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Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the National University of Tbilisi: "The Southern Caucasus and Europe - Perspectives in a Changing World"

15.03.2012 - Speech

-- translation of advance text --

Director Kvitashvili,
Ladies and gentlemen,
dear students,

I feel very honoured to speak to you tonight on the occasion of celebrating twenty years of diplomatic relations between our countries. Only a little more than twenty years ago we witnessed how the German wall came down. The Eastern European citizens’ peaceful fight for freedom eventually let to an end the decade-long division of Europe, and finally resulted in the break-up of the Soviet Union.

When the former Soviet republics declared their independence, Germany was among the first countries to recognize these newly independent nations, and we were the first to recognize Georgia. Foreign Minister Genscher came to Georgia in April 1992 to open the first foreign Embassy in Tbilisi.

Genscher’s firm belief was that the European Union and its Eastern neighbours not only shared a common history, but also have a common future.

We were convinced that the integration of Eastern European countries into the EU must not result in a new division of Europe.
Our vision then and today is to create a pan-European space of freedom, security, rule of law and prosperity.

At the beginning of European integration European politics were poisoned by border disputes, national and ethnic strife.
The early efforts of integration in the 1950’s were not just technocratic procedures. They had an eminent political meaning.

The idea of integration was to overcome history by respecting territorial integrity yet making borders less and less relevant. It also meant that states respected and protected their national minorities.

Making borders less relevant was achieved by allowing free movement of people and goods, creating common institutions, a common market, and, yes, a common currency.

Based on common values of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights, the integrated Europe thus has developed into one of the most prosperous and attractive regions worldwide.

Ladies and gentlemen,

at this point, let me admit: the sovereign debt crisis has eroded some of the confidence that many had placed in Europe.
The crisis has brought to light structural problems and deficits that we have to tackle.
We are all in the same boat. And if this boat has to weather a serious storm, we face two options.
Either we let the boat sink and everyone will try to save his own life. Some of us will reach the shore in safety. But most of us will not.
The second option is to work together, fix the boat and save everyone on the ship.
This is what we did in former EU crises. And this is what we are doing now. We are fixing the boat by enhancing the coherence of our financial and economic policies.
Our clear answer to the crisis is to deepen integration. The solution of our present problems is not less Europe, but more Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen,

in 2009 the EU formally launched the Eastern Partnership.

The Eastern Partnership is not so much about joining or not joining the EU. The Eastern partnership initiative wants to bring six of our neighbours - Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbeidjan and Moldova - closer to Europe, supporting them on their way towards good governance, rule of law and economic reform. The aim is to achieve closer political association and deeper economic integration between the EU and its partners.

However, the idea of an Eastern neighbourhood extends beyond these six countries. It is also designed to make us reach out to third partners.

We therefore strongly support the idea to include Russia in specific projects of the Eastern Partnership. We are convinced that all sides would benefit from a common cooperative agenda.

Since launching the initiative, we have made good progress. We have started to negotiate Association Agreements with all three countries of the Southern Caucasus. Once these agreements are finalized, they will open a new chapter in our relations.

We also want to enhance the economic dynamics in the region. Why not create a pan-European area of free trade?

With Georgia the EU will start negotiating a Free Trade Agreement in a few days. This will effectively open the European market of 500 million consumers to Georgia. We should see this as a first step in a development that could lead us further ahead.

Another important point is the creation of a regime of visa free travel.

We will only be able to develop the potential of the relationship with our Eastern European neighbours, if we make borders between them and the EU less relevant.

There are 2500 Georgian students in Germany right now. We would like to see many more of you there. We want more Georgians to come to Europe - be it for tourism, for business, for all kinds of exchange.

The German Foreign Office will for example take up a scholarship-programme for a small group of young leaders of all three South-Caucasus countries.

And I am optimistic that we will soon enter into a visa dialogue that will help us achieve a visa free regime. Our vision sees the Southern Caucasus and the EU united by visa free travel.

We are fully committed to this goal, because we are convinced that our partnership extends beyond governments. Engaging civil societies is an essential element of the Eastern partnership.

The EU would not have succeeded without active civil societies that promoted and fostered integration and democratic values.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Georgian civil society has impressively demonstrated its willingness to follow the European path of development. Since 2004 Georgia has made significant progress in tackling an ambitious reform agenda.

A successful transformation depends on democratic institutions: not only a democratic government, but also a vital and critical opposition. All democratic contenders for power need a level playing field.

Respect for the rights of the opposition, free access to media, fair and transparent rules of financing and an independent judiciary are indispensable.

Georgia’s decision in favour of Europe is ambitious and Germany has encouraged this decision and is supporting it with great respect. The EU and Germany will remain dedicated to building a strong and vibrant democracy in Georgia.

In Bucharest, NATO agreed that Georgia would become a member. This continues to be our goal.

The North Atlantic Alliance is built on the same fundamental values and principles as the EU. Democratic and institutional reforms are required in order to bring Georgia closer to NATO. We are now working on a new plan for Georgia's Enhanced Connectivity with NATO. This will create new opportunities for promoting reforms.

Let me also mention here Georgia’s contribution to our common security in Afghanistan. Georgia will soon be the largest non-NATO troop contributor there. At the NATO summit in Chicago this May, we will pay tribute to this truly remarkable engagement.

Ladies and gentlemen,

looking back, we can be proud of what close cooperation between Georgia, Germany and the EU has achieved in the region.

Yet we have to admit that we have not made sufficient progress in solving the conflicts that continue to divide the region and hamper its development.

In Georgia, memories of the war of August 2008 and its consequences are still very vivid. At the time, the EU brokered a ceasefire agreement and deployed a monitoring mission. The monitors have helped stabilize the situation until today. But we have not solved the conflict itself. Hundreds of thousands continue to be displaced, families still are separated.

We very much welcome Georgia’s commitment to the renunciation of the use of force in this conflict, as declared by President Saakashvili before the European Parliament in 2010.

Germany firmly supports Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

But we do believe in the necessity to build bridges even with partners who are sometimes difficult – and that includes Russia.

We encourage and support Georgia on that path and welcome the Georgian Government’s Strategy of Engagement with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In the end, bridges, not borders help solve conflicts peacefully.

A solution is also urgent with regard to the neighbouring conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia on Nagorno Karabakh.

Much effort has been made by the OSCE Minsk Group, but also by Russia to find a peaceful solution.

But opportunities to reach out for compromise have not been seized by the parties involved.

What we need in this conflict is more confidence building, both at the line of contact and between the societies of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In Sochi two months ago, the Presidents stated their readiness to promote people-to-people contacts. I strongly welcome this. Reconciliation can be achieved only on the basis of confidence.

Concrete steps should follow soon. The EU stands ready to support this.

The European experience has shown that confidence will grow if there is more regional cooperation.

The Eastern Partnership offers fresh incentives for cooperation on cross border issues, such as transport, energy and civil protection, because everyone in the South Caucasus will benefit from better cooperation between neighbours.

In this respect the opening of the Southern Corridor will also contribute to regional cooperation since it will – for the first time – transport gas from the Caspian region

and potentially from Northern Iraq trough Georgia to Europe. This will lead to a further rapprochement of the Southern Caucasus and Europe.

The tragedies of the past are a heavy burden for the societies in the Southern Caucasus. As Europeans we have a deep understanding of how difficult it is to understand, to overcome such tragedies and to reach out to others.

But in a world that is changing rapidly and dramatically, yesterday’s certainties are today’s anachronisms. We see the need to develop a mindset that is no longer willing to let the past overshadow the future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

the effects of globalization are confronting us with profound changes and demanding new challenges. No country will be able to escape the effects of the dramatic shifts we are witnessing.

We see the rise of new powers – countries that, a decade or two ago were part of what we used to call the „third world“. Now their growing economic weight is increasingly translated into political weight.

The emerging and young societies in Asia, Latin America and Africa rightly demand a greater say in world politics.

At the same time we see that globalisation is making traditional frontiers more and more irrelevant.

Capital and goods, information and know-how transcend national borders, but so do environmental, health or security threats.

We need regional cooperation to tackle regional threats and we need transnational answers to transnational challenges.

As a true European, I am convinced we need to stop thinking in borders.

Ladies and gentlemen,

your generation is the first truely global generation. You listen to the same music that students in Germany, Poland and France listen to. You watch the same films. Through the internet and social networks you are able to find out more about the world than your parents could ever have dreamt of.

Let me encourage you to make full use of your generation’s possibilities. You are young and well educated, you are the future leaders of this country. You have the opportunity to move on.

You are in a new position to tackle questions that may sometimes be very old ones. The answers that you find will shape the future of your country and your region in a globalizing world.

Germany and the EU are looking forward to supporting you in your efforts towards a modern, democratic and peaceful Georgia and Southern Caucasus.

Thank you very much.

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