Tbilisi, Georgia 07/07/2021
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Thank you, Prime Minister, for the hospitality. I am very pleased to be making my first visit to Georgia, a key partner of the European Union.
As you all know, last year has been extremely difficult for all of us. We have all been fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and we still do. However, Georgia also had to face political polarisation and a political crisis. We have helped to overcome these difficulties and we hope that these problems are a thing of the past. I also hope that we can now start to focus on the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
As you have seen, the European Union stands by your side. We have been extremely proud to provide the assistance last year. We have helped to preserve over 400,000 jobs. We provided support to 78,000 families in Georgia and we have raised the number of intensive care unit beds to over 1,400.
But I do hope that it is, again, a thing of the past by now. And that we can now start the next phase of our cooperation and overcome the aftermath of the crisis.
Just a few days ago, on 2 July, last Friday, we presented a very ambitious Economic and Investment Plan for the entire region of the Eastern Partnership countries.
We are dedicated to mobilise at least €17 billion for the economic recovery of the region. Out of this, we will have €2.3 billion of grants and the rest would be projects and investments put together with our international financial partners, like the EIB [European Investment Bank] or the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development].
Our aim is to continue to help the economic recovery, but also the social recovery after the COVID-19 crisis and to help Georgia build a more resilient, stronger economy after the crisis.
In this, we have been working together with the Georgian governments - the previous government, this government - to find the priorities, the main challenges in front of the country.
The five flagship initiatives that you see, put forward tailor-made for Georgia, are the fruits of this cooperation. We do not want to offer you anything you do not need, but only what you need.
And discussing with you, we have found that the main bottleneck and the main vulnerability of the economy and the society of Georgia is the lack of connectivity. Be it rails and roads, be it the unused potential of the Black Sea, be it the connectivity to the mainland through electricity and internet broadband. All these have a major potential to boost the economy of Georgia and to shift it into another dimension.
It is for that reason that we have put forward a plan that would address connectivity, would help to create the fine fabric of the economy by supporting SMEs [Small and Medium Entreprises], the local communities, improve access to digital services and broadband internet throughout the country, and also to introduce to Georgia our Green Deal and our Digital plans. And maybe Georgia can skip some of the development stages we are through and join us immediately where we are now.
This plan dedicated to Georgia should bring at least €3.9 billion of investments. It reaches almost one third of peacetime GDP of the country – pre-crisis GDP of the country.
This is a meaningful, big package but it is a huge task to implement it. This is a possibility but we will have to work together very hard to make it happen.
We discussed with the Prime Minister [of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili] that we need strong structures in Georgia, who are able to deliver. We think that these projects are capable of delivering change on the ground for the people. So in four to five years from now, the reality on the ground for the people who want to make business, who want to trade, who want to get a job, who want to get the right skills, is going to be very much different, very much more like what we have in our Member States.
And thirdly, I am very pleased about the meetings I had with the Members of the Parliament. We see that the boycott is over and that Members of Parliament are back to where they belong - in the Parliament where political debates have their place. Now we need all political parties to work for the implementation of the agreement. All should sign the agreement, we need everybody.
I am also pleased to note that there is important progress on the electoral reform. And I would also want to see progress on the judicial reform and on the appointments of Supreme Court judges.
Finally, I have to say a couple of words about the events that have taken place yesterday and the day before. We have discussed this with the Prime Minister, and I think I also speak on his behalf when I say: there is no place for violence, there is nothing coming out of violence.
The freedom of expression unhindered by violence, or any discrimination, needs to be upheld. All must enjoy the right of assembly and of freedom of expression. Therefore, we want everybody to respect this. We want to see how the procedures are going on - I understand from the Prime Minister that procedures are ongoing.
Of course, I was also very pleased to be able to go to the Parliament this morning, seeing that the European flag is returned to where it belongs.