Eastern Partnership agreement has been adopted officially between EU and six eastern European countries in Prague on 7-th of May.
These countries were Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Moldova and Belorussia. The main task of Eastern Partnership is to establish free trade zone between the mentioned states and EU. Countries that are characterized by economic crisis and political instability will be given trade benefits and opportunity to simplify visa regime. On their part, these countries will be obliged to overcome corruption and carry out necessary structural reforms in order to establish democratic standards.
Similar associated agreement EU had with Turkey, and with almost every country in Africa and Asia that were located in the Mediterranean region, from Morocco to Syria and Jordan. In the recent years EU started to adopt such agreements with other regions also, for instance agreement signed with Chile in 2002. In nineties associated agreements has been adopted with central and eastern European countries that are already members of EU.
At present, the agreement has been signed between EU and six states, while reviewing Prague summit western media emphasizes Russian factor. European reviewers named Prague summit as EU challenge for Russia. The contest between the Kremlin and the west for influence in the volatile space between Russia and the European Union stepped up a gear yesterday when the EU launched a new effort to draw half a dozen countries away from Moscow’s orbit. The attempt to ringfence Russia’s clout in a region that Moscow views proprietorially as its “near abroad” has been triggered by the destabilizing events of the past nine months, notably Russia’s invasion of Georgia last August and its gas war with Ukraine in January and the recent unrest in Moldova. Naturally EU doesn’t want to have such strained situations at its borders – reckon western journalists. “The new policy treats the six countries as a regional bloc, aiming to establish free trade areas between them and the EU, to tap their energy resources, and to promote human rights and democracy-building projects. But while the initiative is aimed at bringing the six countries in, it is also intended to keep them out. The declaration adopted yesterday was changed to call the six countries “east Europeans” rather than “Europeans” lest the latter description encourage applications to join the EU, as pushed by Ukraine and Georgia and opposed by Western Europe. Eastern clamour for visa liberalisation to make it easier to travel to the EU was also blocked, with the issue parked for the long-term.” – states The Guardian. Naturally Western analytics’ emphasis on Russia’s influence and its role is well-grounded as Russia showed its claws at Prague summit once again. The declaration has been signed within the framework of energy summit between Czech prime-minister Mirek Topolanek, president of the European Commission Mr. José Manuel Barroso, the President of Georgia Mr. Mikheil Saakashvili, Presidents of Turkey and Azerbaijan and Energy Minister of Egypt. Several members of the European Union and Turkey are expected to move on a Southern Gas corridor envisioned by the EU in 2008, which includes Nabucco, White Stream and several other natural gas routes. However, this declaration makes no big difference. Will Nabucco project come to life or not remains vague. The adopted document might be just a scrap of paper as the main player of the project show big restraint. Since the declaration has not been signed by Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the countries rich with natural gas, Nabucco and White Stream Projects were once again swindled. For the gas exporter countries of Middle East it ist crucial to have alternate route. However, before new corridor becomes operative Russia might become a pain in the neck for them. Considering these risks Middle East countries hesitate in agreeing on new pipeline laying. Up today the countries that will provide pipeline with gas are not defined as Middle East exporters are cooperating with Russia and China. While Azerbaijani gas sources are not enough for this purpose. Trade relations with Iran are restricted by international sanctions.
What are the prospects of strategic projects for Georgia Nabucco and White Stream? What are the prospects of Georgia’s economic development within the framework of Eastern Partnership? We spoke with the director of GEPLAC (Georgia Politics and Law Consulting) Mr. Kakha Gogolashvili concerning these issues.
– Mr. Kakha, what is the meaning of Eastern Partnership program and which directions does it cover?
– Eastern Partnership policy of EU is a new direction in European Union’s foreign policy. Actually this is continuation of European neighboring policy in a new form. However, the policy is more concentrated on specific region and on EU’s relation with six Eastern European countries. The goal of the policy is to deepen European integration, establish tight relations of these countries with Europe and, of course to ensure their social-economic and institutional development. Gradually this should be followed by free trade development as it is impossible to develop free trade simultaneously. The agreement might be signed, but as a rule the roads to European market open gradually, sector by sector. The branches that European standards enter European market and export is simplified in these sectors. While others remain closed. Therefore, sub-agreements, so called rules of appropriateness checking, are signed. This is quality control special frame that considers existence of quality control system close to that of EU in a country. If a country has properly operating quality control system then Europe recognizes certificates issued in this country. One can check the quality of a product and in case of appropriateness export it on European market. Europe recognizes your certification and the system is called inter-recognition of conformance evaluation systems.
– When Georgia will be able to fully achieve this?
– This is not an easy task. It depends on how quickly Georgia will manage to bring Georgian legislation in conformance with European one. The task includes establishing technical regulations that will be harmonized with directions. Entry of Georgian production to European Union market depends on quick implementation of these procedures.
Legislation in the fields that are connected with trade is of special importance. These are: customs laws, laws regulating company establishment-activities, financial service law, how banking sector operates in the country etc. laws on state purchases, transportation field laws, tax laws, competition laws.
– You mentioned Law on Competition. Should antimonopoly service be reestablished in Georgia? What are the directions of EU on this issue?
– Of course. Otherwise, we will not be able to sign agreement on free trade with EU. Antimonopoly service is one of the preconditions and it is essential for the country. As regards legislation, it should be in conformity with European legislation. Technical regulations and standards should be developed either. European type of systems should be implemented so that market entry rules for goods and services to be in conformity with European rules. As a result goods that will be admitted at Georgian market will automatically conform to standards of European market. At the same time, it is important to have not only regulations and laws that establish specific restrictions, safety and quality standards but laboratories, corresponding organizations that check these standards also. Product should be certified and the mechanisms of the certification should be recognized by European Union. This is cycle of economic integration with EU.
As regards Europe’s Eastern Partnership policy, Europe accentuates two main directions – development of mutual relations with EU and multilateral relations. There are several tasks, such as concluding associated agreements that cover establishing free trade regime, simplifying visa system, and in the future abolishing visa system at all. Agreement ensures tight relations in foreign affairs, security and defense sectors. In other words, by means of this agreement one becomes European Union’s political ally. The country will have an opportunity to plan peace operations, it gains the privileges and more means to consult with EU on various international issues.
– Western media makes an emphasis on geopolitical importance of “Eastern Partnership”. Does this mean that the mentioned countries are less interesting for Europe as economic partners and its main goals are rather political?
-As regards economic and trade issues, naturally Georgia, just like Armenia and Azerbaijan, is rather small market space for EU. However, these countries play important role in energy security of EU. Our country’s transit function is essential.
Furthermore, European Union tries to take advantage of any opportunity in any region of the world. It tries to establish tight trading and economic relations. First of all European Union is a so called regulatory power that is interested not only in economic relations with the countries, but in their transformation, democratic progress, implementation of market economy principles. EU wants to have stable partner country of predictable nature, both in foreign relations and domestic political situation. This means that we should have well developed democratic institutions. This is very important. The directions of Eastern Partnership cooperation are based on thematic platforms. These thematic platforms cover energy, human rights and supremacy of the law, trade and economic relations and migrations issues.
– What amount of funds is assigned in terms of Eastern Partnership?
– €600 million is assigned for all six countries so far, but this is not total amount, this is only beginning and there is a chance that more funds will be attracted in case of serious project implementation. Eastern Partnership will cover special initiatives on specific projects’ development such as Nabucco. Nabucco is quite interesting project and Europe might assign additional funds for it. Some other projects could be initiated either. Eastern Partnership idea itself is very beneficial for us as our country will have more chances to get closer to EU. Meetings of Heads of State or Government of the Eastern Partnership will be held in principle every two years. This is a new approach that means that serious mutual decisions will be made and six countries will get involved in the cooperation with EU. Besides this meeting of foreign affairs ministers will be held annually, where every necessary issue will be discussed. For instance, if there will be some disagreement between Georgia and Armenia, once a year at the meeting of foreign affairs ministers, under the aegis of European Union relations of these countries might be discussed there. On the basis of multilateral relations European Union tries to create special trade relations, neighboring-economic area between these countries. This means that trade procedures will be maximally liberalized between these countries. Tariff barriers will be lowered and legislation harmonized. European Union is interested in developing trading economic relations between these countries. Naturally all these steps are made in order to integrate these countries into European economic space and help them to become members of common European market where goods and services will be moved freely, without any limits. There will be no restrictions in this market and agents whether they will be trading or service field agents, entrepreneurs etc will be considered as national agents at European Union market.
– Mr. Kakha, there have been talks that this agreement might be some kind of tempting bait for those countries that desire to join European Union, including Georgia also. What can you say about this?
– No, I do not agree such kind of opinion. On the contrary, this policy gets us closer to EU and gives more chances. It would have been bait if European Union had said to these countries – ‘Cooperate with me and I grant you a membership in 10-20 years. Because actually this is impossible. To join EU is not an easy task. Even Spain that joined EU in 1986 was waiting for the membership for several years, as it couldn’t comply with some requirements. The same was with Portugal. EU has some specific criterion for eastern and central European countries that should be fulfilled in order to join European Union. Population of EU will not admit that unprepared state joins the Union and becomes a burden for them. EU has different approach and it offers to let alone membership issue as it is unrealistic at present. ‘You doesn’t seem to be ready for this’ – it says to these countries. However, EU offers cooperation by means of which countries desiring to become members of EU will be able to prepare for this. Afterwards there might be talks about assigning candidate status. Nobody refuses you in this. Therefore Eastern Partnership policy is not a bait, but actual chance to join European Union.
– You mentioned Georgia’s transit function, but Nabucco and White Stream project accomplishment is under question. Asian countries refused to sign the declaration. At the same time Azerbaijani gas is not enough for the pipeline.
– At current stage, Nabucco gas main will be supplied only with Azerbaijani gas. Asian countries refused to sign the declaration as they are under big pressure of Russia. European Union is a major player and it has consecutive policy. There is no doubt that its will reach its goal and Turkmen gas passes to Europe by means of Nabucco. Heretofore means of providing Europe with Azerbaijani gas should be broadened. At initial stage, Azerbaijani will be the main provider of gas necessary for Europe; later Turkmen gas will be connected to the gas main. There is a huge stock of gas. Europe is unable to use these reserves yet. However, it is impossible to stop progress and there are no doubts that EU achieves its aims. By means of various violent methods and blackmail Russia wants to endure Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to refuse to provide Europe with gas. To my mind, Russia will fail to do this.
– What if it succeeds in this?
– This is impossible, because Europe is bigger player than Russia. Its economy is 15 times bigger than that of Russia. They are unequal partners. In addition, Russia is behind Europe in many aspects such as education, human capital etc. On the other hand, modern world develops by some rules and natural laws. Sooner or later Russia will face a choice whether to continue current policy and exhaust economically or not. Europe will manage to find necessary gas anyway. It has regular policy in this direction. In order to decrease consumption of hydrocarbonate and achieve energy efficiency Europe is working on alternate energy sources’ development.
There are some talks about alternate providers of gas and not only gas. For instance major oil pipeline project is in progress from Nigeria through Sahara to Europe. This project will solve oil problems for Europe. As regards gas, Europe will get it from Egypt and Algeria. Besides as I have already mentioned, the work on alternate energy sources is in progress; hydrogen technologies are being developed and etc. In other words there are no reasons for pessimism. The one who wants to carry out policy by means of blackmailing won’t manage to develop technologies and will degrade.