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Friday, 15 January 2016 16:20

Georgia has the conditions to play an increasing role as a transit country - Janos Herman, Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia Featured

Caspian Energy (CE): Your Excellency, how would you assess the level of development of integration relations between EU and Georgia?  Which spheres of economy are of big interest for the European investors?

Janos Herman, Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia: Economic integration between Georgia and the European Union is our central goal, confirmed in the Association Agreement, supported by the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). Integrating the Georgian economy with the vast and complex EU market requires a long-term effort, which should be ambitious and judicious at the same time.  We are only at the beginning of this process; therefore we lack enough data for drawing far-reaching conclusions.  Overall, the European Union has a positive valuation of how Georgia has started off on this long road. The EU continues increasing its financial engagement in Georgia, being aware that this leverage, combined with EU expertise, may become a key factor, supporting our integration. It is extremely important that the efforts made by Georgia (both public and private actors), the EU and also by other international donors are consistent and coordinated.

At the recent meeting of the Association Committee in Trade Configuration, we have conducted an analytical review of the progress made during the past year. Recognizing the results achieved so far, there has been discussion about the need for strengthening the capacity of the newly established agencies (e.g. Competition Agency, Technical and Constructions Supervision Agency and market surveillance system). Perhaps even more significantly, it has been stressed that further assistance should focus on key areas such as agriculture, food safety, quality infrastructure, as well as customs and statistics.

Regarding the interest of EU investors, allow me to flag that among the first nine investor countries in Georgia, there are already four EU Member States and we foresee a positive trend for the future. The main sectors of interest for EU investors are energy, transport and communications, constructions, finance, manufacturing and real estate. It is relevant to underline the number of potential EU investors in outward processing in Georgia and in creating partnerships with Georgian entrepreneurs; circumstances that could favor a faster approach to European standards thanks to the sharing of know-how and technical expertise through the adoption of efficient organizational models. Given the limited size of the Georgian market, projects with regional dimension could play an increasing role – should surrounding conditions improve in the future.

 

(CE): How do you assess the role of the Southern Gas Corridor and other export projects in activation of relations between Georgia and EU?

Janos Herman: As it is stated in the EU's strategic documents concerning energy policy, as well as in the review of the European Neighbourhood policy, the EU is firmly committed to diversifying the sources and routes of the energy it imports. We work very closely with our neighbours to achieve this and the Southern Gas Corridor is one of the most important projects in this respect. Georgia has the conditions to play and increasing role as a transit country and a transport hub for energy supplies to Europe. We understand that further improving the legal, infrastructural and economic conditions for energy transit is an aspiration shared by Georgia. Indeed, doing so might provide significant benefits already in middle term. Clearly, energy has the potential of becoming one of the main pillars of future economic progress in this country. So this is a particularly promising field of cooperation, serving the interests of both of us – Georgia and the European Union.

 

(CE): Will the EU support the increase of the carrying capacity and further development of the Southern Gas Corridor to the Central European countries?

Janos Herman: The works are already on-going on Georgian territory to increase the capacity of the Southern Gas corridor. The EU is also working downstream on its internal energy market, to develop interconnectors which enable energy to flow freely across the EU - without any technical or regulatory barriers. Only then can energy providers freely compete and provide the best energy prices.

 

(CE): How do you assess the prospects of expansion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway?

Janos Herman: Transport and connectivity are also a key part of the new neighbourhood policy.  If managed well, they contribute to the economic development of partners, fostering dialogue and strengthening regional co-operation between them. From the EU standpoint, a safe and sustainable transport system is an essential precondition to promoting economic contacts between our enlargement and neighbourhood partners. On our side, the EU itself aims at and works on extending the core European transport network to the Eastern partners. The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project will effectively open a new rail transport option from the Caspian Sea to Europe via Turkey.

 

(CE): What is EU’s position on a visa-free regime between Georgia and EU?

Janos Herman: Visa Liberalisation (or, in other words, visa-free travel for short-term journeys) has been a long-standing aspiration of the Georgians. The dialogue on Visa Liberalisation between the EU and Georgia was initiated three years ago, declaring visa liberalisation our common goal. The Visa Liberalisation Action Plan was presented to the Georgian authorities in 2013.  As you know, at the end of December 2015, the European Commission issued its final visa liberalisation assessment report saying that Georgia had complied fully with all the conditions contained in the Action Plan. Early this year, the Commission will propose to the legislative bodies of the European Union (the Council and the Parliament) to award visa-free status to Georgian citizens making short-term travels to the countries of the Schengen zone. The Commission report is a clear recognition of the consistent work done by many players in Georgia, the government and all political forces, civil society, business and many more. I hope that this will transform into a decision benefiting all the Georgian people.

 

(CE): The world leaders have now focused their attention on fight against terrorism due to the barbarous terrorist attacks in Paris on September 13. How will it affect the relations in the field of ensuring safety of the export infrastructure?

Janos Herman: The revised European Neighbourhood Policy foresees a new focus on stepping up work with our partners on counter-terrorism and anti-radicalisation policies. After the Paris attacks, more than ever before, we are ready to engage in intensified cooperation with our neighbours, including of course Georgia. We are quite aware of the particularities of Georgia's geographic location and the efforts your country has already made. In a broader context, we will seek to deploy available instruments and resources in a more coherent and flexible manner to tackle poverty, inequality, a perceived sense of injustice, corruption, weak economic and social development and lack of opportunity, which are often the root causes of radicalisation and terrorism. We will also work tackling irregular migration, human trafficking and smuggling as part of our anti-radicalisation and counter-terrorism efforts. Given the strategic importance of South Caucasus, the EU will continue its efforts to promote strong, durable and stable relationships with all countries in this region.

 

                                                                                                                                                              Thank you for the interview

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