“We had a very important dialogue. This is a good step, an important step, and we will continue to support all positive efforts. – Charles Michel
The European Council President, Charles Michel, this week paid a two-day working visit to Georgia. He met with Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and representatives of the opposition parties to discuss the current situation in the country, the coronavirus vaccine, and the political tension created against the background of the recent arrest of UNM Chairman Nika Melia.
“We had a very important dialogue. The main message is the following: to protect the interests of the Georgian people,” Michel summarized on the second day of his visit, following a meeting between ruling party members and opposition representatives.
“There are many difficult and complex challenges in this country: economic development, the social situation, COVID-19, security, stability; these are very important challenges that must be overcome. That is why this political crisis must be resolved urgently, and today I’m proud that important and good steps have been taken in the right direction. This does not mean that everything is resolved, but when I asked all the participants [of the meeting] if they were ready for dialogue to find a solution together, their answer was ‘yes.’ This is a good step, an important step, and we will continue to support all positive efforts,” Michel said.
“The call, recommendation and advice of the President of the European Council was that we should all find a common language as soon as possible, including the opposition and the government,” said Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
“We agreed that this dialogue will continue. I will consult with the political council of the Georgian Dream and we will take further steps. I hope the opposition will continue to work in such a constructive mode,” the PM added.
Many representatives of the opposition also positively assessed their meeting with the government officials, and said that the negotiations had reached a fundamentally new level.
Mamuka Khazaradze, one of the leaders of the ‘Lelo for Georgia’ party, told journalists that, “Naturally, no agreement could be reached on all these issues today. The main thing is that the process has started and this process is accompanied by specific deadlines,” he said.
“If the Georgian Dream has the illusion that Mr. Michel will leave and will no longer be interested in what is happening in our country, they are wrong,” said Salome Samadashvili, a leader of the United National Movement party. “The promise we received today is that the EU will be extremely active in overcoming the current crisis and will use all possible means to apply pressure, including on the government.
“Our partners are well aware that it is impossible to simultaneously arrest political leaders and talk about dialogue,” she noted.
Opposition representatives noted that further negotiations with the government will only be possible if the political persecution in the country stops, and UNM Chairman Nika Melia and opposition leader Giorgi Rurua are released from custody.
They also said they are willing to increase the EU’s role in their dialogue with the ruling Georgian Dream party.
On Monday, Charles Michel was taken to the village of Khurvaleti, bordering the occupation line with the Tskhinvali region. Having been briefed on the situation on the ground, he emphasized that the European Union is committed to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“It is very important for me to see the situation on the ground with my own eyes. That is why I am here. The EU is committed to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is also very important for the EUMM. We know that the situation is complex and difficult for the local people. I would like to tell them: you are not alone. The EU is committed to peace, stability and security,” he said.
He noted the importance of strengthening ties between Georgia and Europe.
“It is very important for us to strengthen the ties between Georgia and Europe. At the same time, it is important to implement the reforms that are needed not for Europe, but for the people of Georgia: the rule of law, the fight against corruption. It is also important to develop ambitious economic programs. COVID-19 is a big challenge in Georgia, Europe, and all over the world. We will work to be able to develop a recovery strategy that is important to the people,” he said.
Following a meeting with President of Georgia Salome Zurabishvili, Michel spoke of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I hope the vaccine will be distributed in Georgia soon. We will do our best, of course, together with the World Health Organization, to ensure that Georgia has access to vaccine doses,” he said.
As a parting message, Michel wrote on his Facebook page: “My visit to Georgia was eye opening, to say the least. The Administrative Boundary Line in South Ossetia was proof that the EU’s presence is sometimes more than necessary: it is a lifeline of hope in a region that needs some. Barbed wire fences divide families, prevent children from going to school. This is unacceptable.
“I can firmly reaffirm the EU’s support to the territorial integrity of Georgia.
“The political crisis and polarization in the country is of the deepest concern to the EU and to me personally. Nevertheless, I sensed today in all political actors the willingness to discuss, to move forward, to break the deadlock. After meeting all parties, I convened a meeting that led to a spontaneous and open debate, with everyone sitting at the same table. The EU’s priority has always been the protection of the interests of the Georgian citizens, and we know the work that remains to be done. Tonight I am proud because a good step, an important step in the right direction has been taken.
“I decided to hold the EU-Georgia Association Council in Brussels in mid-March. It will be a rendez-vous in order to observe what progress has been made on the different difficult topics.
“Thank you Georgia for the warmest welcome!”