Georgia should take UK's place in EU, President says

Georgia should take UK's place in EU, President says

PanARMENIAN.Net - Georgia must seize the opportunity presented by the UK’s departure from the European Union to push its case for integration leading to membership of the bloc, according to the country’s new president, Bloomberg reports.

“We are looking at this situation with the determination to get the most out of it,’’ Salome Zourabichvili said in an interview in the capital, Tbilisi. “There is a logic that the country that has been steadily moving toward and wanting Europe can’t be treated less than the country that’s steadily moving away from Europe.’’

Georgia has sought EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization membership since Mikheil Saakashvili led the 2003 Rose Revolution that tilted the ex-Soviet republic toward the West and away from Russia. The Caucasus nation faces formidable hurdles in achieving these goals amid European reluctance to antagonize Russian President Vladimir Putin after the 2014 crisis in Ukraine when he annexed Crimea.

Strategically located on the Black Sea coast as a gateway to central Asia’s energy resources bypassing Russia, Georgia signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014 that includes a free-trade pact and gained visa-free travel to the bloc in 2017. However, it’s not on Brussels’ list of “candidates” or “potential candidates” for joining the EU next.

French-born Zourabichvili, 67, said she differs from her predecessors as head of state because “I am European.” She became Georgia’s first woman president in December. Her background already “plays a role’’ in meetings with EU leaders “because I talk probably in a different way to European partners’’ than previous presidents, she said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg insisted in Tbilisi last month that Russia can’t stop Georgia joining the alliance. Even so, members are wary of a Kremlin backlash after Georgia and Russia fought a 2008 war over the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia months after a NATO summit declared Georgia would become a member. While it holds regular military exercises in Georgia, which has troops serving with alliance forces in Afghanistan, NATO has set no date for membership.

“Militarily, we are absolutely ready,” Zourabichvili said. “If we were to get the Membership Action Plan, everybody knows that we would be ready in two months.’’

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