Davos Panel: Georgia PM, Austria FM Talk EU Enlargement

At the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili participated today in a panel discussion alongside his Moldovan counterpart Natalia Gavrilița, Estonian President Alar Karis and Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.

During the discussion, titled  “Rethinking the EU’s Partnership with its Neighborhood”, the officials focused on discussing the EU membership bids of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, and the three countries’ prospects to achieve closer integration with the 27-member-bloc.

“We need to see action, now and today,” Georgian PM Says

“We need to see action, now and today,” Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said in his address on the panel, asked what type of support Georgia expects from the EU amid its membership bid.

“It is a different world today, what has happened in Ukraine is not a challenge to only Ukrainian security, this is a challenge to the entire European security architecture,” he added.

The Georgian PM stressed that “Georgians paid a very high price since we regained independence,” recalling the armed conflicts in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia in the 1990s and the Russo-Georgian war of 2008.

Noting that the war resulted in “temporary occupation of our historic territories,” PM Garibashvili said he understands that there are concerns in the EU about importing “all these problems into the European family.”

“But we need clarity, we need an adequate and relevant reaction from the EU,” he asserted.

Against this backdrop, the PM said that Georgia on its part understands that “granting the candidate status does not mean giving membership.”

Accession is a lengthy process, “we understand it and we have our homework which is the Association Agreement,” he acknowledged.

The Prime Minister claimed that Georgia has already fulfilled “more than 45% of the Association Agreement” and has “embarked on a very ambitious reforms agenda since 2014.”

During this time Georgia has seen tangible progress “improvements in every direction, whether this is rule of law, judicial reforms, open government,” in the PM’s opinion.

PM Garibashvili argued that now the Georgian Dream government has to decide whether it raises the expectation of the public, telling them the country “will get this symbolic, political declaration that Georgia is part of this European family” or whether “it is not the right time.”

Asked about possible new types of association arrangements with the 27-member-bloc, PM Garibashvili said “whatever brings us closer to the EU, to EU membership, is, of course, acceptable for us.”

“We have no other alternatives… this is the choice of the people,” the Prime Minister stressed. “We will do whatever we can, we will do the maximum to get closer to the EU, to get closer to the ultimate goal which is the ultimate goal of full-fledged membership.”

The PM also argued that European integration is a “civilizational choice of the Georgian people… we share the same values, share the same principles.”

“More than 80% of our people support this idea that Georgia must become a member of the European family,” PM Garibashvili said. “This is not a choice of our government.”

“We have been striving to become a member of the civilized Europe and world for centuries,” he added.

“This is Now Crunch Time,” Austrian FM Says 

Arguing that Russian aggression against Ukraine “has shattered the security architecture,” Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg stressed that “this is now crunch time… the EU has to get its act together.”

He argued that a “confrontational phase” begins, the EU has to “export security and stability and our model of life, or we are faced with somebody else’s model of life.”

While noting that the EU has to “signal very clearly” that countries with membership aspirations are “anchored in European family,” he stressed that there still is no fast track on the path to membership.

In this context, he referred to North Macedonia which “applied seventeen years age and we are discussing now whether to open the accession negotiations…”

“Had we dealt with enlargement in the 2000s the same way we are doing it now, then probably Poland and Romania would not yet be members of the EU,” the chief diplomat said. “We understood at the time that it is about crossing the iron curtain, and we have to do the same now.”

He argued that the EU has to leave behind its “template of full accession, with a lengthy, cumbersome process that might take years if not decades.”

In his address, the chief diplomat argued that it will be a “very bad signal” if the EU to merely grants Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova the status of membership candidates and “then nothing happens in 2023, 2024, 2025, 2026.”

Instead, the diplomat argued the 27-member-bloc should think about “gradual integration.” Merely being labeled a membership candidate does “not change anything for the people on the ground, does not solve any problems, does not bring you an inch closer to the common market,” he added.

“We enjoyed the dividend of peace,” FM Schallenberg, going on to argue the EU now has to consider that “the Russian eyes from Moscow are not only on Ukraine” but also on other neighboring areas of the 27-member-bloc.

He noted that he has felt a “very strong sense of unity” in the EU following Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, however.

“It seems [the EU] needed a war and a shock like this to make us believe that [enlargement] is more than number crunching and directives and regulations which have to be implemented in member states. It Is about geopolitics, it is about model of life, it is about systemic rivalry and challenging,” the FM asserted.

Estonian President Talks New Forms of European Cooperation

Estonian President Alar Karis meanwhile addressed discussions about possibly introducing new forms of political association with the EU for the aspiring countries.

President Karis warned that “one has to be extremely careful with these kinds of proposals.” He maintained that “there is some kind of threat” that such initiatives may substitute “real candidacy or real membership of the EU.”

Citing Estonian experience, he said Tallinn had also received offers for “the same type of associations” when it made the bid for EU membership but refused.

While noting there is no fast track for Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova to become EU members, the President said that “at the end of the day it is a political decision.”

“Criteria is one thing,” he argued, but the EU member states should feel that these countries “are one of us.”

Although acknowledging that Ukraine, being at war, is in a different situation than Georgia and Moldova, the Estonian President said the countries may still join the EU “together.”

“The process started now because of [Russia’s] war with Ukraine,” he admitted but stressed that the EU “should not lose this momentum” as the people of the said countries want to join the bloc.

This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)


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