After many years of rapprochement with Georgia, the EU leadership has made a dramatic reversal. On the eve of the meeting of the EU-Georgia Association Council scheduled for September 6, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, questioned the granting of Tbilisi the status of an EU candidate member, which Ukraine and Moldova received in June. Brussels believes that during the reign of the Georgian Dream party, the country almost turned off the path of democracy and reforms. The European Union prefers not to speak loudly about the main claim against Georgia. In fact, the country has turned from a leader in the process of European integration in the post-Soviet space into its outsider due to its cautious position on the Ukrainian crisis and its refusal to impose sanctions against Russia.
Released late last week, the EU’s annual report on Georgia’s implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU, signed in 2014 and finally entered into force two years later, revealed growing dissatisfaction in Brussels with Georgia’s “European project”. From the main hope that arose after the “Rose Revolution” of November 2003, in which the West saw a sign of coming changes and color revolutions in the post-Soviet space, the country is turning into a major disappointment for the West.
A report by the EU Foreign Service, published on the agency’s website, states that in 2021 “problems threatened to undermine the country’s democratic foundations, and there were setbacks regarding the rule of law.” “We are seeing setbacks in key areas of the rule of law, governance and human rights. As Georgia enters a new phase of relations with the EU with its European perspective, it must take a responsible and conscientious approach that is consistent with the stated goals and aspirations of its citizens,” explained Josep Borrell, head of European diplomacy, on Friday.
Ahead of the September 6 EU-Georgia Association Council meeting to consider further engagement, EU Neighborhood and Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Warhel indicated that Georgia’s “commitment to democratic consolidation, judicial reforms, strengthening the rule of law, as well as combating corruption and organized crime.”
Josep Borrell’s warning became a new wake-up call for the supporters of Georgia’s European choice. Since the start of the Russian operation in Ukraine, these calls have become more frequent for Tbilisi. So, at their summit on June 23, the heads of state and government of the European Union approved the granting of the status of candidates for EU membership only to Ukraine and Moldova – Georgia was not among them. Without completely closing the door of the common European house for Tbilisi, the summit participants made it clear that the status of a candidate would still have to be earned – to fulfill a number of conditions that, according to the EU, Kyiv and Chisinau have already fulfilled.
It should be reminded that in June the European Commission put forward a list of 12 demands to Georgia for further advancement along the path of European integration. Such extensive homework makes it simply unrealistic for Tbilisi to complete it, and hence, to obtain the status of a candidate in the foreseeable future.
In addition, the fate of the Association Agreement with the EU signed in 2014, which entered into force two years later, is also becoming uncertain. On the basis of this agreement, Tbilisi received a visa-free regime with the Schengen countries for short-term trips to Europe.
According to Georgian experts, dissatisfaction with the ruling Georgian Dream party and the government of Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili is due to several reasons, and the main ones are not failures in the implementation of democratic reforms. In an interview with Kommersant, political scientist Gela Vasadze listed these reasons. According to him, this is primarily a lack of solidarity with Ukraine, an unwillingness to impose so-called national sanctions against Russia in addition to European and American sanctions, to which Georgia has joined.
The administration of President Zelensky, including members of his inner circle, constantly reproach Georgian colleagues for secretly violating the embargo on the supply of dual-use goods and other goods through Georgian territory, the shortage of which is already felt in the Russian Federation due to sanctions.
In addition, despite the persistent demands of the opposition, the Georgian Dream government refuses to introduce a visa regime with Russia, prohibit Russians from buying apartments in Georgia and transferring business to Georgia.
Another painful topic is the release from prison of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and the founder of the opposition TV channel Mtavari Arkhi Nika Gvaramia. His verdict is seen as a sign that the “party of power” is still in control of the judiciary.
Finally, the informal leadership of the founder of the Georgian Dream, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who was recently condemned by the European Parliament, demanding that the European Commission impose sanctions against the billionaire, remains a stumbling block.
Recently, Mr. Ivanishvili publicly accused the Swiss bank Credit Suisse of blocking his accounts. And the deputies, close to the billionaire, attacked the US and EU ambassadors with accusations, who allegedly “demanded Ivanishvili to go to war with Russia”, using a Swiss bank as an instrument of pressure on him.
As for the release of the two main opponents of the Georgian authorities – Mikheil Saakashvili and Nika Gvaramia, then, as David Avalishvili, an expert from the Nation.ge news agency, explained to Kommersant, such a step would be perceived by the supporters of the Georgian Dream as a manifestation of extreme weakness and compliance of the authorities. “At the same time, the release of these politicians will not at all weaken the pressure of the opposition forces, but, on the contrary, will inspire them to mass actions from September demanding the resignation of the government and holding new elections,” David Avalishvili told Kommersant.
For their part, despite tough statements coming from Brussels, the leaders of Georgia’s ruling party pretend that nothing threatens Tbilisi’s European choice. The Chairman of the GM Irakli Kobakhidze considers the statements of Josep Borrell and Oliver Varhela, as well as the report of the EU Diplomatic Service, “recognition of Georgia’s achievements on the path to the EU.”
At the same time, there are no signs that the government of Irakli Garibashvili will refuse the influx of Russian tourists, Russian businesses and Russian residents into the country, which provided double-digit growth for the Georgian economy after the start of the military operation in Ukraine.