Georgia to sign EU association agreement on June 27: Van Rompuy
TBILISI - Agence France-Presse
Georgia's Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili (L) shakes hands with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy before their meeting in Tbilisi, May 14, 2014. REUTERS PhotoGeorgia will sign a key association agreement with the EU on June 27, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said Wednesday, as Brussels moves quickly to cement the deal amid the Ukraine crisis.
"We will sign the agreement in Brussels on the 27th of June together with all the EU heads of state or government," Van Rompuy told a news conference in Tbilisi.
"Georgia is a free, democratic country that should make its own choices. No external pressure must change this," he said in a clear reference to Moscow, which fiercely opposes its Soviet-era satellites building closer ties with the West.
"Georgia is steadily following its course of European integration," Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said. "This is our people's choice which is based on our shared values."
Tbilisi hopes that the EU Association Agreement will bring the small Caucasus country closer to its main foreign policy objective -- full membership in the 28-nation bloc.
In a cautious endorsement of Georgia's EU membership bid, Van Rompuy said the agreement "is not a final goal in our cooperation."
Georgia and Moldova initialled the agreements on political association and free trade with the EU in November, but fellow ex-Soviet republic Ukraine backed away from signing a similar accord under pressure from Moscow.
The sudden move sparked mass protests in Kiev leading to the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych and a bitter standoff with Russia that saw Crimea annexed by Moscow.
Van Rompuy said the EU -- which along with the United States has imposed limited economic sanctions against Russia over Ukraine -- was ready to further punish Moscow unless it takes steps to reduce tensions.
"The European Union remains committed to further increasing the cost for Russia should it take more steps to destabilise the situation" in Ukraine, Van Rompuy said.
The Ukraine crisis has alarmed Georgia and Moldova with Tbilisi and Chisinau saying they feel increasingly exposed to Russian pressure ahead of the signature of the agreements.
The EU has moved to speed up the signatures, which were initially planned for the end of 2014.