Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to address this distinguished gathering today on the important occasion of launching of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Georgia.
15 years ago when Georgia joined the Council of Europe, it committed itself to respecting agreed standards in the areas of human rights, the rule of law and democratic governance. Georgia's efforts to meet those obligations and commitments should be commended and your country's efforts at closer European integration are supported by the Council of Europe in many ways.
Since 1999, Georgia has signed and ratified 69 Council of Europe Conventions, including the most important ones in the fields of human rights. Georgia is a member of 7 Partial Agreements, including the European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission. The country has made serious efforts to translate Council of Europe standards in many areas into national legislation. It carried out important reforms. And it is committed to continue with reforms. The Action Plan is designed precisely in order to translate this will into reality.
The Action Plan, with its 34 projects and total budget of €17 million, was adopted by the Committee of Ministers in October 2013, and represents a comprehensive and coherent package of co-operation to support bringing national legislation, institutions and practice in line with Council of Europe standards.
I would like to stress with satisfaction that throughout its preparation process, the Action Plan enjoyed the genuine co-operation and full support from the Georgian authorities.
The co-operation areas, in which the Georgian authorities expressed interest and which have been included in the Action Plan, include protection and promotion of human rights; independence and efficiency of the judiciary; penitentiary system and police reform; media freedom, freedom of expression and association; free and fair elections; good governance; local democracy; and tolerance and anti-discrimination policies.
The Action Plan benefits from a variety of funding sources, including EU/CoE Joint Programmes funding, Voluntary Contributions from Council of Europe member States (notably provided by the Netherlands, Switzerland and through the Human Rights Trust Fund) and the Council of Europe Ordinary Budget.
I would like to acknowledge the support provided by international partners to the Action Plan implementation. Notably, EU-funded Joint Projects, both regional and country-specific, already amount to € 4.7 million and aim to support domestic implementation of the ECHR, to enhance judicial reforms, to reinforce the fight against ill-treatment, to enhance healthcare in prisons and other closed institutions, to fight cybercrime, to support free and fair elections, and to fight corruption.
The Council of Europe Secretariat will be responsible for operational management of the Action Plan and will provide the Committee of Ministers with regular updates on the progress of the Action Plan implementation.
I would like to underline the important role of Council of Europe Office in Georgia in
co-ordinating and bridging assistance efforts between the CoE, national partners and the international community, which is crucial for the success of the technical assistance provided to Georgia by our Organisation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
European integration and membership in the Council of Europe does not mean that diversity in Europe, customs or traditions will disappear. Europe celebrates diversity. Closer integration means Georgia will strengthen its democratic institutions and stability, and the rule of law, making Georgia stronger against the challenges it faces.
I wish to express my warmest thanks to the Georgian authorities for organising this launching of the Action Plan and reaffirm the readiness of the Council of Europe to assist the Georgian authorities further in all areas within our Organisation's mandate.