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Germany’s minister of state for Europe delivered a blunt message to a gathering of the Eastern Partnership, organised in the Georgian Black Sea city of Batumi on Thursday (11 July): unless reforms in Eastern Europe speed up, its young people will leave to find a better life in Western Europe.
Michael Roth spoke at the Batumi International Conference, dedicated to the tenth anniversary of the Eastern Partnership, an EU initiative covering Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Some of these countries, Georgia in particular, see themselves as frontrunners and want to go beyond this framework, with a view to eventual EU accession.
Roth explained the enlargement fatigue currently felt in the EU.
“Many people in the EU are totally exhausted, confronted by so many crises: Brexit, transatlantic relations totally under pressure, migration, the rise of nationalism and populism. Many people are not really happy with enlargement,” the German minister said.
Roth had met with representatives of Georgia’s civil society, who felt forgotten by Europe, and said there were only two options:
“The first is: we speed up the reform process in Eastern Europe, here in Georgia too, and the second is: the whole young generation leaves the country, it leaves the country and comes to Europe, or to Germany.”
“This morning I met an intern who works for the foreign ministry of Georgia. He told me that all his friends, all of them, live, work and study in Germany. It’s good for us, but this brain drain is a disaster for this wonderful, beautiful country,” Roth said.
The issue of brain drain was discussed on the second day of the conference. Georgia’s deputy minister for education, science, culture and sports, Irina Abuladze, said the government had taken a decision to increase spending on education to 6% of GDP by 2022, and that relevant changes in the legislation had been recently made.
This, she argued, would result in a big increase in the quality of education in all fields, including higher education and science, and would happen not only in the capital but most importantly, in the regions. In particular, vulnerable groups will be given the opportunity to access high-quality education, she said.
One of the targets would be to focus on small-size schools in the regions, where currently there is a deficit of teachers.
In addition, she mentioned that the first European School outside the EU would soon open in Tbilisi, and a representative of the European Commission said it would be open also for the countries of the Eastern Partnership. In conclusion, Abuladze said the country was determined to provide EU-quality education to its citizens.
Nino Javakhadze, deputy minister of internal affairs, touched upon the issue of increased migration of Georgians to the EU, made possible by the visa-free regime existing since 2017.
She stressed that visa-free travel was the most tangible achievement for Georgia because every citizen could benefit from it and this, she said, boosted popular support for the EU to unprecedented heights, with recent polls indicating that more than 80% of Georgians support the country’s aim to join the Union.
Since the visa-free regime has been in force, 400,000 Georgians, out of a population of 3.5 million, have travelled to the Schengen space, and the total number of visits was 800,000.
She admitted however that there were “problems in this regard” and that the country was working on a multilateral level with the EU, as well as on a bilateral level with the most affected countries, especially when it comes to asylum-seekers.
Javakhadze said the Georgian government was also working with the EU on the so-called “circular migration” or repeat migration: the back and forth movements of a migrant worker between home and host countries, typically for the purpose of employment.