EU says Georgia must ramp up reforms before becoming membership candidate

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell speaks on the tensions between the neighbouring Western Balkan nations in Brussels, Belgium, August 18, 2022. REUTERS/ Johanna Geron/File Photo

BRUSSELS, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Georgia needs to speed up reforms in areas such as the rule of law, the independence of justice and media freedom before it can be granted the status of a European Union membership candidate, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday.

"These areas are crucial when it comes to European values and principles, and we count on Georgia's effort to address the existing shortcomings," Borrell told reporters after meeting Georgia's Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili in Brussels to discuss his country's EU membership bid.

At a summit in June, EU leaders granted Ukraine and its neighbour Moldova candidate status, while Georgia, another former Soviet state, was told it would get the same once it has fulfilled more conditions.

"European Union accession is a merit-based process, there are no short-cuts and no magic involved, it's not a matter of political declarations," Borrell said, calling Georgia one of the EU's closest friends and partners.

Garibashvili said his country belonged in the family of European democracies "where we share common values, have common goals and promote peace and solidarity".

Georgia is fully committed to fulfil the conditions set by the EU, the prime minister said.

"Developing connectivity between the EU and Georgia, especially in the Black Sea, promises important benefits to the wider region - especially given the current geopolitical context and the major challenges we all face like energy security, food security," he noted, referring to Russia's war in Ukraine.

"We have invited our EU colleagues to tap into the unique possibility that Georgia as a potential key transit hub on (the) EU's global connectivity map can offer."

Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war over Georgia's pro-Russian breakaway region South Ossetia, population 53,000, in 2008.

While Georgia considers South Ossetia part of its territory, Russia says it is an independent country and increased its military presence there during and after the conflict.

Reporting by Sabine Siebold; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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