On February 3, the European Commission published its reports on the alignment of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine with the EU set of rules and standards, known as the acquis. These reports complement the opinions published last year that dealt with broader areas of cooperation.
Georgia fares well compared to its peers and is more advanced in some areas than Moldova or Ukraine. This raises questions regarding the wisdom of the EU decision last June to grant candidacy to Ukraine and Moldova but not Georgia. Jelger Groeneveld argued several days ago in his opinion piece about the subject, that the EU has painted itself in the corner: by refusing candidacy, it emboldened the government’s anti-European rhetoric and to refuse it now would mean giving it an excuse for spinning Georgia decisively out of Europe’s field of gravity.
We have asked several prominent think-tankers, former diplomats and experts in Georgia-EU relations:
What do you think the EU should do now, given that the technical assessment is positive, but the government drifts increasingly away from Brussels?
Here is what they had to say:
Michael Emerson, Associate Senior Research Fellow, CEPS
“What to do? Nothing, until after the 2024 elections in Georgia, and see whether these are conducted correctly and, indeed, whether this leads to a change of government. The Analytical Report follows a bureaucratic principle of looking at compliance with the EU legal acquis. This may be their reason for excluding the functioning of democratic institutions, which nonetheless is the most important single criterion for membership. Georgia’s oligarchic leadership is the most important objection to Georgia’s accession.”
Shota Ghvineria EPRC non-resident fellow, former Ambassador to the Netherlands
“EU should prove its ability to empower pro-democracy stakeholders by granting candidate status as a democratization tool while at the same time reprimanding individuals with a proven track record of undermining democratic institutions and processes. GD’s narratives aim to prepare public opinion for the failure and blame the EU for Georgia’s unfair treatment, casting frustration and nihilism on the feasibility of pro-Western policies to validate further drift towards Russia. Hostile anti-Western rhetoric and rapprochement with Russia indicate that GD will not willingly challenge Ivanishvili’s existing monopoly on power. On the one hand, granting candidate status to Georgia despite an explicit democratic rollback may suggest indirect legitimation of the state capture. On the other hand, by denying candidate status again, Georgia risks further estrangement from Western interests and values, deteriorating democracy in the country and the whole region.”
Gigi Gigiadze, Senior Fellow, EPRC, former Ambassador to Denmark
“The European Union could imply that the partial fulfilment of the twelve recommendations will not be enough for receiving the candidate status. The EU could more actively engage in the monitoring process of recommendation fulfilment through its Delegation in Georgia by preparing progress reports in close cooperation with the Georgian civil society organizations at least twice a month. The EU could also pay much more attention to the reports prepared by credible Georgian civil society organizations and frequently ask for their opinions on the government’s progress. The EU could appoint a special envoy for Georgia whose main task would be the monitoring of the recommendation fulfilment and who would stay in close contact with the Georgian government while simultaneously informing the European Commission on the achieved progress.”
Prof. Kornely Kakachia, Director, Georgian Institute of Politics:
“I believe that the EU should acknowledge Georgia’s technical progress and give a positive signal to Tbilisi. Saying no would result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will legitimize the euro-sceptic discourse in Georgia, strengthen the pull of Russia, silence pro-reform actors, and give the government a free hand to undermine democratic structures in the country. [Saying yes, on the other hand,] will anchor Tbilisi in the EU’s geopolitical orbit, contribute to peace and stability in the region, and strengthen the EU’s ownership of the domestic reform process. However, it is essential that the EU does not compromise on the Copenhagen criteria and applies stringent democratic demands and the Acquis Communautaire to Tbilisi especially closely monitoring how the Georgian government fulfils 12 recommendations set by the EU.
Amanda Paul, Senior Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre
“I would not say that the EU painted itself into a corner. Rather, I would say that Georgia’s political elites are not only shooting themselves in the foot, but they are also failing the people they represent and seriously damaging the country’s image. The European Commission’s opinion on Georgia reflects the increasingly worrisome situation in the country. Over the last few years, Georgia’s political elites have undermined democracy. This has been combined with political polarization and seemingly little, if not zero, efforts by political parties to sort it out. The fact that no meaningful dialogue can take place between the ruling Georgian Dream and the opposition (main opposition party) is the most obvious example. For this reason, it was not possible to Georgia to receive a candidate country status. Since June, the ruling GD has also not taken the necessary steps to meet the Commission’s list of priorities to receive candidate country status. It has ignored recommendations from the Venice Commission in some cases. While on some issues, the EC could have more explicitly defined the steps that Georgia needed to take to avoid any misinterpretation, generally speaking, there seems to have been a lack of political will from the Georgian government in some areas. The EC and the EU need to press Georgia to fully implement the 12 priorities while, at the same time, continuing to push both GD and the opposition to end polarization and bring some honest dialogue. Both insist that their priority is Euro-Atlantic integration, but their actions don’t align with these words.”