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Deeper Look

Georgia’s Progress toward EU Candidate Status: the European Commission’s Assessment

Following Georgia’s application for EU membership in March 2022, the European Commission issued an opinion outlining 12 priorities for the country to address in its accession process. These priorities cover areas such as democracy, rule of law, judicial reform and fundamental rights.

Three of these 12 priorities are marked as completed in the European Commission’s 2023 Communication on the EU Enlargement Policy Report, which became the basis for the November 8 recommendation of the Commission that Georgia be granted candidate status. The implemented priorities include the consolidation of efforts to promote gender equality and combat violence against women; the adoption of legislation requiring Georgian courts to actively take into account judgments of the European Court of Human Rights; and the transparent and independent nomination process for the appointment of a new public defender (Ombudsperson).

EU member states must still sign off on the recommendation – a decision will be made in December – but the mood in Georgia is already celebratory. To make further progress Georgia still has to fulfill the original outstanding key conditions plus two new conditions relating to the fight against disinformation, including the anti-EU disinformation and foreign information manipulation and interference against the EU’s values and Georgia’s alignment with EU foreign policy (“Georgia’s alignment with CFSP remains low and the country is expected to reverse this trend,” notes the Communication).

Noting that that the Commission welcomes the reform efforts undertaken by Georgia in line with the country’s constitution which envisages its integration into the EU as a priority and overviewing steps taken towards the implementation of the EU 12 priorities since 2022, “the Commission recommends that the Council grants Georgia the status of a candidate country on the understanding that the following steps are taken”:

  • Fight disinformation and foreign information manipulation and interference against the EU and its values.
  • Improve Georgia’s alignment with the EU common foreign and security policy.
  • Further address the issue of political polarization, including through more inclusive legislative work with opposition parties in Parliament, notably on legislation related to Georgia’s European integration.
  • Ensure a free, fair and competitive electoral process, notably in 2024, and fully address OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. Finalize electoral reforms, including ensuring adequate representation of the electorate, well in advance of election day.
  • Further improve the implementation of parliamentary oversight notably of the security services. Ensure institutional independence and impartiality of key institutions, notably the Election Administration, the National Bank, and the Communications Commission.
  • Complete and implement a holistic and effective judicial reform, including  comprehensive reform of the High Council of Justice and the Prosecutor’s Office, fully implementing Venice Commission recommendations and following a transparent and inclusive process.
  • Further address the effectiveness and ensure the institutional independence and impartiality of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Special Investigative Service and the Personal Data Protection Service. Address Venice Commission recommendations related to these bodies, in an inclusive process. Establish a strong track record in investigating -corruption and organized crime cases.
  • Improve the current action plan to implement a multi-sectorial, systemic approach to de-oligarchization, in line with Venice Commission recommendations and following a transparent and inclusive process involving opposition parties and civil society.
  • Improve the protection of human rights including by implementing an ambitious human rights strategy and ensuring freedom of assembly and expression. Launch impartial, effective and timely investigations in cases of threats against safety of vulnerable groups, media professionals and civil society activists, and bring organizers and perpetrators of violence to justice. Consult and engage with civil society, allowing for their meaningful involvement in legislative and policymaking processes and ensure they can operate freely.

Some of the items from the original 12 conditions list are grouped together by the European Commission in the new list, in addition to the new conditions

The European Commission’s also reported on the progress by Georgia on the reform priorities in the European Commission Staff Working Document- Georgia 2023 Report accompanying the EC Communication document (as well as in its Key Findings Report on Georgia.) The results present a mixed picture of the country’s progress, in its pursuit of EU integration.

Political criteria: According to the EC, Georgia’s overall legislative framework, institutional set-up and vibrant civil society provide some preparation for further democratic and rule of law reforms.  However, this progress is hampered by persistent political tensions and deep polarization, which make it difficult to reach consensus on critical national issues. Cross-party conflict between the ruling majority and the opposition, coupled with limited civil society engagement, has disrupted decision-making and reform implementation.

Civil Society: Georgia’s civil society is vibrant and enjoys freedom. However, a controversial draft law in March 2023 aimed at registering “agents of foreign influence” created mistrust. The bill, which was eventually withdrawn after large protests in Tbilisi and strong international reaction, sowed distrust of the government among civil society and triggered a boycott of consultations on key reforms. This has continued since the law was withdrawn.

Public administration: Georgia is moderately prepared for public administration reform. According to the EC, the legal and procedural basis for evidence-based policy making needs to be enforced. Continued efforts are needed to ensure a stable, accountable and transparent civil service.

Judicial system: While some progress has been made in the judicial system, key recommendations of the Venice Commission regarding comprehensive reform of the High Council of Justice and the binding nature of Supreme Court decisions have yet to be addressed and reforms are needed to ensure independence, accountability and impartiality.

Fight against corruption: The EC acknowledges that Georgia has made some progress in the fight against corruption and has a certain level of preparedness. However, it underlines that further measures are needed to de-oligarchize, such as establishing a track record of investigation, prosecution, adjudication and final conviction of corruption cases, in particular at high level, and in particular to address the challenge of large vested interests and their influence in both the political, judicial and economic spheres.

Organized crime: Progress has been made, but outstanding recommendations from the Council of Europe’s Moneyval need to be addressed.

Fundamental rights: Challenges remain in areas such as discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, independence of the judiciary, and national strategies against discrimination and hate.

Freedom of expression: The media landscape is diverse but polarized and influenced by business and political interests, compromising media independence. Media professionals face intimidation and attacks during demonstrations. Legal proceedings against opposition media owners discourage critical reporting. The exercise of the right to freedom of assembly remains problematic, as demonstrated by the violent attacks at Tbilisi Pride. Concerns were raised about hasty amendments to the Law on Assemblies, which were vetoed by the President.

Gender equality: Georgia has advanced legislation on gender equality and protection against gender-based violence, but should align the legal definition of rape with international conventions.

Migration and asylum: Georgia’s migration legislation is partially in line with EU standards, with challenges related to the influx of migrants.

Economic Criteria: Georgia is moderately prepared to establish a functioning market economy.

Public procurement: Progress has been made on public procurement, but further alignment with EU standards is needed. Improvements are needed in the area of statistics.

In the area of good neighborly relations and regional cooperation, Georgia is committed to improving bilateral relations with candidate countries, potential candidate countries and neighboring EU member states.

According to the EC, Georgia is making progress in aligning with the EU acquis in several areas, notably the internal market. However, progress is limited in some areas, such as free movement of goods and competition policy. There is a mix of levels of preparation in different clusters, ranging from moderate to early stages of preparation.

In the area of external relations, limited progress was made on foreign, security and defense policy. In line with its long-standing policy, Georgia did not align with the EU’s restrictive measures (sanctions) regarding Russia, including airspace closure. Georgia is expected to considerably increase its alignment rate with EU statements and Council decisions under the CFSP. Georgia has shown active engagement to prevent its territory and registered entities from being used to evade sanctions, in particular in the financial sector.

The table below is a schematic comparative picture for our readers of the country’s readiness rating by chapter. EC uses four levels of preparedness from least to best prepared: early stage of preparation (5 chapters in Georgia’s case), some level of preparation (17 chapters), moderately well prepared (10 chapters), good level of preparation (none).

According to this snapshot since the last EC report of February 2023, Georgia improved its marking in two areas, moving a step higher, namely in Chapter 16: Taxation and in Chapter Regional policy (to “moderately prepared) and coordination of structural instruments (to “some level of preparation.)

ClusterCHAPTERS2022 Preparation level2023 Preparation level
The Fundamentals Chapter 24: Justice, freedom and securitysome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 5: Public procurementsome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 18: Statisticssome level of preparationsome level of preparation

Chapter 32: Financial control
some level of preparationsome level of preparation
Internal MarketChapter 1: Free movement of goodssome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 2: Free movement of workersearly stage of preparationearly stage of preparation
Chapter 3: Right of establishment and freedom to provide servicesmoderately preparedmoderately prepared
Chapter 4: Free movement of capitalmoderately preparedmoderately prepared
Chapter 6: Company lawsome level of preparationsome level of preparation

Chapter 7: Intellectual property law
some level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 8: Competition policyearly stage of preparationearly stage of preparation
Chapter 9: Financial servicessome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 28: Consumer and health protectionsome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Competitiveness and inclusive growthChapter 10: Digital transformation and mediasome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 16: Taxationsome level of preparationmoderately prepared
Chapter 17: Economic and monetary policymoderately preparedmoderately prepared
Chapter 19: Social policy and employmentsome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 20: Enterprise and industrial policymoderately preparedmoderately prepared
Chapter 25: Science and researchmoderately preparedmoderately prepared
Chapter 26: Education and culturemoderately preparedmoderately prepared
Chapter 29: Customs unionmoderately preparedmoderately prepared
Green Agenda and sustainable connectivityChapter 14: Transportsome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 15: Energysome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 21: Trans-European networkssome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 27: Environment and climate changeearly stage of preparationearly stage of preparation
Resources, agriculture and cohesionChapter 11: Agriculture and rural developmentearly stage of preparationearly stage of preparation
Chapter 12: Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policysome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 13: Fisheriessome level of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 22: Regional policy and coordination of structural instrumentsearly stage of preparationsome level of preparation
Chapter 33: Financial and budgetary provisionsearly stage of preparationearly stage of preparation
External RelationsChapter 30: External relationsmoderately preparedmoderately prepared
Chapter 31: Foreign, security and defense policymoderately preparedmoderately prepared
Source: European Commission Staff Working Document- Georgia 2023 Report

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