November 8 will go down as a historic day in the history of Georgia. 32 years after gaining independence, the EU Commission recommended that the country be granted candidate status. According to experts and many politicians, it recognized the unique aspirations of the Georgian people, who are seen in Brussels as the main drivers of Georgia’s EU prospects, while the government of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili still has a long way to go in terms of reforms.
The author: Nico Butylin is a German journalist from Berliner Zeitung working with Civil.ge in the framework of the IJP Scholarship
Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has changed the geopolitics of Europe and had a profound impact on German foreign policy. The turning point was the surprise speech by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to the Bundestag in February 2022. In it, he announced that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was a turning point (Zeitenwende) for Europe and announced a radical shift in German policy as a result. This includes a shift in Germany’s position on the European integration of the countries of the Black Sea region, including Georgia.
Germany, the most populous country in the European Union, used to have unforthcoming attitude towards Georgia’s accession to the EU. Former Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), in office for more than 16 years, was seen as an opponent of Georgia’s EU perspective (reportedly lukewarm relations with former President Saakashvili did not help either), while current Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) opposed a “greater Europe” that included Georgia.
At his bilateral meeting with PM Garibashvili in June this year, Chancellor Scholz assured the Georgians of continued support on the Euro-Atlantic path: but with the call to take further reform steps in areas such as media freedom, rule of law, minority rights or “deoligarchization”. In the other parties in the German Bundestag, opinions on Georgia as an EU candidate vary. But along which lines do the parties in Germany argue? Civil.ge asked the members of parliament who are represent the German-South Caucasian Parliamentary Group.
“Traffic light coalition” in favor
The governing Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals welcome Ursula von der Leyen’s recommendation to grant Georgia EU candidate status. “There has long been a stable pro-European attitude among the Georgian population, which supports the accession process, even if not all the expectations associated with it can be fulfilled immediately,” writes Martin Gerster of the SPD.
According to Gerster, it should be recognized that Georgia has already taken numerous reform steps, although further progress in meeting the reform priorities and more intensive cooperation with the opposition and civil society are still necessary. For the SPD, “combating disinformation and foreign information manipulation, ensuring free and fair elections, completing and implementing judicial reform, improving the protection of human rights, guaranteeing freedom of assembly and expression as well as consultation and cooperation with civil society” are essential for Georgia’s further EU process.
The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag, Michael Roth (SPD), is more reserved when it comes to the Georgian candidate status. “The Georgian government has done too little to deserve the candidate status – it has distanced itself from the EU and its values”, he said. On his X-Account he commented that “the recommendation to grant Georgia the candidate status should therefore above all be understood as a gift to the overwhelmingly pro-EU civil society and the Georgian population.”
The Greens are also considered to be in favor of Georgia’s candidate status.
One of its most prominent representatives, the German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that “the place of the Georgian people is in Europe” when she was with a visit to Tbilisi at the end of March, 2023. Her messages to the Georgian nation during the visit were strong and clear, were met with extraordinary enthusiasm by ordinary Georgians, who had not previously been “spoilt” by such positive signals from Berlin.
“It is clear to us that Georgia’s future also lies in the EU. We expect the government to implement the necessary reforms for the opening of EU accession talks,” writes Robin Wagener at the request of Civil.ge.
“It is clear to us that Georgia’s future also lies in the EU. We expect the government to implement the necessary reforms for the opening of EU accession talks,” writes Robin Wagener at the request of Civil.ge. Moreover, Germany’s State Minister for Europe and Climate, Anna Lührmann, who was in Georgia in October this year, stated in an interview with Civil.ge, that Georgia “clearly belongs to the EU family”.
The Liberals did not respond to a request for comment.
Opposition is divided
The largest opposition party in the Bundestag, the CDU, also welcomes the fact that Georgia has been granted EU candidate status. “We believe that the granting of candidate status to Georgia is also in the interests of the EU and must therefore be pursued further,” writes Johann Wadephul from the Conservatives. However, he insists that the process must respect the legal framework necessary for accession to the European Union.
“The Georgian government in particular still has to make great efforts to fulfil these requirements. But I am convinced that the granting of candidate status will ensure that we can accelerate the reform process in Georgia,” said the Chairman of the German-South Caucasus Parliamentary Group. “Above all, the country’s population also deserves this signal, because they are making great efforts and there is a clear will to become a member of the European community of values,” Wadephul concludes.
The other two opposition parties are critical of Georgia’s accession to the EU. The AfD parliamentary group, for example, which is considered partly far right, rejects the EU candidate status for Georgia. Instead, they are in favor of a privileged partnership with Georgia. “In the case of Georgia, there are several territorial conflicts (South Ossetia, Abkhazia), which would lead to an obligation to provide assistance in the event of armed conflict if Georgia were to join the EU,” argues Steffen Kotré from the AfD.
The far-right party is already critical of the current composition of the EU. “If Europe is to play a role in the emerging multipolar world, it will be much better able to do so on the basis of economic cooperation between sovereign states,” says the AfD.
The days of the Left Party in the Bundestag are numbered following the resignation of several MPs. By the beginning of December, the party will be a small faction in the Bundestag, and is likely to split into two even smaller left-wing camps. Nevertheless, Civil.ge asked Gökay Akbulut, a member of the Left Party, who could only speak for herself and not on behalf of the party.
“I am critical of the EU Commission’s recommendation to grant Georgia EU candidate status,” said Akbulut. According to reports from human rights organizations, the human rights situation in Georgia remains of particular cause for concern. “Citizens critical of the government are being attacked and intimidated without the responsible authorities effectively preventing such attacks. The judiciary is under the influence of the government. Political opponents and critical media are persecuted with politically motivated jurisprudence,” writes the politician with Kurdish-Alevite roots.
“According to the Lesbian and Gay Association, the Georgian state is also unwilling or unable to protect queer people. Anti-queer hatred is even systematically fueled by large parts of the government. Moreover, oligarchic structures hinder further democratization, which is why Georgia should not be granted EU candidate status,” Akbulut concludes.