WE DEEPLY REGRET THAT SITUATION IN SYRIA REMAINS DIRE,AMBASSADOR OF GEORGIA IN NORWAY MR. MAMUKA TSIKHELASHVILI
For the most part of the past decade Georgia’s foreign policy has been driven by its integration into NATO and the European Union.
President Saakashvili has often said he views a membership of the EU and NSTO as long term priority. Could explain how this has influenced Georgia’s foreign policy strategy, and most importantly how your rapprochement to the EU is taking shape?
Georgia’s aspiration for NATO and European Union membership is firm and remains a key priority of Georgia’s foreign and security policy. It exceeds political party lines and is based on a firm quest of Georgian people, its European culture, history and identity. The public support for the NATO membership never fell below 65%. Besides, there is a consensus over the issue among the major political forces in Georgia.
Being a NATO aspirant country our aim is to concentrate all efforts and available means to facilitate Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. In this regard the Government of Georgia continues active political dialogue and practical cooperation with NATO through such integration mechanisms as NATO – Georgia Commission and the Annual National Program. Intensive cooperation on working and high level is very important, as well as the exchanges of visits. In this regard I would like to underline the very important visit of the North Atlantic Council to Georgia in June 2013. This visit was once again clear manifestation of NATO’s support of our Euro-Atlantic integration.
Georgia is the largest non – NATO troop contributor and we will remain engaged in Afghanistan after 2014. Georgia stands rea
By to participate in NATO’s new mission in Afghanistan, beyond 2014. Georgia’s NATO integration will benefit not only Georgia but the entire region. We have already managed to create new opportunities in this part of the world. By integrating Georgia, NATO will expand the area of democracy and stability which will have a positive impact on the overall Euro-Atlantic security.
Alongside our steady progress in NATO direction, Georgia’s cooperation with EU is also developing dynamically. Georgia is actively engaged in both – bilateral and multilateral formats of the Eastern Partnership. The fact that, after election, the very first visit of Prime Minister of Georgia Bidzina Ivanishvili was paid to Brussels attests to the importance that we attach to the relations with the Union.
Most importantly, Georgia and the European Union completed negotiation process over the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. The Association Agreement will be initialing at the next Eastern Partnership Summit that will take place in Vilnius on 29 November 2013, and signed as soon as the technical procedures are completed from EU member States. The Association Agreement establishes the mechanisms for deeper integration of Georgia and the EU, and highlights Georgia’s path to eventual membership. This is a very important milestone, opening the way to comprehensive modernization and reform based upon shared values, political association, and economic integration with the European Union.
QUESTION TWO – How would you describe Georgia bilateral relations with Norway? What would you like to see achieve during your posting?
Bilateral relations with Norway are developing dynamically. I am pleased to note that last year we marked the Twentieth Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Georgia and the Kingdom of Norway. It is worth mentioning that twenty years ago Norway was the first Nordic Country which recognized Georgia’s independence. Since this recognition, the ties between our countries have developed into extensive and fruitful co-operation. We are both European nations, which adhere to liberal democratic principles, freedom and respect of human rights. Norway strongly supports the territorial integrity of Georgia.During the past twenty years, our relations have considerably progressed. Bilateral cooperation in many important fields has undeniably laid the foundation for building of Georgia’s modern statehood. We highly value Norway’s continuous support towards Georgia’s Euro and Euro-Atlantic aspiration. Opening the Embassy of Georgia to the Kingdom of Norway once more highlights the significance of Georgian-Norwegian relations and this decision of the Georgian Government gives a new impetus to further intensification of bilateral political, economic, cultural and educational ties between Georgia and the Kingdom of Norway.
I would like to underline that significant progress in the field of bilateral relations have ample potential and are aimed at future. These relations are developing very intensively. Norwegian side’s active engagement and significant investment in Georgia’s hydropower development clearly marks the level of confidence that Norway has towards Georgia. The Norwegian Mission of Rule of Law and Norwegian Refugee Council Advisers to Georgia have made outstanding results in the Georgian penitentiary and legal systems and providing protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons. I would like to draw special attention to the development of inclusive education in public schools of Georgia. Taking into consideration the importance of the issue, during past years Georgia and Norway worked hard and achieved tangible results.
Referring to the mentioned solid results The Georgian Embassy will play a huge role to further diversify and expand political, economic and cultural relations and promote people-to-people contacts to the benefit of both nations.
QUESTION THREE – A relatively young democracy, Georgia underwent a profound political and institutional change in 2008 during the Rose Revolution. After the instability of the 1990s Georgia has now found a solid footing both politically and economically. In many ways you already had your Arab Spring movement.
With this experience in mind and in view of so much political instability in the Middle East and now Brazil, what is your prognosis?
In the past decade Georgia has experienced significant progress in many areas, including in anticorruption and institutional reforms, and economic development.
We are closely watching the developments in the Middle East and the Arab World as a whole. It is evident that the Arab spring has brought freedom and democratic perspectives to that region, but post-revolutionary countries still suffer lots of difficulties and it seems they yet have to go long way to democracy, security and development. On our part, Georgia always expresses readiness and offers support to post-revolutionary and other countries in the Arab World to share its positive and successful experience in governance and public administration reforms. I believe that democracy and development will certainly reach this part of the world sooner or later.
QUESTION FOUR – As a member of the UN and a member of the Council of Europe where do you position yourself in regards to the Syrian crisis and calls for a military intervention?
We deeply regret that situation in Syria remains dire and civilians continue to die on a daily basis. Certainly, Georgia stands together with the international community in all of its efforts to condition a political transition in Syria in accordance with the will of the Syrian people. We strongly condemn violence and atrocities against Syrian population that lasts for more than 2 years for now. Georgia joins international community’s political actions aimed at finding solution to this atrocious conflict, including active support to UN resolutions, EU Council statements and decisions; and also actions and decisions by the Group of Friends of the Syrian People to which Georgia is a devoted member.
QUESTION FIVE – Georgian Armed Forces have been participating in peacekeeping missions in the Balkans and the Persian Gulf since 1999. Currently there are more than 1,570 Georgian combat troops deployed in Helmand, Afghanistan. How would you define Georgia’s role in the region? What would you like to see happen?
Georgia continues to demonstrate its commitment to the alliance as the largest non-NATO contributor to the international force in Afghanistan, and has redoubled its effort to reform and improve its military. Two more Georgian battalions departed for Afghanistan in March 2013. As already
mentioned, Georgia is the largest non-NATO troop contributor to the ISAF mission, and the sixth largest contributor overall, including stationing Georgian troops in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand Province. Thirty Georgian soldiers have died in the conflict, seven as recently as June 7, with dozens more injured.
Georgia, as a reliable and stable partner of the alliance undertook the commitment to participate in the post-2014 NATO-led mission to train, advice and assist the Afghan forces, which will be deployed once the transition to Afghan security lead has been completed and ISAF operation is terminated. Furthermore, the government has offered its allies Georgia’s infrastructures for the reverse transit of ISAF forces and cargo from Afghanistan. Georgia ensures the shortest, most convenient, and most cost-effective route, and continues to make necessary infrastructure investment to make this transit route even more efficient.
The main goal of Georgia’s defence policy is to create a highly-capable, mobile, modern, fully-professional armed forces that is fully interoperable with NATO. At the same time, we believe that the stable and peaceful Afghanistan is essential for the common Euro-Atlantic security. That’s why Georgia attaches great importance to participation in International Missions that underlines our strong commitment to be not only consumer, but also net contributor to security and peace worldwide and reflects our solidarity with our allies and partners.
QUESTION SIX – Georgia signed in 2005 the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. How important national cohesion is to Georgia? What is the government policy to this regard?
The Government of Georgia attaches great importance to the protection and full integration of national minorities. Georgia is a specific country due to its ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity. Historical development of Georgia and its geographic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia have determined its diversity, with changing ethnic composition over centuries as a result of migration politics in the neighboring countries.According the statistics minorities constituted 16.2 % of the population of Georgia. The largest minority community is Azeri, followed by Armenians and Russians. There are also smaller communities of Abkhazs, Assyrians, Greeks, Jews, Kists/Chechens, Kurds, Ossetians, Roma, Ukrainians and Yezidis.
The Constitution of Georgia guarantees the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and their full equality in social, economic, cultural and political life. Georgia has recognized the international principles and best practices regarding the policy towards national minorities and the need for their integration. The country is a signatory to the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) and takes note of most international instruments and recommendations on the subject of minority rights.
Georgian Government views protection of minority rights and their full observance by society as a matter of principle. In this regard the Ministry of Justice is presently drafting an antidiscrimination law aimed at protecting the rights of religious, sexual, ethnic and other minorities in the country and avoids discrimination. The new law will protect minorities and will prohibit all forms of discrimination.
The goal of the draft is to provide equality under the law despite the views of different religious, ethnic or other minorities. This draft law will be reviewed by international experts and will be subsequently submitted to the Parliament. The process of deliberations and adoption of this law will include full participation and engagement of the public.
Government undertook the practical steps towards integration of minorities, including in the area of education, teaching of the state language, preservation of culture and national identity, access to media, political participation and infrastructure development to ensure engagement of the national minorities in social, economic, political and cultural life of the country.
The Georgian government made significant amendments to the Law on Higher Education that introduced a new quota system and increased number of minority students admitted to Georgian State Universities, furthermore, it is very important fact that reforms in field of higher Education permitted Armenian, Azerbaijani, Ossetian and Abkhazian language speakers to pass single test in their native language.
QUESTION SEVEN – Georgia has an independent human rights defender elected by the Parliament to ensure such rights are enforced and duly protected.
How would you say Georgia is fairing in terms of Human Rights and Freedom of Speech in comparison to other EU nations?
The Ombudsman (independent human rights defender) of Georgia is a Constitutional body, which oversees the human rights situation on the territory of Georgia and addresses the identified human rights infringements and concerns. Such infringements may be committed by the state institutions and bodies of local self-government. The Georgian Ombudsman institution is established on the basis of the legislation which is in full compliance with the applicable European human rights standards. Although the Ombudsman institutions differ from state to state and if, for example, in Sweden the Ombudsman institution is mainly focused on the court monitoring, in Georgia its is mainly focused on the endeavors of legislative and executive structures.
Every resident of the country has the right to apply to the Ombudsman if has an opinion that his/her rights are infringed. The Ombudsman considers the application and, in case, it is proven, applies to the respective state institution or the body of local self – government requesting appropriate remedial actions.The current Ombudsman of Georgia is very pro-active and always takes principle positions, even if sometimes positions do not correspond to those of the government. As regard the state of protection and promotion specifically of right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, the state institutions of Georgia and the Ombudsman take special care of the effective implementation of this right, since it is understood that this right is one of the cornerstones of democracy.
The Ombudsman of Georgia systematically goes public addressing the identified human rights concerns and has the right and even an obligation to address periodically the Parliament of Georgia about his/her undertaken activities. Other than that the Ombudsman of Georgia is fully independent, is fully financed by the state budget and is not accountable to anyone in the country.
QUESTION EIGHT – By its geographic position in between Russia and Turkey, Georgia very much could act a bridge between the West and the East as well the Arab World. How would you define your role in this aspect and how does this influence your foreign policy?
Indeed, Georgia historically has been a bridge between the West and East being a integral part of the famous, ancient, trade Silk Road that connected Europe with Asia. This location has been both our advantage and disadvantage alike. Traders and travelers (including Marco Polo) would use Georgian territory to reach their business destinations in different parts of the Euro Asian continent.
The new Georgian Government has made no change to the fundamental foreign policy goals. Integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic structures represents the main priority of the country’s foreign policy course. At the same time, Georgia is also focused on increasing cooperation with its neighbors and tackling counterproductive instability in the region.
Broadening bilateral political and economic relations with neighboring countries are important. Georgia should become the space for the implementation of mutually beneficial political and economic relations, as well as business opportunities for these countries. Turkey is our number one trade partner which shares huge regional energy projects – Baku-Tbilisi-Ceihan oil pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi Erzurum gas pipeline – with us and actively pushes Georgia’s membership process into the NATO.Georgia’s territorial integrity has been violated by the Russian Federation. Russia is still using hard power occupying 20% of our territories. This represents a fundamental challenge to Georgia’s sovereignty and the government will not rest until Georgia is once again whole. At same time the Georgian Government has removed confrontational rhetoric to create conditions for further cooperation with Russian side. Georgia introduced a new component in its foreign policy and expressed its willingness to launch dialogue with Russia, with a focus on establish pragmatic trade, economic, and cultural ties.
Despite the certain degree of positive dynamic in the spheres of economic and humanitarian cooperation, unfortunately, Moscow has further intensified its provocative policies aimed at destabilizing Georgia. The Russian side reactivated the process of installation of barb-wire fences and embankments across the occupation line in the Tskhinvali and Abkhazia regions that are in full breach of public international law and clearly violate Georgia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability of internationally recognized borders and 12 August, 2008 Ceasefire Agreement.
The Georgian Government believes that the recently launched dialogue between Tbilisi and Moscow should not lead one to believe that Georgia intends to regulate its relations with Russia independently and that it no longer needs support from its partners.
As for capability and potential to bridge the relationship between the West and the East as well as Arab World, Georgia, as an endemically European nation, should fully integrate itself in the western world (EU, NATO) and as a good team player contribute to this rapprochement from inside the European community.
QUESTION NINE – Georgia has taken 39th position in the “Paying Taxes 2012″ ranking among 183 countries, drafted by the World Bank (WB), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). In comparison with previous years, Georgia has moved up with 22 positions as it was on the 61st position last year. With this in mind where do you see Georgia go in terms of economic development and more importantly what does it mean for Georgia-Norway?
Georgia is unleashing its economic potential and attracting foreign investment by positioning itself as a regional lynchpin, investing in growth sectors, and undertaking reforms to eliminate elite corruption and other barriers to competition, as well as fully unlock the potential of the Georgian people. Georgia’s economy continues measured and sustainable growth.
In the first quarter of 2013, foreign direct investment in Georgia was $226.2 million, up 25% from the previous quarter. Fitch Ratings now expects economic growth to accelerate over the second, third, and fourth quarters of 2013, especially due to the opening of trade with Russia and increased tourism. Similarly, S&P expects growth to average over 5% per year from 2013 to 2016 as a result of the democratic political transition, which is supporting medium-term stabilization and strong economic growth prospects. All credit rating agencies have affirmed Georgia’s ratings as stable.The World Bank ranked Georgia 9th in its 2013 Ease of Doing Business report. To sustain and improve this track record, Georgia is overhauling its tax payment, inspection, and enforcement systems to increase transparency and decrease onerous fines. Furthermore, over the past year, Georgia has introduced customs clearance zones, strengthened its securities transactions system, and undertaken balanced reforms by reducing regulatory complexity while strengthening legal institutions relevant to business regulation.
The Government of Georgia is taking steps to break up monopolies and cartels, especially in the energy and pharmaceutical sectors. Especially the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development has nearly completed works on amendments to the (antimonopoly) Law on Competition and Free Trade;
Georgia has strategically assessed its economic strengths and is investing in growth sectors, creating a multi-million dollar Sovereign Fund to support the implementation of energy, high tech, IT, and medical projects. It is also working with foreign investors to establish 6 billion USD Private Investment Fund. The fund will concentrate its investments in Georgia in five major sectors: energy, infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture and hospitality.
In a departure from past practice, Georgian businesses have noted that the government no longer pressures them to pursue unprofitable projects or donate funds and resources to government projects.
Finally I would like to mention that sustainable and stable development of the economy of Georgia will be a positive signal for foreign investors, including Norwegian companies, for successful operation on Georgian market. Georgia-Norway’s economic cooperation has a huge potential and we must do what is necessary to further develop and strengthen these relations.
QUESTION TEN – Is there anything in particular you would like to share with our readers?
On behalf of our Embassy and myself, I would like to welcome the Oslo Times’ readers and wish them all the best. The Oslo Times has a leading role among the news agencies of Norway. I hope that our cooperation will be successful and productive. I would like to wish you success in your activities.