I am delighted to be here today to launch negotiations for an EU†i-Georgia Association Agreement. I have chosen to be here on this important occasion in order to demonstrate the European Union's strong commitment to strengthening its relations with Georgia and the South Caucasus region.
I have made very clear since the start of my mandate that I see the European Neighbourhood as a top priority for EU foreign and security policy.
The EU has a strategic interest in stability, prosperity and the development of democracy in our Eastern neighbourhood. The Eastern Partnership we established last year has given new impetus to our efforts to create the closest possible links between the EU and its Eastern neighbours.
Our relations with the South Caucasus in particular are developing rapidly, to the point that we are able to launch these negotiations here today in Batumi.
Negotiations for such Association Agreements will also be launched with Azerbaijan in Baku tomorrow [16 July] and with Armenia in Yerevan on Monday [19 July].
I am confident that all these agreements will be ambitious and forward-looking, and that they will provide a framework for a new relationship based on political association and economic integration.
I firmly believe that by strengthening relations between the EU and Georgia, we can contribute to Georgiaís democratic development, help secure its long term stability; build prosperity and eradicate poverty.
The negotiations for an Association Agreement will require considerable effort on all sides. In this context, the EU is committed to starting negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, once Georgia is ready for this.
To make that step, Georgia needs to achieve sufficient progress on the implementation of a number of key recommendations we have set out.
We welcome the progress made by Georgia in the implementation of these key recommendations but more work is needed, for instance on food safety.
I can assure you that the EU will continue to support Georgia in advancing democracy, rule of law and governance. Democratic reforms are crucial.
In recent years Georgia has made significant efforts in democratisation, combating corruption and in economic development.
By deepening its democratic development, Georgia can not only enhance its stability and prosperity but also increase its appeal to people living in the separatist regions.
We congratulate you on the successful running of local elections on 30 May of this year. The ODIHR report on the elections has indicated clear progress towards meeting OSCE and Council of Europe commitments.
We encourage you to advance with the reform agenda, including constitutional reform, in a meaningful way and in an inclusive manner.
We also remain firm in our support for Georgia's territorial integrity and non-recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We will continue to remind Russia that it has not complied with the Six Point Agreement and its Implementing Measures.
We welcome Georgia's commitment to solving the conflict only through peaceful means and diplomatic efforts and now encourage Georgia to implement the Action Plan on the "State Strategy on Occupied Territories".
The EU will remain fully engaged in conflict resolution efforts, using the variety of tools at our disposal. The EU Monitoring Mission remains an indispensable factor for stability.
Maintaining a dynamic Geneva process is of great importance. We have to do all we can to ensure its success. It is important to prevent the consolidation of the current status quo on the ground.
Georgia is an important partner country for the European Union. I hope that Georgia sees us as a reliable partner in its reform efforts as it looks to the future.
My aim is now to encourage the acceleration of these efforts in order that our citizens might enjoy the benefits that closer ties and greater cooperation will bring.
Today, we are building on already strong foundations to bring Georgia closer to the EU. We remain fully committed to supporting stability, democratic development and economic development in Georgia.
This is good for you, but is also good for us - stability and prosperity in this part of the world enhances Europe's own stability and prosperity too.
It is in this spirit that I task our negotiators here to work quickly, but also carefully, in order to achieve an Agreement that is sustainable and that brings tangible benefits to all our citizens.