GPB First Channel’s interview with German Ambassador to Georgia
GPB First Channel’s interview with German Ambassador to Georgia

German Ambassador to Georgia Peter Fischer set down in an interview with GPB First Channel, covering a bulk of topics, including Germany’s support for Georgia on its path to EU candidate status, Russia’s war in Ukraine, energy crises, and many others.

Below is the full interview:

We mark the 33rd anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall which was the symbol of the division of the European continent and the symbol of the Cold War. What do you think are the lessons of history learned by the international community?

The lessons of history always have to be learned anew. When the Berlin wall fell, we all were very happy. It was a sign that positive things can happen in history, the Cold war ended, and in that way, it was the end of the WWII period. We thought that in Europe we had an era of long peace, we thought that era of violation of borders with force, of violation of territorial integrity, of the attempt to force your will onto others in Europe was over. Unfortunately, as we now know after the Russian aggression against Ukraine that was not the case. So, we learned, after WWII, the division of Europe, something very positive happened but then we were a little bit disillusioned that only positive things will follow. You know there is a discussion, does history move in circles, does it move up… I think it moves in a spiral, it moves forward, it moves in the positive direction, but not straight in the positive direction.

Mr. Ambassador, many European leaders say that the unity of Europe is under attack because of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. How do you think, will Europe pass this test of unity?

Yes, Europe has passed many tests of unity. Many times, people have said that the unity of Europe will be finished soon, but since 1957 it has only strengthened. You are right, there is an attempt to undermine European unity, it is done for example by Russia with so-called hybrid warfare, through the internet, through disinformation, and all that. But one thing, Putin underestimated is the resilience and the will of Europeans to defend democracy, to defend freedom, and to defend the right of every country to determine its own future, its own fate. And it is a gross miscalculation that he made. Actually, the European Union has been strengthened by this attack on our way of life.

Mr. Ambassador you mentioned Russia’s tools of pressure and one of its favorite tools is energy; as winter comes this issue becomes more and more actively discussed. Will Europe find a way to go through this winter?

Yes, we will find a way. Of course, the energy that we use is largely fossil, we are in a crisis of fossil energy, and this winter the energy will be much more expensive. But within the European Union, within individual countries like Germany, we have rolled out programs to help people who have trouble paying their energy bills. We will support the most vulnerable in our society who can’t afford to pay more for energy. At the same time, we are diversifying our sources, we are reducing Russian oil and gas. In the short run we will be able to manage, it will be expensive it will be tough but we will manage and in the medium and long term this will only accelerate our transition away from fossil fuels to renewables. Germany is going to be climate neutral by 2045, we are going to move to renewable energy sources. They have a big advantage that they can largely be at home so no one can pressure you in the use of them.

In recent weeks Germany increased its military support to Ukraine. Ukraine now has a German air defense system and expects more to arrive. President Frank Walter Steinmeier visited Kyiv in October and pledged to continue support. But at the beginning of the war, we saw some kind of hesitation and restraint from Germany in terms of providing Ukraine with heavy weapons. Some Ukrainian officials even criticized Germany for this reason. How would you assess the recent change in position?

Let me get to the military aspect in a moment, but I would say first of all that Germany is one of the main supporters of Ukraine and it’s not only military, it’s economic, it’s financial, it’s humanitarian. We have received more than one million Ukrainian refugees in Germany; we’ve provided them with housing, schooling for children, medical aid, and so on. So the military part is only one part of the equation. And you used the word “restraint”. Germany has a terrible history of starting wars of aggression of its own, of genocide. So we have a culture of restraint when it comes to the military. And we think that restraint and care in military activities is the right course of action. Chancellor Scholz said our job is to contain this war not to expand it. We have to balance the risks very carefully and it’s true that compared to the expectations of Ukraine perhaps Germany was a bit slow in responding, but in the meantime, as you mentioned we have a very large military support for Ukraine including some of the most effective weapons including air defense and we’ve pledged to support Ukraine militarily as long as it takes, and always in consultation and as a part of the allied effort, never just alone. So the idea is that the countries that support Ukraine work together and provide those weapons that Ukraine needs to defend itself.

You spoke about Germany’s support for Ukraine, and I would like to ask you about its support for Georgia. During Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s visit to Berlin in September, Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged to help Georgia on the way to the European Union. Could you please tell us more specifically the ways Germany can engage to help Georgia on its EU integration path?

So first of all, we support this concept, we support this idea, and we would like Georgia to join the European Union.  And you know that in order to join the EU the country needs to meet three requirements. One is to support the goals and the values of the EU, the second is to be a sustainable pluralistic democracy, and the third is to have an economy that can withstand the competition of the internal market of the EU. We will and we do support Georgia in all three areas. We have a lot of programs where we work with the Georgian government and Georgian civil society on political issues be they administrative, judiciary, or human rights aspects. I would like to emphasize the economic part. We have a big portfolio of what we call development cooperation, energy sector reform, skills development, academic training, protection of nature, energy efficiency, and that kind of things. Across the board, all our programs are geared toward supporting Georgia’s path towards the EU.

Mr. Ambassador, we understand that the path to the EU is quite long, and receiving a candidate status is one step in this process. In the summer Ukraine and Moldova received EU candidate status, but Georgia was not given the status. In your opinion, why did Georgia fall short of getting the status?

I will not dwell on this differentiation. I think the European perspective that the European Council offered to Georgia is a very great and very fortunate thing. I’d like to say for us, Germans, there was not a greater fortune than to be able to join the European Union. It’s the basis of peace, it’s the basis of stability, it’s the basis of prosperity, it’s the basis of freedom for our citizens and Georgia now has that opportunity. The path towards the EU is very clear, there is nothing mysterious about it. Who will join first, history will show, right now we can’t say. And to join, a country has to adopt the acquis, which is the full body of EU legislation, regulations, standards and that’s a great task that has to do with the quality of lighting, norms for water, other environmental laws, administrative set-up, and so on. I recommend that we focus on the tasks ahead, ongoing step by step, on concrete projects preparing Georgia for membership in the European Union which the European Union has offered, the European Union wants. The president of the Commission said you are part of our family and our family is not complete without you. So, let’s focus on the practical work that lies ahead. It’s a good deal of work but it can be done and it will be done.

Georgia now has to fulfill its own homework; I mean the 12 recommendations that were given to Georgia by the European Council. What do you think are the main problems on the way of fulfillment of these 12 points and is there any progress?

I think these 12 recommendations are known, they have mainly to do with the aspect of being a sustainable pluralistic democracy. The government of Georgia has a very ambitious program by the end of this year to present legislation to address all 12 points. We are observing that carefully, and we support that. There are two aspects, one is the process which should be inclusive, involve all stakeholders including what we call civil society. And then we will have to see what legislation gets passed. But again, this is a process where we work together as a team. We want Georgia to join if Georgia wants to join and I think Georgia does want to join, we will work together to take the necessary steps.

During 30 years of diplomatic relations, the German government had plenty of projects in Georgia. How do you think which sectors are considered the most important to support?

I would like to focus on the economic part because I think that with economic development, jobs for people, income, increased qualifications many things evolve from that, and many things are attached to that. We work together very closely for example in skills development, vocational training to prepare Georgians to have good jobs. For example, we have 14 adult learning centres all around Georgia where people can learn electrical installation, carpentry, welding, accounting for adults who already finished school but need to add something to their qualifications to have a job. We have vocational training where we train the trainers to train young people to be qualified in their profession. We have a lot of academic exchange students; we teach a lot of German so Georgians can learn German and perhaps go to Germany for training or university and come back with skills and bring the skills to their home country. And then we have a broad array of other areas, for example energy sector reform, energy efficiency, and protection of nature. So, I think this economic core to make sure that the Georgian economy is prosperous, Georgian have qualified jobs, good incomes that would be very central.

You have been working here for more than two months. What are the main goals and priorities you have set as a German Ambassador to Georgia?

You said more than two months it sounds like a long time, but actually, it’s a very short time, I am still beginning and I am still learning. But my priority is to support Georgia’s path towards the EU, into the EU, and to find those areas where we can work together to help achieve that goal. We want Georgia in the EU, you are part of our family. Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine and since the decision of the European Council to offer a European perspective to Georgia, I think we have,  in American English to say, “a new ballgame” – so it’s all about Georgia’s path toward the EU. That’s my main goal.