The Speaker, Irakli Kobakhidze spoke about the democratic reforms and foreign politic priorities in his speech delivered in John Hopkins University.
He expressed gratitude to support USA expresses to Georgia and emphasized its importance. “It is the greatest honor for me to have the opportunity to deliver the speech in the John Hopkins Advanced International Studies School. it is my first visit to USA and I am happy with the greatest cooperation between USA and Georgia revealed during the visit. USA has played the key role in enhancement of statehood of Georgia and in restoration of independence in the 90s and it is the role, USA has played for Georgia and we are extremely grateful to USA for this support. We witness the intensive phase of our relations. 2017 was the dignified year for our relations and cooperation. The visit of the Vice President, Mike Pence was the culmination of our relations. The Vice President made the strong messages to support Georgia and these messages were highly appreciated by Georgian people”.
According to him, Georgia majorly is based on US support for achievement of the goals of statehood. “We maximally try to enhance our statehood, Georgian democracy and economy to achieve the foreign policy objectives and adhere to the priorities we have outlined in terms of foreign policy. In all these dimensions, support by USA is paramount. We shall achieve success on the regional level in the most complicate situation”.
He spoke about the regional challenges, foreign policy and domestic reforms stating that the challenges around the country are important not only for Georgia but for USA. “We encounter various challenges in the region and around the country and Georgian Government makes due responses thereto. Our policy is effective, we undertake domestic reforms effectively and the challenges we encounter are important not only for Georgia but for our friendship, including with USA. So, we shall stand united to address these challenges”.
He spoke about priorities of the Government and EU and NATO aspiration and noted that the Government has the clear foreign political approach with the priority of EU and NATO integration and the Government is consistent in efforts. “We have a clear foreign political approach. We have clear priorities for foreign policy and the main priority implies full-fledged membership of NATO and EU. NATO and EU membership is our priority and we are consistent in respective efforts. We undertake developing reforms to ensure uninterrupted approximation of Georgia to EU and NATO and our reforms are quite successful. We hold close cooperation with NATO effective in defense and other spheres and we believe that this consistency will bring us to the desired outcomes. We know that it is not easy to achieve full-fledged membership of NATO in a couple of months or years but with support of our strategic partners, we believe in achievement of this goal and in this case, support of USA is particularly important”.
He emphasized increased support to Western integration idea and noted that the last Parliamentary and Municipal elections demonstrated intact support of the population to EU and NATO integration. “Another foreign priority is EU membership and in this case, we have tangible outcomes – we signed EUAA, obtained visa free travel to EU and it is tangible for Georgian citizens, who now feel the benefit of integration. Public support to EU integration is high and increasing. If we review the last Parliamentary and Municipal election returns, we will see that more than 90% of the population voted for the political parties supporting NATO and EU integration, which evidences clear aspiration of Georgian people and will to EU and NATO membership and the Government acts in line with this will. It is based on the values and it is the decision based on the values of the people. We believe that Georgia was historically the part of the Western civilization and we want to formalize historical affiliation to the Western society and these are the values our foreign policy is based on, making our policy consistent”.
He touched upon challenges and occupied territories and stated that Georgia has the pragmatic policy towards Russia widely supported by Western partners. “Naturally, we encounter particular challenges related to the occupation of two regions of Georgia. We encounter particular problems and challenges with Russian Federation and naturally, we respond with cooperation with our Western partners. It is not easy to solve these problems related to occupation and Russian aggression. However, we believe that finally, even in case of our pragmatic policy, we will achieve our goals. We adhere to so-called pragmatic policy towards Russia which is widely supported but Western partners. With this pragmatic policy we manage to achieve higher level of national stability in Georgia, which means success of policy and Georgian Government”.
The Speaker spoke about the grave situation on the occupied territories. “We managed to increase stability especially since 2008 Russia-Georgia war, which is an important achievement and now we enjoy higher national stability level, though we also contribute in wider regional stability, which is important for Georgia and for our strategic partners and friends, though with pragmatic policy towards Russia, we see increased aggression on the occupied territories, I mean Russian aggression. We encounter various problems in the occupied regions and the tendency is negative. We observe increased number of military presence of Russia in both occupied regions – Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. We keep an eye on certain steps towards annexation. Russia signs the agreements with Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia.
Definition of the borders is another problem for us, along with closing-down of cross-points. Restriction within the administrative borders is another problem. We made effective steps to facilitate to restoration of trust between Abkhazians and Georgians, and Ossetians and Georgians. We do not have any ethnic problems with Abkhazian or Ossetian population. It is the policy solely, Russian aggression aggravating our relations. When Abkhazians and Ossetians arrive to Tbilisi or other cities, they are welcomed with hospitality and this people-to-people contact have positive impact on the situation to the occupied regions, which Russia dislikes and this is the reason Russia has started close-down of cross-points and restriction of movement at the administrative border”.
Attention of international society is crucial to address the grave human rights situation on the occupied territories. “The human rights state is grave in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. Humanitarian situation is not grave for Georgians solely but for other ethnic groups residing there. This is the situation and tendency in the occupied regions. We need the international society to attach attention to these problems. It concerns justice, human rights, rights of people in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region. Naturally, these rights shall be protected and the international society can play the crucial role”.
The Speaker underlined that Georgian Government holds pragmatic and peaceful policy towards Russian Federation through negotiations striving to improve humanitarian and economic relations, trade and transport aspects. “As to the attitude to Russian aggression and Georgia’s foreign policy, Western support is high amongst society. As to attitude to Russian aggression – it is negative. Russian propaganda is another challenge for us. The challenges remain and we shall be careful. We shall prevent negative development of such events. But the positive aspect is that the key social and political actors in Georgia, the opposition parties, NGOs and media are all pro-Western and it contributes in attitude to our foreign policy. We undertake pragmatic and peaceful policy and believe that solution of occupation-related problems is possible with peaceful manner solely and it is the approach of the Government. We use two negotiations format with Russia – Geneva Talks and two-representative format, which allowed us improving humanitarian and economic relations, trade and transport aspects, but as to the political progress, it is extremely restricted”.
Speaking about the democratic reforms, he emphasized the Constitutional changes. “Constitutional reform was one of the agenda issues of the Parliament which was successfully implemented in 2017. The reform takes us to the Parliamentary administration system. The Constitutional changes enact the proportional electoral system, which is a dramatic progress to prevent Georgia from formulation of autocracy. The number of challenges and problems were related to the previous editions of the Constitutions, allowing the Governments forming the autocratic regime. The new edition prevents formation of autocracy. The new edition prevents formation of autocracy. No change for the Government to establish autocracy – not a single political force will have the opportunity to consolidate authority against the Parliamentary system and the proportional electoral system”.
He introduced the democratic reforming. “We undertake important reforms for independency of judicial system and according to the studies, we achieved significant progress. For instance, according to the Heritage Foundation data, Georgia has the highest index amongst 11 EU member states in terms of independence and efficiency of judicial system, which is the greatest progress and success. If we were the leaders amongst the post-Soviet countries, now we are one of the leaders amongst European countries, which is the greatest achievement. Independence of judicial system is paramount for economic independence, as trust to the judicial system plays the key role in attraction of investments and business making. We will further strive to enhance judicial system and to ensure independence thereof”.
Decentralization is one of the important reforms for democratic development. “Fiscal decentralization level is low and we strive to double the Municipal budgetary incomes, so it is another ambitious goal to entail significant change in the administrative system. This reform is being implemented according to decentralization strategy developed by the Parliament jointly with the executive authority”.
Another direction of the reform is Parliamentary oversight and legislative capacities. “Traditionally, the Parliament in our system was more or less weak. For years, authority was consolidated to the executive authority but now we establish the new tradition assigning to the Parliament the key role in the administration system. In this direction, we achieved significant progress but for the future, we cherish ambitious plans. We shall enhance Parliamentary oversight and legislative capacity. In three years, the Parliament will be much more powerful and it is the part of our ambitious plan”.
He introduced the Governmental 4-point plan for economic development covering tax, education system, administrative and infrastructural reform. “Economic development is an important part of reforming in Georgia. At this stage we have weak economy, which means that poverty index is high. Naturally, we want to accelerate economic growth to equalize the country with the Central European states. It means that we shall double economy for upcoming years in mid-term run to finally eradicate poverty and ensure economic development. In this view, the Government developed the 4-point plan covering the tax, education, administrative and infrastructural reforms. We believe that the plan will entail acceleration of economic growth. We already enjoy the outcomes. Economic growth in 2017 was 4.8%, which is the best index in the region and saying region, I mean not only South Caucasus but wider area. So, we have high economic growth index to play the key role in enhancement of statehood and capacity of the country”.
The Speaker emphasized transit potential of the country, economic cooperation, attraction of investments etc. “We attach particular attention to transit potential of our country and undertake various measures. We improve infrastructure and strive to build the highway to connect West and East borders of Georgia. Construction shall be accomplished in 2021. We plan improvement of railway infrastructure. With American investments, we will build the new sea port. These measures will develop our transit potential. Georgia has a strategic location. Historically, it was the bridge between Europe and Asia, East and West. We do our best to restore this historical function. We cooperate with other countries in this view. We are successful in economic cooperation. Georgia is the only country in the region with DCFTA with EU, Turkey and China. We hold negotiations with India. Economic cooperation allows us improving our transit potential. As to investments and business-making, we have high indices. The World Bank published the business-making rating, where Georgia occupies the 9th place, which is the greatest achievement and demonstrates efficiency of reforming”.
The Speaker underlined attitude of Georgian Government to USA, as to the main strategic partner of Georgia and noted that Georgia does its best to be the best model of loyal partner. Georgian Government appreciates US support. With clear approach and correct course, Georgia will achieve foreign objectives. “We cherish ambitious plans in terms of democratic and economic development. Georgia does its best to be the best model of development in the region. We do our best to be strong and loyal partner in the region for our strategic partners and USA is our main strategic partner. This attitude is reflected in the official documents, including in the Parliamentary Resolution on Foreign Political Priorities adopted soon after Parliamentary Elections 2016, providing that USA is the main strategic partner for Georgia. So, it is a clear message demonstrating attitude of Georgian Government to cooperation. We highly value our cooperation with USA, we value support of USA to Georgia during these years. We believe that we are on correct development way. We progress, we constantly enhance democracy and economy and we have a clear approach to the domestic reforms and international policy. We believe that with clear approach and correct approach we will achieve our foreign political objectives and implement domestic reform priorities. Once again, in all directions we cooperate with USA and are optimistic about the future”.
The Speaker answered the questions.