H.E. VAKHTANG MAKHAROBLISHVILI
Ambassador of Georgia to the Kingdom of Belgium and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and Head of the Mission of Georgia to the European Union
"Georgia's quest for joining the European Union is deeply rooted in our historical legacy and in our identity, in the way we see ourselves and in the way we see our future"
1. Ambassador Makharoblishvili, could you give us your impressions about Brussels and broadly outline your priorities as an Ambassador?
Probably the shortest way I could describe it is through the haiku of the former President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy: Different colours, Tongues, towers and gods. I search my way.
My tenure started in summer of 2021, but it is not my first time working in Brussels. Back in 2005, I represented Georgia as a young diplomat. Georgia had just been included in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and we were making first, but decisive steps towards our ambitious European Agenda.
From today's perspective, Georgia has come a very long way with its European integration and my priority, as the Head of the Mission to the EU, is to bring Georgia even closer to the EU, to help Georgia obtain its merited place in the European family.
As a bilateral Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, I am also working on enhancing the cooperation between Georgia and these two countries. What Georgia shares with Belgium and Luxembourg is that we are all small countries. I would like to see my country find its niche in the European family and contribute to its peace and welfare like Belgium and Luxembourg do. In fact, it is not such a difficult task to advocate for Georgia, as the country has a lot to offer. Its history, rich cultural heritage and values as well as being another case of EU-driven democratic transformation make Georgia a solid case. My task is to make others see it too and facilitate the political, social, economic links between countries.
2. European Commission just issued its Opinion on Georgia's application to become a member of the European Union. At the end of the week, the European Council will make its decision based on this Opinion. What are Georgia's expectations a day before the historic European Council?
The European Commission recommended the Council to grant Georgia the European perspective, which is EU-jargon for opening the possibility for a country's EU membership. When revealing the Commission Opinions on the applications of the Associated Trio (Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine), the European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen declared that EU's doors are wide open for Georgia. The same Commission opinion also set out the priorities that Georgia needs to address in order to receive a EU candidate status.
We are committed, as the Prime Minister of Georgia also indicated, to work with the EU institutions to address the priorities listed in the Commission Opinion.
Granting Georgia the European perspective is one of the most significant achievements for Georgia's foreign policy and for Georgia's domestic policies as well, as it is firmly related to almost everything that Georgia does in order to strengthen its democracy and improve people's welfare. Therefore, we are very grateful for the Commission's recommendation.
However, let me stress that Georgia's has continuously been a reliable and committed EU partner. This partnership has been translated in the acknowledged progress of the implementation of the commitments we undertook under the EU-Georgia Association Agreement. With this in mind and, also, in line with the EU's merit-based approach, we would have expected that the three associated partners would have received the same recommendation from the Commission for grating candidate status. Over 80 percent of the Georgian people support Georgia's European integration. Remarkably, Georgians have never elected a government without a very clear European orientation. Therefore, we hope that the European Council at the end of the week will build on the Commission recommendation and decide to grant Georgia the candidate status to the three countries together.
3. Georgia's application for the EU membership during your tenure must feel like a privilege and a challenge at the same time. Why Georgia's EU Membership and why now?
It is definitely a privilege, and a challenge. Submitting the EU application is a historical event and of course, I feel privileged to be part of it. On the other hand, it is a challenge, because we are entering a very important and demanding phase of our European integration.
But first, let me elaborate a little more on our path towards this decisive step and as to why we submitted the application now.
Based on our good track-record of the implementation of the obligations under the Association Agreement with the EU, the Georgian government declared in 2020 that we would take all necessary measures to ensure that the country is ready to file the EU membership application in 2024. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine brought to the fore, once again but on an even greater scale, the vulnerabilities of the whole region. This war served as a wakeup call for many, but for us, Georgians, it is a tragic reminiscence of our own wars, with the most recent one in 2008. We became the first victim of Russia's newly revived expansionist foreign policy when, in August 2008, the Russian Army invaded Georgia. Russian wars in Georgia have left thousands of dead and injured and half a million IDPs in a country of 3.7 million.
However, this did not deter us from pursuing our path of democratic development and European and Euro-Atlantic integration. With the Association Agreement, which we signed in 2014, we committed ourselves to bringing almost 70 % of the EU acquis to Georgian legislation and practice. Sometimes the new generation Association Agreements are compared to enlargement negotiation chapters. Every year we are being assessed according to these ambitious and comprehensive commitments showing credible progress. We have an enhanced political dialogue with the EU that covers all sectors of cooperation.
We align ourselves with the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy and contribute to a number of EU Common Security and Defence Missions. Georgia cooperates closely with the EU agencies and participates in EU programmes. All this, together with the overwhelming public support for EU integration served as a good basis for the application.
The Russian aggression in Ukraine has made the need to state our belonging more urgent. To be honest, Georgia has itself paid a significant price for its European aspirations and now is the time to state where we see our future, to state that while the values on which the EU 3 stands are being trampled on the European continent, we stay loyal to those values. The scale of the war in Ukraine shifted the geopolitical status quo and made everyone - small and big countries challenge some of their foreign policy assumptions. We applied for EU membership, as a way to demonstrate to the world that our European future is what it at stake and it is time for decisive steps.
4. Why do Georgians feel so enthusiastic about the EU? Is it the quest for economic prosperity or is there something more?
Enthusiasm about the European idea is not just the quest for economic development, although this is also part of the motivation of course. However, the European Union we are willing to enter is not a Coal and Steel Community, it is not just marketplace we want to trade, it is most of all a Union of ideas, of values and standards, which we are willing to live up to.
Let us not forget that while the formal application for EU membership was a procedural step, it is a consequence of the long, relentless and unshakable efforts of the Georgian people to regain their rightful place among the family of European nations. The commitment to democracy and the search for alliance with European powers came to the fore with the establishment of the first democratic republic of Georgia more than a hundred years ago, when we proclaimed the independence in 1918. The First Republic was exceptional in many ways, including by being run by the first Social-Democratic Government in Europe. It created one of the most progressive constitutions of the time introducing equal civil and political rights for all citizens irrespective of their ethnic origin, faith or gender. The new Georgian Parliament a hundred years ago was elected by universal suffrage - by men and women - and included five female members, as well as one woman of Muslim minority.
The roots of the Georgian social democracy were in Europe. The Georgian leaders of the time were bearers of the ideas of equality, democracy and civil rights that were inspired by the European democratic movements and the policies of the European political parties. One hundred years ago, like now, Georgia's commitment to democracy was corollary to its proEuropean choice. As the Prime-Minister of that short-lived First Republic famously declared: "Georgia's life then and its life in the future is indissolubly tied to the West, and no force can break this bond..."
Therefore, Georgia's quest for joining the European Union is deeply rooted in our historical legacy and in our identity, in the way we see ourselves and in the way we see our future.
We know EU membership will not happen overnight. It will be a lengthy, costly and exhausting path, but we are willing and ready to embark on it, because we know what is at stake and what we want to build. We know there will be extensive homework, but we have a clear understanding that those reforms will be making Georgia better, freer and stronger.
5. Connectivity is the buzzword of our times. Georgia, with its favourable geostrategic location, is a bridge between East and West. How can Georgia benefit from the new connectivity strategy "Global Gateway"?
Georgia has been, over the last decades, strengthening its role as an important link in the long chain connecting Europe to Asia. As a contracting party to the Energy Community, engaged in the High-Level Transport Dialogue with the EU and covered by the Trans European Transport Network, we, together with the EU, are implementing a number of infrastructure projects under the TEN-T Investment Action Plan, Eastern Partnership Economic and Investment Plan and other instruments.
Georgia is actively working to achieve its ambition and place the country as a digital, transport and energy hub in the region. Its geostrategic location has the full potential to significantly contribute to the overall European strategy of connectivity, especially with Asia. As an EU Associated partner, we support implementation of quality infrastructure projects, respecting the highest social and environmental standards, based on European rules and regulations.
Georgia has already proposed a number of initiatives that are reflected as Flagship Projects in the Economic and Investment Plan for the Eastern Partnership, which is one of the building blocks of the Global Gateway, together with the EU's cooperation on connectivity with the Western Balkans, Mediterranean, South-East Asia etc. These projects aim at building physical, transport and energy bridges between Georgia and the rest of Europe.
We are in the harmonization process of the digital market with the EU as the final purpose of integrating Georgia into the EU Digital Single Market, digitalizing the economy and governmental services, as well as achieving the common roaming space with the EU. 5 The current crisis, caused by Russia's war in Ukraine, has a major impact on energy security of Europe.
The EU's decision to increase its energy independence from Russia creates substantial challenges and the necessity for the development of alternative energy supply routes. Georgia is EU's reliable partner in developing alternative energy routes of supply in Europe through Southern Gas Corridor, TAP and TANAP. Extension of energy routes across the Caspian Sea to gas and oil rich Central Asian countries can play an important role in strengthening the stability and the security of energy supply of Europe.
It is worth mentioning as well, that Georgia is developing the Black Sea Underwater Electricity Cable project, which connects Georgia and Romania. This project can contribute to the diversification of the electricity supply with green energy.
6. This year marks 30 years of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Belgium. How can the cooperation be further enhanced between the two countries?
Yes, indeed. Over the last three decades, since our two countries established diplomatic relations, bilateral cooperation has steadily evolved. Regular high-level bilateral visits confirm the dynamic character of our relations. Belgium has been a strong supporter of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, including through constant support given to Georgia in various international organizations. Even though the economic relations between Georgia and Belgium have been steadily developing, there is still an untapped potential in various fields that needs to be exploited.
Over the last years, our Embassy has tried to bring as much of the Georgian culture as possible to Brussels. In 2023, one of the biggest Belgian festivals of culture - "Europalia" - will be organized with and about Georgia. We will bring the most interesting cultural projects, including visual arts, performing arts, film, music, literature, to Belgium, as well as Luxembourg, and will organize debates on the most pertinent issues of contemporary culture. As a gift to our Belgian friends, we will offer a unique cultural experience from an extreme point of Europe.
Situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Georgia is renowned for its history, ancient winemaking tradition, splendid Mountains, Black Sea coastline, snowy peaks, unique biodiversity, healing mineral waters, national parks and protected areas. Georgia is rich with 6 thousands of historical and cultural monuments, three of which (Gelati Monastery, Historical Monuments of Mtskheta, and Upper Svaneti) are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We are also proud that UNESCO has officially called Georgia the cradle of wine.
Finally, yet importantly, Georgia has been emerging as an attractive destination for investments in tourism but also sectors like automotive, electronics, pharmaceuticals, hospitality and real estate, energy, ports and logistics, agriculture etc. The country possesses considerable power generation potential from hydro, wind, solar and other renewable sources, creating favourable opportunities to invest in the renewable energy sector. We went through significant reforms and introduced one of the most liberal foreign trade policies in the world that imply facilitated foreign trade regime and customs procedures, low import tariffs and minimal non-tariff regulations, open competition on the market and proper protection of property rights.
As I said, it is not a hard task to promote Georgia in the European political capital as we
have a lot to bring to the European family.