Interview by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier with the Georgian online magazine "Netgazeti" on the occasion of his visit to Georgia on 1 July (published on 30 June 2016)
There is a debate in Germany on visa liberalisation for Georgia. Some politicians say that visa requirements should remain in place for at least some time because gangs of Georgian thieves are causing trouble in Germany. However, Georgian politicians such as David Usupashvili, Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, argue that all Georgians cannot be penalised because of this. Other measures must be taken to tackle crime. And for its part, Georgia has long since met the requirements for visa liberalisation. In your opinion, should these two topics be linked and is there a chance we will see visa liberalisation before the parliamentary elections in Georgia on 8 October?
Georgia has undertaken all of the important reforms to create the necessary conditions for visa liberalisation. As a result, the EU will uphold its side of the deal. So the question is not if, but rather when, Georgians will finally be granted a visa waiver, which they rightfully expect after all the hard work to implement reforms. However, we also need to take the concerns in the EU seriously. This is why we need a mechanism that allows us to suspend a visa waiver temporarily – not for Georgia, but rather for all of the visa waiver programmes Europe is currently negotiating. The Council of the European Union very quickly agreed on such a mechanism. I hope that a decision will be soon be made in the European Parliament to pave the way for visa liberalisation.
Georgia sees itself as part of Europe and its long‑term aim is to join the European Union. The Association Agreement is regarded as a step in this direction. What is Germany’s position on this and how do you rate Georgia’s prospects, also as regards developments within the EU?
Georgia’s Association Agreement with the EU, which enters into force tomorrow following lengthy and intensive groundwork, is a milestone. Its implementation will make our relations closer than ever before. In order to make full use of this potential, however, the Association Agreement must be implemented properly. This calls for a large number of profound and difficult reforms, including the harmonisation of standards, an independent judiciary, systematic anti‑corruption measures, reforms in the public administration and modernisation of the economy, to name just a few areas. The latest economic figures show that systematic reforms are worthwhile. Since the provisional application of the Free Trade Agreement in September 2014, Georgia’s exports to the EU have increased by 12 per cent.
Before the war in 2008, you presented a plan on resolving the conflict on the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. What about now? Does the Federal Republic of Germany have a strategy for the countries that are situated between Russia and NATO or the EU, such as Georgia, some of which are affected by territorial disputes in which Russia is involved?
In 2008, the aim was to prevent an imminent war. Unfortunately, it has not yet proved possible to resolve the underlying conflicts. Endeavours are still ongoing in the Geneva talks to achieve agreement on the renunciation of violence. As Chair of the OSCE, we have therefore decided to use a policy of many small steps in order to restore a minimum level of trust between the parties. On the one hand, we are working to intensify political channels of communication between the parties and to revive negotiation formats in order to make progress in resolving the conflicts you mentioned. On the other hand, we Germans know from our own history how important direct contact between people is as regards overcoming negative stereotypes and building trust. This is why we are supporting exchange between people on both sides of the administrative boundary line via various projects, such as the biographical salons organised by the Berghof Foundation. The aim is to listen to the other side and to expand one’s own view of the past in order to enable people to look towards the future together.
Many Georgians are watching the situation in eastern Ukraine with concern, in part because Russian security forces are a mere 50 kilometres away from Tbilisi in South Ossetia. The economic sanctions against Russia have not done much to change the situation in eastern Ukraine so far. Why is military support for Ukraine not an option?
The conflict in eastern Ukraine can only be resolved by political means. Along with our French partners, this is why we have worked from the start to achieve a peaceful settlement to the conflict on the basis of the Minsk agreements. In this way, we were able to prevent the situation from escalating. It is true that we have not got as far with implementing the Minsk agreements as we would have liked – but we have identified the sticking points and drawn up suggestions for resolving them. Now it is up to both sides to show willingness to compromise in order to actually put these suggestions into practice. The aim of the sanctions is to create incentives for political conduct based on this implementation.
Around 870 Georgian soldiers are stationed in Afghanistan to help NATO’s Resolute Support Mission. In 2015, Georgia was the second‑largest troop contributing nation in Afghanistan, ahead of Germany. Georgian soldiers guard military bases, including the German base in Mazar‑e‑Sharif, thus helping to ease the burden on the Bundeswehr. How does Germany support Georgia in return?
We are grateful for the support Georgian soldiers give to the NATO mission in northern Afghanistan and have great respect for their commitment. We have been providing training support for the Georgian armed forces since 1995. Over the course of 20 years, the Bundeswehr trained over 2000 Georgian solders, including 23 generals. Germany also provides material support to Georgia’s deployment in Afghanistan, including German vehicles, which give soldiers the best possible protection, and medical care for the soldiers. This collaboration is truly exemplary.
Georgia was promised NATO membership at the Alliance’s summit in Bucharest in 2008 – and not only there. Chancellor Merkel reiterated this promise during her visit to Tbilisi in August 2008. How does the German Government view this promise? To what extent is NATO’s substantial package an alternative to Georgia becoming a members of NATO in the near future?
We stand by the decisions made in Bucharest. We agreed on the Substantial NATO‑Georgia Package in order to prepare Georgia for NATO membership. This package contains special tailor‑made projects for Georgia and measures aimed at improving the country’s defence capability and collaboration with NATO. Germany developed the concept and is extensively involved in its implementation. For example, we provide the head of the NATO Core Team and the project manager at the Defence Institution Building school in Tbilisi that will offer further training courses for the state security sector. At the summit in Warsaw on 8 and 9 July, we will reiterate our willingness to see closer cooperation between Georgia and NATO.
Interview: Silvia Stöber