"Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia”
“United National Movement”
Georgia on EU’s Mind
Georgia  on EU’s Mind
As the European Union’s plans to sign a wide-ranging deal with Ukraine look shakier, EU leaders urgently need good news for their high-profile summit with their eastern neighbours in two weeks.

They hope it comes from initialling “association” deals with Georgia and Moldova, a preliminary step before signing. Now European leaders are bolstering those moves by saying they plan to sign a final deal with Georgia less than a year later, in September 2014.

Maja Panjikidze, Georgia’s foreign minister, said in an interview Friday that EU leaders have confirmed to her that they intend to sign at that time. The EU is also planning to sign with Moldova in September 2014.

That is a critical moment, because the term of the current European Commission ends a month later. If the signing process were to drag on beyond then, it could inject uncertainties and require a new EU team to get up to speed.

Ms. Panjikidze said she was optimistic the signature will now take place as scheduled. “You can’t get a 100% guarantee for anything,” she said. “I hope nothing happens in the 10 months before September.”

But she added, “Now we have eggs, and I hope to have chickens in autumn.”

Much of the attention surrounding the Nov. 28-29 summit in Vilnius has focused on Ukraine, which is in a high-stakes standoff with the EU over the fate of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whom European leaders want freed.

But the other five members of the EU’s Eastern Partnership are also engaged in talks with European leaders. Belarus and Azerbaijan are not expected to ink any new deals in Vilnius, and Armenia recently shocked EU officials by announcing it would align with Russia.

That leaves Moldova and Georgia, with are both set to initial deals, to back any claims of success in Vilnius.

The U.S. is closely watching these nations’ progress.

“We welcome their closer relationship with the EU,” Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told a Senate committee this week. “We have been working in lockstep with our European allies and partners to help Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia meet the tough conditions for a ‘yes’ vote at Vilnius.”

Georgia is of particular interest given its 2008 war with Russia; the Russians still occupy the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As Russia has pressured other Eastern Partnership countries not to align with the EU, Georgian leaders say Russia has little leverage left over them.

A key moment for Georgia came last month when a candidate from Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanisvhili’s Georgian Dream party won a closely-watched presidential election. The elections were widely seen as free and fair, an important step for association with the EU.

Still, Georgia faces an uncertain few months. Mr. Ivanishvili, a billionaire businessman who took office just last year, plans to resign next week. Mr. Ivanishvili has spoken of needing to wean Georgia from its tradition of messianic-style leaders who put themselves above the state.

His designated successor, Irakli Garibashvili, the current minister for internal affairs, is only 31. Opposition leaders have criticized him as inexperienced and warned that Mr. Ivanishvili will remain the true power behind the scenes, something he’s denied.

Other questions surround Georgia’s outgoing president, Mikheil Saakashvili, a charismatic and strongly pro-Western figure. Some European leaders worry that Mr. Saakashvili and those close to him could be prosecuted for political reasons.

Ms. Panjikidze took strong issue with that Friday. “I can assure you 100%, 1,000%, that there will be no political prosecutions in Georgia,” she said.
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