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Volume 746: debated on Wednesday 3 July 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage greater economic and political co-operation between Georgia and the European Union.

My Lords, the UK fully supports greater economic and political co-operation between Georgia and the European Union, particularly through regular and intensive high-level contact. Three senior Georgian Ministers have visited London in recent months and three UK Ministers and several senior officials have visited Tbilisi. We are pleased that Euro-Atlantic integration has remained a priority for the new Georgian Government, and, through involvement in the Eastern Partnership, Georgia is finalising an association agreement and a deep and comprehensive free trade area with the EU.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response and for setting out the range of co-operation between Georgia and the EU. I remain concerned that, for most Georgians, this assistance remains invisible. Do the Government accept that to avoid similar mistakes to those made with the Ukraine, the EU should take steps to explain to the wider Georgian public the benefits of the association agreement and other such co-operation measures with the EU, rather than after they have been negotiated?

I was briefly in Tbilisi eight weeks ago and saw that the EU is quite visible there. The EU monitoring mission is the largest external monitoring mission in Georgia, monitoring the borders with the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The EU heads of mission meet regularly, and comment regularly and openly, on developments in Georgian politics. The Council of Europe and the OSCE are also active in assisting with judicial training in Georgia and elsewhere. So we are quite visible and extremely active.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned the EU monitoring mission but failed to mention that Russia and its allies still prevent that EU monitoring mission doing its work in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What protests are we making to Russia about that, and are we content for yet another frozen conflict in Europe to remain for a longer time?

My Lords, we are not content, but as the noble Lord knows well, the Russians are not always the easiest negotiating partners. As he will also know, a fence is being erected along the boundary of the breakaway regions and, in some cases, several hundred metres into Georgian territory beyond the breakaway regions. We continue to talk to the Russians about this. The new Georgian Government have made a number of deliberate unilateral moves to demonstrate their willingness to talk to the Russians. There have been some limited talks but so far the Russians have not given very much in return.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the greatest challenge for the EU with regard to Georgia is managing the relationship between Russia and Georgia? Can he tell the House the position of Her Majesty’s Government on Georgia’s application to join NATO, which could present some newer challenges?

My Lords, at Bucharest some years ago NATO agreed to accept Georgia as a candidate member. The largest non-NATO, non-British force at Helmand at the moment is two Georgian battalions. We support Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO but it will necessarily, unavoidably be a long process. There are, indeed, British military trainers in Georgia.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate mentioned Ukraine as a possible parallel. However, is not Ukraine a good deal behind Georgia politically, and therefore could not Georgia qualify much earlier, given also that the Ukrainian opposition leader is still in prison?

My Lords, it is entirely fair to say that Ukraine is considerably behind Georgia in many ways. There was a free and fair election in Georgia last spring which resulted in a change of Government. The Georgian Government have just announced that on 31 October this year there will be a presidential election. Of course, that is not to say that it is a perfect democracy. There are a number of issues, including cases against members of the previous Administration, about which we are concerned. However, when I was in Tbilisi I had lunch at the British embassy with MPs both from the governing party and from the opposition. There are many countries in what was formerly the Soviet Union in which one could not do that.

My Lords, given that the European Union accepted Cyprus as a member even though its Government did not govern the entire island of Cyprus, why does the European Union welcome Croatia and not Georgia as a member?

I note some of the unspoken sentiments behind the noble Lord’s question. As he knows well, the process of admission to the European Union is long and arduous. Georgia is at a very early stage in that process. Georgia’s administrative capability and economic changes and the judicial, rule of law issues that it will have to go through mean that any approach to the European Union will be relatively long, but that is also true for some of the western Balkan countries.

My Lords, given that the eyes of the world will be on Sochi next February for the Winter Olympic Games and that Sochi is less than 100 miles from the Georgian border, will my noble friend urge the UK mission to the UN to encourage Georgian and Russian reconciliation when the Olympic Truce is presented to the United Nations General Assembly in October? Given that the Russians invaded Georgia in violation of the Beijing Olympic Truce, this might be a timely point for reconciliation.

I congratulate the noble Lord on the faithfulness with which he wishes to ensure that we think about the Olympic Truce. We are very conscious that the Sochi Winter Olympics are taking place extremely close to the border with Abkhazia and that that may potentially raise some security issues. There is instability in the north Caucasus as well as in the south Caucasus and we have, of course, spoken to the Russians about that.