Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (96)

Paul Kehoe


82 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Georgia; if he will make a statement on his recent visit to Georgia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4298/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I represented the European Union at the inauguration of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on 25 January 2004. While in Tbilisi, I met with President Saakashvili, with state minister Zhvania, and with parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze. I also discussed Georgia with Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov and with US Secretary of State Colin Powell. In my meetings with President Saakashvili and his colleagues, the new leadership conveyed its interest in strengthening Georgia-EU links, particularly with regard to the European neighbourhood initiative. I also sensed an openness to listen to ideas about how they might best move forward in their programme of democratisation and reform. President Saakashvili has said that his priorities are to fight corruption, establish the rule of law, and improve the conditions for investment in Georgia, in the interests of long-term prosperity.

Threats to Georgia's territorial integrity arising from regional conflicts will inevitably be a concern for the new administration. On foreign policy, President Saakashvili has stressed his wish to develop relations with the EU, to continue to work closely with the US, and to improve relations with Russia. Given the size of the challenge which the new administration in Georgia faces, it is to be hoped that the new leadership will continue to co-operate closely to ensure the continued stability of the country.

The European Union is supportive of the new leadership in Georgia in the challenges which it faces. Following discussion of the situation in Georgia at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in January 2004, Ministers agreed that "the EU remains committed to assisting the reform process in Georgia through the range of EU instruments and policies, in close co-operation with relevant international organisations".

The Union will monitor closely the progress of reforms in Georgia, particularly in the next few months. The parliamentary elections which will take place on 28 March will be a real test of the progress which Georgia's new leadership have made towards meeting international commitments on electoral standards. The European Union will be watching closely to see how Georgia meets this challenge. The Government provided €100,000 towards the cost of running the early presidential election on 4 January 2004 and will send monitors to the March parliamentary elections.

The new administration has also to tackle problems caused by mismanagement of state resources and a failure to collect revenues efficiently over the past several years, as well as a massive corruption problem. They have taken courageous steps to address these issues, and a crucial test of their success will be the IMF assessment of the new state budget following the visit of an IMF delegation to Tbilisi this month. Greater accountability in the use of resources would facilitate an increase in international aid to Georgia.

The appointment of Heikki Talvitie as EU special representative for the south Caucasus in July of last year was a signal of greater EU engagement in the whole south Caucasus region. EU special representative Talvitie visited the region most recently in late January and early February, and I met with him during my visit to Tbilisi. The January 2004 General Affairs and External Relations Council invited the Commission "in consultation with the High Representative, and taking account of the EUSR's proposals, to bring forward a recommendation on the relationship of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to the European Neighbourhood Policy". The Council indicated its wish to consider this recommendation before the end of the Irish Presidency.