With ties to Russia, could Georgia make it through to EU?
Experts' forecast on Caliber.Az
INTERVIEWS 17 March 2023 - 15:04
Brussels' decision to give Georgia the status of an EU candidate or not depends on whether the republic fulfills the 12 conditions put forward earlier, said the managing director of the EU External Action Service, Michael Siebert, who arrived in Tbilisi.
"Everything can still happen. December or even October, when the European Commission will present the package, is still some time away," Siebert said.
He noted that the reforms in Georgia must be formalised "on paper" as well as implemented in practice. This will be the main criterion for whether the Georgian government has coped with the conditions set before it. Siebert added that opposition and non-profit organisations, called civil society, should also be involved in the process.
In June 2022, the EU put forward a list of 12 conditions to be met by the Georgian authorities in order to gain EU candidate status. For this, the authorities need to carry out a number of liberal reforms, de-oligarchisation, and find a way to come to terms with the opposition, which often does not even recognise the results of elections.
The Georgian authorities are indeed doing something to meet the conditions. For example, two draft laws, on de-oligarchisation and on common courts, are now pending before the Venice Commission of the CoE and the OSCE/ODIHR.
However, the question inevitably arises as to whether this is all an imitation. Can we say that the current government is really aiming at obtaining candidate status for Georgia and, in the long term, membership in the EU? Various recent events (including the recent clashes in front of the Parliament) suggest that the ruling Georgian Dream party is making various efforts to postpone such a moment. At least, this is how it looks from the outside.
Prominent Georgian experts shared their thoughts on the possibility of Georgia's European integration with Caliber.Az.
Georgian public figure and human rights activist Samira Bayramova said that Georgia has long been among the countries that have declared their intention to become part of the EU.
"And I want to note that from the very beginning of the integration process, it was Georgia that had the greatest potential for this in terms of reforms implemented, readiness of legislation, and quality of democratic norms. But unfortunately our country lost that leadership and did not manage to use that chance," the expert said.
As for today's situation, the government claims to have prepared a practical plan for implementing the EU's 12 conditions and is trying to implement certain reforms, Bayramova said.
"However, life shows that all this is only on paper, nothing of the kind is happening in practice. On the contrary, we see actions by the country's leadership aimed at alienating the prospect of accession to the EU - recall the recent situation with the draft law on foreign agents. Only because of the public's strong opposition, which resulted in many thousands of protests, did the ruling forces refuse to pass the law, which was unequivocally assessed negatively by Brussels.
We ourselves, as ordinary citizens, are almost constantly witnessing the various steps taken by the ruling Georgian Dream party, government and parliamentary majority aimed at isolating the country as much as possible from all sorts of pan-European events, initiatives, etc. And this is gradually making itself felt within the country. For example, in the judicial system. It is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens to seek justice through the courts," the human rights activist said.
According to her, the authorities do not want to pass the de-oligarchisation law. Judicial reform has still not been implemented.
"In addition, there are several political forces in the country that are openly hostile to the EU, to everything Western, who advocate normalisation of relations with the Russian Federation, which continues to occupy two regions of Georgia - Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia. And they even receive official registration, such as the Alt-Info party, which the other day held a rally in front of the parliament and burned the flag of the European Union that was posted there. Of course, registration of such a party is already a violation of the law.
Today the civil society of Georgia demands that the government must present to the society an open and transparent plan of action in order to fulfill the conditions set by the EU. The public sector believes that now the country has another chance to become an EU candidate and everything must be done in order not to miss it a second time," Samira Bayramova concluded.
Conflictologist, Doctor of Sciences in International Relations, Professor of Georgian Technical University Amiran Khevtsuriani pointed out, in turn, that scepticism towards the ruling team, both inside and outside the country, is increasing over time.
"It seems that they are not particularly interested in the implementation of the 12 points, at the same time the tension with our Western partners is increasing, and we hear more and more criticism from Brussels and Washington, and this may mean that Georgia risks not getting the desired status from the European Union," said the Professor.
In parallel with these negative processes, the country's economic dependence on Russia is increasing, he said.
"In fact, the Russian Federation has already become our main trading partner, which of course does not bode well for our future. Any association with Russia is fraught with significant risks, and we have experienced this many times in our own backyard. Added to this are recent praises of Moscow officials towards Georgian authorities, which, of course, are very inconvenient for official Tbilisi at least and strongly affect its international image. But at the same time, we should not forget about the mood of the majority of the society, which, as recent events have shown, will not allow anyone to harm or at least revise the foreign policy course of the country.
In such circumstances, until the end of the year, the Georgian government will have to walk on a knife edge - it is clear that it will be under the strongest pressure from both the society and its Western partners," Dr. Khevtsuriani summed up.
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