“Perspective” instead of candidate status is an unpleasant outcome of the EU summit for Georgia

“Perspective” instead of candidate status is an unpleasant outcome of the EU summit for Georgia

Perspective instead of candidate status is an unpleasant outcome of the EU summit for Georgia

Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili (center) takes part in a rally in support of Georgia's aspirations to join the EU. Tbilisi, June 16, 2022.   «Perspective» instead of candidate status – an unpleasant outcome of the EU summit for Georgia

Why did Tbilisi's European path suddenly turn out to be thorny and is there a chance to change the situation?

Georgia applied for EU candidate status on March 3, the same day as Moldova and just a few days after Ukraine. Synchronized start, however, did not lead to the same finish – according to the decision of the European Commission, Georgia was one step behind. The country was offered the prospect of membership, but with the status of a candidate they decided to wait.

“There were problems with the elections. There were problems with freedom of speech, with corruption, problems related to the influence of the oligarchs in Georgia and one of them in particular. There have been attacks on members of the LGBT community – about a year ago there was a violent attack that the government did not prevent and did not take real steps to bring those responsible to justice. Thus, we are talking about a whole range of problems,” said Kenneth Yalowitz, an employee of the Woodrow Wilson Center and former US Ambassador to Georgia, in an interview with Voice of America.

There are 12 points in total in the EU's explanation – what Tbilisi lacked. The very first is political polarization. This remark is not new: an acute crisis in the country began after the 2020 parliamentary elections. Their winner was the ruling party “Georgian Dream”, however, the opposition “United National Movement” announced massive falsifications and did not recognize the results. Attempts to build bridges between the parties were made at the highest level. In April last year, through the mediation of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, a compromise was agreed on overcoming the crisis. But a few months later, the proposal was rejected by the ruling party. Relations with the EU deteriorated even more after the arrest of former President Mikhail Saakashvili. The statement of the European Commission from last week is an unambiguous signal – political unity is expected from Tbilisi.

“The 12 points proposed by Georgia are quite specific. And I think that now the time has really come for the political unification of Georgia, – said the ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius in an interview with Voice of America., – They must realize that there are priorities for the nation and for the state. And despite the contradictions, they need to unite and focus on important work.”

Not so long ago, Georgia was considered a leader in the region in terms of the pace of reforms and democratic transformations. And even now, for example, in the Transparency International rating, which measures the level of corruption, Georgia's performance is almost twice as good as that of Moldova and Ukraine. The EU does not leave these successes out of the equation and nevertheless takes a step forward by offering the prospect of membership. However, experts say, the vector of the country's movement sometimes plays a decisive role.

“If you look at three countries – Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia – you can say that neither in Ukraine nor in Moldova have we seen setbacks on key democratic issues. While we have witnessed a significant pullback in Georgia. And even worse in terms of Georgia's prospects for joining Europe, we have seen high-ranking Georgian officials criticize Europeans and European institutions that point Georgia to deviations from the democratic path,” says Director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council John Herbst (John Herbst).

Russian propaganda is likely to use the decision of the Brussels summit to once again try to undermine Tbilisi's European aspirations, experts say. However, these attempts are doomed to failure in a country where 20 percent of the territory has been under Russian occupation for 14 years.

“They always claim that NATO and the EU will never accept Georgia and that Georgia's home is to become part of the Eurasian Economic Union and get closer to Russia. I'm sure they will step up this propaganda. But the most powerful response to the Russians came a day or two after the status decision, when some 60,000 Georgians came out in mass protest against the Georgian Dream government and for accelerated integration into Europe. All opinion polls show that no matter how much Russians are engaged in propaganda and dissemination of false information, the vast majority of Georgians are in favor of being part of the European Union,” notes Yalovitz.

Although many in Georgia do not hide their disappointment with the EU's decision, experts note that the current situation could be an opportunity for the country. Refusal to obtain candidate status is not at all a slowdown in the integration process. After all, how quickly the country will be able to fulfill the twelve points depends only on Tbilisi and on the readiness of politicians to negotiate real compromises.