Georgia's new president, elected on Sunday after a peaceful revolution in November last year made his first visit to Berlin Thursday. The U.S.-educated reformer has his sights set on the EU.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.
Just months after he helped topple the 11-year rule of one of the caucus' most enduring strongmen, 36-year-old Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili announced bold plans in Berlin for his country to join the EU in the near future.
In his first official trip as president, the young, western-educated reformer met with German Bundestag president Wolfgang Thierse and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. The former opposition leader was elected president on Sunday, following the November ouster of president Eduard Shevarnadze.
The "rose revolutionary" rides wave of optimism
Shevarnadze, who had ruled Georgia for 11 years, resigned at the end of November after three weeks of mass protest by a population weary of poverty and corruption. Leading the demonstrations was Saakashvili, the former justice minister, who was dubbed the "rose revolutionary" after storming the parliament holding a rose.
"I've received much praise from our people, without ever having campaigned," said Saakashvili. "Now I need to take this positive energy and shift it in the right direction."
Top of the list of necessary changes is the corruption-rife Georgian political system. Saakashvilli, once groomed by Shevarnadze for a top position, eventually quit his post as justice minister in 2002 after growing weary of pervasive cronyism and political pay-off.
In an interview with German daily Bild, Saakashvili said he planned to improve the taxation system and invest more in the country's youth. He also voiced ambitious plans to steer his country towards the level of a candidate country for the European Union in a few years.
"For that, we need help, especially from Germany," he said.
Georgia behind Cuba as a trading partner
Georgia doesn't rank high on Germany's list of trading partners at the moment. In 2002, imports from the country totaled just €21 million and Georgia ranked lower than countries like Cuba or Kuwait. German exports to the Caucasus nation totaled €75 million.
The oil pipeline
That might change in the coming years. Among his meetings Thursday was one with German business leaders, who are eyeing Georgia for possible infrastructure and chemical projects. A consortium of oil companies, supported by the United States, also has plans to build an oil pipeline (photo) through the Caucasus region, a possible financial windfall for Georgia if it stays stable under Saakashvili.
Ahead of a Friday meeting with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Saakshavili pitched his country as a stable partner for Europe in a region of the world beset by strongmen and suspect politicians.
Georgia, he said, saw itself as a bridge between Europe and the Caucasus.