NATO chief tells Georgian PM to ‘prepare for membership’

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has told the Georgian prime minister Giorgi Gakharia to “make full use” of all the opportunities to move closer to NATO, and to “prepare for membership”.

On a high-level visit to Brussels, Mr Gakharia was also reminded however that NATO was counting on Georgia to ensure next month’s elections meet the highest international standards. “This is important for Georgia, and for NATO,” said Mr Stoltenberg.

The NATO boss also underlined the importance of Georgia’s continued reforms of its judiciary system and commended the country’s progress in implementing reform aimed at “strengthening democratic oversight on intelligence, security services and armed forces.” He said that Georgia had made good progress in modernising its armed forces and in strengthening democracy.

Mr Stoltenberg was also keen to reiterate NATO’s support for the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity. A fifth of the country remains under Russian occupation.

“NATO supports Georgia’s territorial sovereignty within its internationally recognised borders. We call on Russia to end its recognition of the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and to withdraw its forces,” he said.

Mr Gakharia meanwhile told the NATO chief that Georgia was ready to “find itself a new role” in ensuring security the Black Sea region.

While in Brussels, Mr Gakharia also met with the European Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi and signed two financing agreements worth 129 million euros which will help Georgia cope with the Covid-19 outbreak and its impact on the country’s economy. The two agreements are part of the EU’s response to Covid-19 under the Team Europe initiative.

“The European Union is standing by Georgia in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. We will continue to do everything we can to alleviate the effects of the pandemic on the lives of the people and businesses,” said Mr Várhelyi.

EU support mobilised for Georgia since the beginning of the crisis includes a variety of actions designed to help Georgian citizens cope with and recover from the impact of the pandemic. Support measures include medical supplies, social support to vulnerable groups, loans and grants to businesses and farmers throughout the country, and direct financial support to the state budget.

The two financing agreements agreed today are part of the EU’s Covid-19 support package for Georgia and will reinforce support in two key areas: immediate assistance, and economic development outside of the capital Tbilisi.

Through a 75 million euros grant, the EU will support the country’s Anti-Crisis Economic Plan, designed to help citizens of Georgia recover from the impact of the pandemic. Measures include social assistance for vulnerable households and support to businesses who have retained jobs in difficult times. It also foresees to increase the number of beds in intensive care units to prepare for a potential increase in infections.

The EU will support this plan with 54 million euros in grants targeting the economic development of regions outside the capital. In order for all citizens of Georgia to benefit from economic development, the programme will focus on local authorities and concrete actions for citizens, such as rehabilitating or constructing infrastructure in urban zones, encouraging tourism development, and supporting small and medium sized companies and innovation. The programme also includes measures to support decentralisation and involving citizens in decision-making at local level.

Georgia dealt very well with the pandemic during the first five months of the crisis, and won the admiration of health officials from across the world for its strict lockdown measures ability to keep the number of infections at just a handful of new cases each day. Over the past couple of weeks however, the rate of infection has markedly increased: yesterday, 298 new cases were reported, the highest daily figure so far.

The country has delayed reopening schools and universities, and now faces the added challenge of organising the parliamentary election scheduled for the end of October. The vote is widely expected to be a referendum on the government’s response to the pandemic. The ruling Georgia Dream party retains a healthy lead in opinion polls, and is expected to easily win an outright majority.

Georgian economic growth is forecast to fall 5.5 per cent in 2020 mainly as a result of a reduction in the country’s tourism sector due to coronavirus restrictions on travelling.

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