Amidst the winds of change and uncertainty swirling in the region, Georgia finds itself at a crossroads of destiny. As the country awaits the European Union’s decision on its candidate status this December, the stakes couldn’t be higher. In this pivotal moment for Georgia’s European future, Civil.ge had the privilege of sitting down with Germany’s State Minister for Europe and Climate, Anna Lührmann, to delve into the pressing questions that will shape the course of the country’s history.
State Minister Lührmann was on a three-day official visit to Georgia, which centered around strengthening Georgia’s ties with the European Union and the necessary reforms. State Minister Lührmann engaged in high-level discussions, including meetings with the Speaker of the Parliament, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia, as well as representatives from various political parties and Civil Society Organizations. Additionally, she held a discussion with students and undertook a visit to the Occupation Line together with the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM).
Civil.ge: Frau Staatsministerin, willkommen in Georgien.
My very first question is going to be about Georgia’s EU candidacy. As you are aware, we are only several weeks away from the European Commission making the final recommendation regarding Georgia’s EU candidacy. What are your expectations in this regard?
State Minister Anna Lührmann: Germany is a staunch supporter of the EU perspective of Georgia and as the Commission has outlined, the important thing for Georgia now is to work on the reform priorities until the very last moment. There is a lot to do, as Josep Borrell has also outlined in his visit here. I encourage everyone in Georgia, the government, but also the opposition, to really work on these priorities until the European Council in December.
Q: To delve into this a little bit more, do you feel that the government in Georgia advanced enough in implementing these twelve conditions for candidacy? And is your government back in Germany inclined to support the decision about granting Georgia candidacy as things stand now?
AL: Well, as the European Commission has outlined, also in the oral updates in spring, there is still a lot to do in terms of reforms here in Georgia. At the time of the oral update, only three of the twelve priorities were fulfilled, and the German government bases its assessment of the situation described in the reports of the Commission because the Commission is the guardian of the EU Treaties. The European Commission monitors and assesses the situation. Therefore, we wait for the Commission’s report and base our judgment in December on that.
The European Commission monitors and assesses the situation. Therefore, we wait for the Commission’s report and base our judgment in December on that.Anna Lührmann, State Minister for Europe of Germany
Q: Recently a Franco-German working group produced a report on the EU’s institutional reform. Are there any specific recommendations in this report that the Georgian government and Georgian public should be particularly mindful of?
AL: Well, this independent expert report mainly had the objective to inform the ongoing discussion on how to prepare the EU for enlargement. As you know, one of the Copenhagen Criteria is also the absorption capacity of the EU. If there is one issue that the group really put at the center of the report, that is the rule of law. The rule of law is the foundation of the EU, and it is important for Georgia, including the Government, the opposition, and the Georgian public, to bear this in mind. As Georgia embarks also onto the reform path, the EU gives high priority to the rule of law, to the independence of the judiciary. And again, I reiterate that I really hope that the reforms in Georgia will proceed enough and give the Commission the ground for a positive assessment.
The rule of law is the foundation of the EU, and it is important for Georgia, including the Government, the opposition, and the Georgian public, to bear this in mind.Anna Lührmann, State Minister for Europe of Germany
Q: There is one particular recommendation in this report which the Georgian media, including myself, paid particular attention to: it’s about the territorial integrity of the candidate countries. The report says: “for security and stability reasons, countries with lasting military conflicts cannot join the European Union. The same applies to countries with territorial conflict with another candidate country or an EU member country.” And then it adds that “The accession of countries with disputed territories with a country outside the European Union will have to include the clause that those territories will only be able to join the European Union if their inhabitants are willing to do so.”
How do you read this recommendation? In particular, how do you interpret the term “inhabitant”, especially in the context of the occupied territories of Georgia, namely Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, if we consider there are a significant number of people we are forcefully displaced from there?
AL: This was the report of an independent expert Commission, so it doesn’t represent the views of either the French or the German government. The German Government remains fully committed to the territorial integrity of Georgia, as it has been underlined at the recent NATO Summit, too. I also personally have to say that I had the chance to go on patrol with the EU Monitoring Mission close to the Administrative Boundary Line in Khurvaleti. For me, it was really impressive to see the concrete work that also the German policemen are doing there on the ground to make sure that the conflict doesn’t flare up, and in order to make sure that the situation for the population on the ground is as bearable as possible. And as I said, both Germany and the EU remain committed to supporting this very important work and also to the territorial integrity of Georgia.
Q: Let’s say such a clause is adopted by the European Union and, in case it becomes an official position of the Union, do you believe that this would give the Kremlin, the Russian Federation, a de facto veto power over the membership of Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova?
AL: It is really a hypothetical question. Germany, as well as the other EU members, as I said, remain committed to the territorial integrity [of Georgia]. We have outlined what needs to be done in order for Georgia to advance on the way to EU membership at the moment: it is to fulfill the twelve reform priorities that the European Commission has outlined. And I think here, a lot more work needs to be done, and that is what I would encourage everyone to focus on and to do at the moment.
Q: To move to a broader topic, that about the much commented “zeitenwende” in Germany’s political outlook. The war in Ukraine led to, we can say, a critical reevaluation of the foreign and defense policy positions of your country. My question is whether such a revaluation happened with regard to the 2008 Georgia-Russia war?
AL: That’s a question for historians. For me, the important thing is to look to the future now and looking to the future means that we have to make everything possible in our power to ensure a peaceful and democratic future for Georgia, and that future is in the EU. And the Chancellor’s “Zeitenwende” speech also means that Germany has stepped up its responsibility and engagement here in the region, and we are really staunchly supporting the EU perspective.
Civil.ge: Yes. So, we are not discussing now what could have been done differently, but we are rather focusing on the future to make sure that, for example, the same challenges do not repeat themselves again. I would like to ask, what would be your recommendation to the Georgian Government and the Georgian citizens during this critical period before the EU decision?
AL: It is a very exciting time because it is a critical juncture for the future of Georgia, but also for the future of the EU. I root for this country to make it into the EU and to move on the necessary reform path. I think also the young generation has really demonstrated that this is what they want. I am in Georgia for the first time, and I can say I feel the European spirit here everywhere.
So, for me, it is crystal clear that Georgia belongs to the EU family. But that really means that Georgia needs to do the necessary reforms, when it comes to the reforms and laws passed by the Parliament and the stand undertaken by the government, but also by the whole society, because, as Annalena Baerbock, our Foreign Minister, has said, we don’t admit governments into the EU, we admit countries into the EU.
So, countries with all the institutions, with opposition, with government. And, therefore, really, the whole society needs to stick together and work on the stream and on this perspective, and also find a way of compromising, of working together, of bridging over differences. That is because as the EU, we need to be sure that this EU commitment and perspective is not just something belonging to one government that might change after an election and then change back again. We need a steady commitment of the whole of society towards this perspective.
Q: Yes, and as you noted, the commitment to this perspective is already reflected in the actions of the Georgian public, and the polls also suggest the public is overwhelmingly in favor of the European future.
AL: And I am very happy to hear that!
Civil.ge: Madam State Minister, thank you very much for your time.