Georgia and the EU: don’t give up hope

Status: 06/23/2022 2:56 p.m

The overwhelming majority of Georgians want to join the EU – many are disappointed that their country is still not a candidate for membership. But a catalog of demands from the EU gives many hope.

By Martha Wilczynski, ARD studio Moscow, currently Tbilisi

More than 20,000 people came to the center of the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Monday evening. They wanted to send a clear signal: “We are Europe”.

That’s what the posters said. And from the stage set up in front of the parliament building, it rang out: “The Georgian people worked out the ‘European perspective’ a long time ago and now deserve to be recognized as a candidate for accession to the European Union.” Then they sang together, with thousands of voices, “Ode to Joy”, the European anthem.

Already felt in the EU

A few days later there is no sign of large-scale rallies on Rustaveli Boulevard. People go about their everyday lives in a relaxed manner, but nothing has changed in their attitude.

She is very disappointed, says the pensioner Ada in passing, that Georgia has not received a recommendation from the European Commission for the status of a candidate country: “For me, Europe means only the best – economic stability and freedom.”

According to recent surveys, more than 80 percent of Georgians are in favor of EU accession. If you walk through the streets of the capital Tbilisi, it even seems as if the Caucasus country is already part of the European family: EU flags fly as a matter of course in front of the parliament and other official buildings, as well as the seat of the President, Salome Zurabishvili.

She, too, had hoped that Georgia, which had submitted its application for membership like Ukraine and Moldova in the spring shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, would be decided in the same way as the other two, especially since her country was once considered a “pioneer ” was valid: “At the same time it is clear that it was the many steps that were taken or rather not taken in the past few years that determined this complex position.”

More regression than progress?

A clear criticism of the ruling party “Georgian Dream”, which the opposition and parts of civil society accuse of having slowed down the European integration process.

What’s more, Georgia has made considerable democratic steps backwards in recent years. Among other things, because a long-overdue judicial reform has not materialized and the co-founder of “Georgian Dream”, the billionaire and former Prime Minister Bisdzina Ivanishvili, still exerts influence on political decision-making processes.

Giorgi Khelashwili, member of parliament for the ruling party and deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, is familiar with these allegations and counters them:

On the part of the Georgian government, we are ready to go down this path. We have included both EU and NATO membership as goals in our constitution. During our reign, the Association Agreement with the EU was also signed, visa freedom was introduced for our citizens and we have become part of a free trade zone that is slowly but steadily reforming our domestic market as well.

Twelve tasks for the country

In addition to this expertise, the deputy explains, there is also a willingness to roll up one’s sleeves and face the challenges. The European Commission formulated a total of twelve points that Georgia must work on by the end of the year in order to also receive a recommendation for the status of an accession candidate.

In addition to strengthening the independence of the judiciary, fighting corruption and organized crime and involving civil society more closely in political decision-making processes, the top priority is overcoming political polarization within the country.

A task that Member of Parliament Khelashwili describes as enormous but doable. But both sides would have to approach each other for this.

In most cases, the ruling party and the opposition are irreconcilable. There is hardly any constructive debate. A parliamentary peace mediated by the head of the Council of Europe, Charles Michel, did not last.

opportunity and promise

President Zurabishvili also demands that the tone of Georgian politics urgently needs to change in order to be able to look forward together at all.

In the requirements now being made by the EU, she sees not only a task for her country to work on itself domestically, but also sees the expected response from Brussels as a promise:

We’re getting something we’ve hoped for for many, many years – that’s recognition of membership prospects. With all the previous steps, from the neighborhood to the Eastern Partnership and the association, the EU always said: Don’t take this as a promise of membership. This is a different way. And that’s the path we’re taking now – it’s very important.

Although it is actually clear what the European heads of state and government will decide in the next few days, the outcome of the Brussels summit in Tbilisi is being eagerly awaited. Those who were on the streets on Monday evening could then go out again.

Because for Georgia, as all sides emphasize, the aspired EU membership is about much more than purely economic and political goals – it’s about identity. And a clear commitment to Europe.

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