The first time I visited Tbilisi was for a badminton competition in the eighties.
I won it, and since then Georgia has been on my mind; whether I watch Georgian movies, listen to Georgian music, enjoy Georgian hospitality or just talk to my Georgian colleagues; I have always shared Georgias aspiration for freedom and democracy and admired the determination and pride of Georgians.
Georgia is not only one of the three associated countries on the European Unions Eastern flank, it is also an oasis of democracy, peace and prosperity in an otherwise complex and conflict-ridden region: the Caucasus.
Georgias special relationship with the EU is underpinned by the 2014 Association Agreement, which includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. Since March 2017, almost 500,000 Georgians have benefitted from visa-free travel to the Schengen area, bringing our contact to a new level.
As a European, I am thrilled to see that support for EU integration remains extremely high in Georgia - more than 80 percent - a figure that any EU Member State could only envy
Georgia has gained a special place among our Eastern partners by making continued, strenuous efforts to live up to its commitments under the Association Agreement and further deepening its political and economic integration with the EU.
Often, the country goes beyond the mere requirements of the Agreement, launching ambitious, full-scale reforms under its unilateral Roadmap to the EU.
Of course, further harmonisation efforts are still needed, for example when it comes to promotion of gender equality in the economic and political spheres or the protection of vulnerable groups.
These efforts will require continued political will as well as a strengthened administrative capacity, under the scrutiny of a vibrant civil society. I believe that our inter- parliamentary dialogue has a crucial role to play here.
The EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee, which I have the honour to co-chair with Georgian MP David Songulashvili, is tasked with scrutinising the implementation of the Association Agreement and addressing recommendations to the Association Council.
In this format, Members of the European Parliament and of the Parliament of Georgia review all the topics of interest for EU-Georgia relations.
Needless to say, we closely follow present political tensions between the ruling majority and the opposition parties. I very much regret this polarisation of the political landscape.
However, I truly believe that recent steps to defuse tensions will convince parliamentarians from all sides to engage constructively in the negotiations on the reform of the electoral system in the run-up to this autumns parliamentary elections.
By doing so, they will serve the greater interest of the Georgian people and their chosen Euro- Atlantic path. We should not forget that part of Georgia is still occupied, and Russian armed forces are stationed in 20 percent of Georgias territory.
Puppet regimes have been installed in the occupied region of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where human rights violations are widespread, the economy is in dire straits and emigration is immense.
We must remain firmly committed to the EUs policy of supporting Georgias territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognised borders and engagement for peaceful conflict resolution.
I would like to conclude with two remarks: one as a European, and one as an Estonian.
As a European, I am thrilled to see that support for EU integration remains extremely high in Georgia - more than 80 percent - a figure that any EU Member State could only envy.
As an Estonian, who has seen my country going through the same reforms and challenges, I strongly believe that the future of Georgia lies in the hands of the Georgian people. Nothing is impossible for them if they really want it.
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