breakaway Abkhazia fully relies on electricity generated by the Enguri hydropower plant, whose 271.5-meter-tall concrete arch dam is located on the Georgian side of the administrative border and its five generators are on the Abkhaz side in the Gali district. According to a long-standing, informal agreement between Tbilisi and Sokhumi, 40% of the electricity generated by the plant goes to Abkhazia and the remaining 60% is received by the rest of Georgia.

In 2015, Georgia distributed 1,797 million kWh electricity to Abkhazia, 17.31% of Georgia’s overall consumption, according to Georgia’s Energy and Water Supply Regulatory Commission’s report. In 2014 and 2013, Abkhazia was supplied by 1,638 million kWh electricity (16.11%) and 1,605 million kWh electricity (16.57%) respectively.

Georgian Prime Minister’s Foreign Adviser holds meetings in US

The United States’ upcoming administration’s foreign policy in relation to Georgia was discussed when the Georgian Prime Minister’s Foreign Adviser visited the US.

Tedo Japaridze, Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s adviser, started his US visit on January 9 and has been holding meetings with American officials and politicians over the past several days.

Japaridze met with former US Secretary of State and current Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Condoleezza Rice.

He also met with Michael McFaul, Director at the Freeman Spogli Institute and former US Ambassador to Russia.

"During the meetings, important US foreign policy issues related to Georgia, regional security, and Georgia's progress in implementing reforms were discussed,” the PM’s press office said in a statement.

Japaridze’s US visit also included meetings with Stephen Healey, Chair of the USIP Board of Directors; Straub Talbot, President of the Brookings Institution; Senator Richard Lugar, President of the Lugar Center; and John Bolton, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.