Author: Kakha Gogolashvili, Director of EU Studies Center, Rondeli Foundation
On November 21, first meeting of the Highest Level Sectoral Dialogue Between Georgia and the European Union was held in Brussels. What was the implication and the aim of the meeting? Prior to his departure to Brussels Minister of Foreign Affairs of Georgia called the high-level meeting between Georgia and the European Union “an unprecedented by nature”, and noted that no other Eastern Partnership country has a similar format of discussions.
What is the Highest Level Sectoral Dialogue format?
Out of the Eastern Partnership countries only Georgia has this setup of cooperation with the European Union and it implies the dialogue between the members of the executive branch of government of Georgia (the Prime Minister and the sectoral Ministers) with the members of the European Commission (President and Commissioners) on the issues of cooperation in separate sectors. The titles V, VI and VII of the Association Agreement contain exactly these issues (cooperation in 22 sectors). In addition, the Agreement on Deep and Comprehensive Trade Area (Title IV of the Association Agreement) includes trade-related issues. All these topics fall under, either exclusive or shared, competence of the European Commission as an executive Institution of the European Union, hence on these matters the European Commission may initiate direct (without the Council of the European Union and member states) dialogue with the third country. Discussion at the highest level with the European Commission is of great importance to further deepening and strengthening sectoral cooperation with the EU.
Does this format has any equivalence vis-à-vis other countries? The format itself is not new and the EU employs it in relations with about ten countries, mostly with strategic and major economic partners, such as China, Brazil, India, Japan, Turkey, and others. To be sure, dialogue with some (India, Brazil) have a broader nature (Summit) where, both heads of states and ministers of the EU member states participate. However, with China (Summits aside) the EU has a format similar that of Georgia. This type of format enables parties to analyze consequences of cooperation in trade, industry, agriculture, fishing, competition, intellectual property protection, and other fields. Parties contemplate road maps with the aim to further develop cooperation in the discussed areas, they also assign tasks to the subordinate bodies, and monitor achieved progress.
Who met in Brussels and what issues were discussed?
Headed by the Prime Minister Georgian delegation comprised seven sectoral ministers and approximately the same number of deputy ministers. The European Commission was represented by 11 European Commissioner and President of the European Commission himself. The topics discussed were divided into three clusters:
- Education and culture
- Justice, freedom, and security
More specifically, the meeting covered trade, agriculture, transport, energy, regional development, education, and culture. The subject of the discussion was cooperation with the EU institutions, such as Eurojust and Europol, also, arbitration court in Georgia, visa free travel, technical assistance, etc.
What will be the result and proceedings of this dialogue? As a result of the meeting, parties have made decision to form working groups for specific sectors, who will be responsible for formulating action plans based on the received remarks and opinions. After these plans are agreed upon, the relevant agencies will be tasked to process details and take the necessary actions.
Georgia and the EU have agreed on the Association Agenda – medium-term schedule document. The question is, will the new working groups duplicate topics of this document or dialogues held in the association subcommittees? In response to this question the competent officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declare that the goal of the highest level dialogue is to “complement” the existing formats, that is to say, fill-up hollow space and by no means duplicate them. The format of the dialogue will only augment cooperation in the aforementioned directions, with regard to the execution of decisions any kind of fora might be beneficial, including already existing setups, which will minimize risk of the rising bureaucratic apparatus.
What kind of cooperation formats exist between Georgia and the EU?
In order to support cooperation between Georgia and the EU many variety of formats for negotiation have already been introduced, including, those bilateral formats known as the association institutions – association council, association committee, association parliamentary committee, subcommittees (trade and sustainable development, sanitary and phytosanitary issues, geographical names, justice, freedom, and security etc.). Goals and ways of functioning of these joint institutions are provided in the title VIII of the agreement (more specifically, in rules of procedures adopted by the parties). Their main objective is to monitor the implementation of the Association Agreement by the both signatories and further develop its provisions if they deem it necessity. It has been 11 years since the dialogue in human rights domain was initiated, which from Georgian side is, principally, led by the deputy minister, and from the European Commission by the head of the Eastern Partnership Department of the External Action Service. The format of a visa liberalization dialogue is active since 2012, the status of government officials participating in it varied across the time. Through this platform Georgia achieved the right of visa-free travel with the European Union (2017). However, this format has not been extinguished by this achievement, to this date it continues monitoring fulfillment of those conditions that are related to visa-free travel of our citizens in the EU. In 2017, the EU and Georgia have established a high-level cooperation dialogue on strategic security issues, it will be held annually at the level of the Foreign Minister/Deputy Minister (Georgian side) and leadership of the External Action Service (EU side). At the same time, Georgian high ranking officials regularly hold meetings with the working groups of the Council of the European Union.
What kind of formats do other Eastern Partnership countries have?
It is sufficient to consider cases of Ukraine and Moldova, since the rest of the three Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus) cannot have neither association institutions nor this kind of diversity of high level formats of political dialogue. However, via partnership and cooperation agreement (and a new “enhanced” agreement with Armenia) so called cooperation institutions are operational with these countries, in order to facilitate political dialogue and the discussion of sectoral cooperation issues. Cooperation formats between the EU and Ukraine are quite diverse. Of course, they, akin Georgia, have the association institutions. The format of their visa dialogue entails an annual meeting with the Ministers of Justice and Internal Affairs (we do not have this obligation), as well as a bilateral meeting between the Foreign Ministers twice per year. Ukrainian government has meetings with the European Union twice a year at the level of political directors; meeting also occur with Working Group on Eastern Europe (COEST) of the Council of the EU, Working Group on the OSCE and the Council of Europe of the Council of the EU, Political and Security Committee (PSC) of the EU (quarterly), Disarmament and Arms Control Group and Working Group on Conventional Arms Export (COARM) twice per year. It is noteworthy, that the political dialogue between Ukraine and the Council of the European Union covers a broader area than ours and also the cycle of meetings is more frequent. As for sectoral cooperation, here Ukraine is engaged in dialogue mainly within the framework of association subcommittees. However, Ukraine-EU summits, which are held once a year, which have been established between the EU and Ukraine by the Association Agreement also contain discussion on the sectoral cooperation issues at the highest level. This kind of summits are not held between the EU and Georgia.
Moldova, up to date, had practically every format that Georgia currently has with the EU, except for a strategic dialogue in the security domain. This loss might be compensated by the fact that Moldova participates in the trilateral consultations on the customs and border security issues with Ukraine and the European Union. However, after the introduction of the sectoral dialogue at the highest level, a possibility has been opened for our country to get closer cooperation with the EU.
Why with Georgia?
Perhaps, it is important to understand why the EU has established such a format of cooperation with Georgia, while possibilities of sectoral cooperation dialogue had already existed within the format of association institutions. The reason for this, above all, is that there is no meeting with the entire European Commission within the framework of the association institutions, and areas of sectoral cooperation are mainly represented at the level of General Directors or lower level management. Also, at the Association Council meetings a great deal of time is allocated for matters of political dialogue (human rights, security) and the remaining time is scarce to maintain intensive discussions on sectoral domains. In addition, Georgia, which does not have an institutional framework of summits with the European Union, looked less privileged than Ukraine, whereas the country has a greater ambition towards the European integration and the evaluation of Georgia’s progress in the political matters of the Association Agreement is also superior. On the other hand, it is obvious that the country requires more diligence precisely for the development of the sectoral fields, in order to achieve even closer functional and sectoral integration into the various policies of the EU. Precisely these two factors – to appreciate more Georgia’s progress and to further facilitate sectoral integration – were the underlying reasons for the creation of this.