Georgian Government fails Country’s Historic EU Membership Candidacy Bid, What’s Next?
Today, the European Council announced the long-awaited conclusions on the EU Membership candidacy Status for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia – “The European Council decided to grant Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova the status of candidate countries; The European Council stands ready to grant Georgia candidate status once the priorities set out in the Commission's opinion on Georgia's application for membership have been resolved.”
The historic decision, that brought a breath of hope to war-torn Ukraine, much deserved recognition to the pro-European government of Moldova for its immense reform efforts, left the people of Georgia with a bittersweet feeling of gratitude for the formal acknowledgment of the country’s European Perspective, and at the same time, with the tremendous remorse for a missed chance to vigorously pursue EU Membership path.
“I am Georgian and therefore I am European”
When in 1999, Georgia’s late Prime Minister Zurab Jvania, made his famous statement “I am Georgian and therefore I am European”, thus outlined Georgia’s European Integration path for the decades to come, not in the wildest dreams, he could envisage that county’s own government would become the only obstacle to its EU Membership future.
Once a champion of the so-called EU Associated trio, the highest per capita contributor to the Euro-Atlantic Security for many years, Georgia, under the leadership of the Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ruling party, gradually turned into a state whose democratic credentials are being questioned and foreign policy priorities doubted.
On June 17, in the run-up to the European Council’s decision, the European Commission announced its decisive opinion on the Trio’s EU Membership aspirations, giving green light to granting candidacy status to the Ukraine and Moldova, but limiting Georgia to the European Perspective, with the prospects of the EU Membership Candidacy, once all defined priorities were to be met.
Although this decision crushed the hopes of many, the Georgian people reacted swiftly with a massive rally in Tbilisi, the Capital of Georgia, showing their unwavering support for the European Integration path and demanding accountability from the Georgian Government.
The Georgian Dream party continued to kill every potential of a positive outcome for Georgia
One would think, the European Commission’s decision would become a wake-up call for the Government of Georgia, to tirelessly knock on every possible European door to influence the political decision to be shortly made by the European Council, but instead, the leaders of the Georgian Dream party continued to kill every potential of a positive outcome for Georgia, by downplaying the European Commissions’ opinion and launching offensive rhetoric towards the EU officials and members of the European Parliament.
While one of the key demands of the European Commission for Georgia is to “… address the issue of political polarisation, through ensuring cooperation across political parties in the spirit of the April 19 agreement”, the leaders of the ruling party opened a new front against opposition party representatives. Prime Minister Garibashvili, in his parliamentary address openly called opposition MPs “traitors and “maniacs”. Georgian Dream Party Leader, Irakli Garibashvili launched a smear campaign against civil society leaders, who have been instrumental in shaping the country’s integration path.
Since Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia officially submitted their applications for the EU Membership Candidacy Status, on February 28th, and March 3rd, 2022 respectively, members of the different opposition parties tirelessly advocated for Georgia’s EU bid. Thanks to the leadership and initiative of the five liberal, member parties (Free Democrats, Republicans, Strategy Aghmashenebli, Girchi More Freedom, and Lelo) of the ALDE, the first European resolution to support granting EU Membership Candidacy Status to Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova, was updated at the ALDE Congress on 4th June. Members of other opposition parties worked to solicit support from their respective European counterparts and Georgian civil society groups tirelessly advocated for Georgia’s candidacy status. Different groups of Georgia society clearly showed the world that the Georgian Dream didn’t represent its country and Georgian people.
The most important question, one should ask now, is whether the decision taken on Georgia supports or hinders the ultimate desire of our friends and partners to see prosperous Georgia in the European family in the years to come.
“The future of these countries and their citizens lies within the European Union”
European Union stated that the “future of these countries and their citizens lies within the European Union”, though it chose a different strategy in supporting respective countries to achieve the desired goal. While alongside Georgia, both Ukraine and Moldova were also given priorities to fulfill, some of which tend to be similar in nature, Georgia was singled out to first deliver on reforms and then receive candidacy status.
One would argue, that while the ruling party, the Georgian Dream is in power, Georgia stands small to no chance for those priorities to be fulfilled. Moreover, the single most important priority defined by the European Commission is to “ implement the commitment to “de-oligarchisation” by eliminating the excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political, and public life ”, and once its met, the Georgian Dream will no longer remain in power, thus obstacles this group creates towards democratization of the country will be overcome.
For many years, opposition and civil society groups continue to fight against Bidzina Ivanishvili’s informal rule. The majority of the Georgian people understand this fight is the only path towards democratization of the country and without the consolidation, that is needed to win this existential fight, Georgia moves faster toward Russia rather than towards Europe. Georgian people consider the European Integration path, not as an end state but means to strengthen its democratic institutions, build resilience against Putin’s Kremlin’s imperialistic objectives and become a full-fledged member of the democratic community.
Granting candidacy status to Georgia, with pre-conditions, could have given its people additional and better leverage together with the European partners to push the ruling party to abide by basic democratic principles. If priorities defined by European Commission are not fulfilled by the end of the year, as outlined in the Commission opinion and later referred to by the European Council in its decision, Georgia will again be denied candidacy status, which will deepen the gap on the integration path.
Years later, not granting Georgia NATO Membership Action Plan at the NATO Bucharest Summit in 2008, has been acknowledged by many as a grave mistake. Hopefully, down the road, the decision not to grant Georgia EU candidacy status will not bear the same fate.
Georgia has been fighting for its freedom, independence, and European future, for centuries now. On this road, many mistakes were made but equally many lessons were learned. Most importantly, the Georgian people learned never to give up.
Today, another massive rally will take place in Tbilisi as Georgian people are determined to fight for their European future till the end.
Ms. Tamar Kekenadze is the Head of Advanced Research and Policy Development Institute, at British University in Georgia. At the same time, she is a Chairperson of the opposition party Free Democrats. Before joining the party in February 2015, she served as a Head of the Civilian Office of the Ministry of Defense of Georgia at Georgian Mission to NATO. Prior, she served as a Head of the Euro-Atlantic Integration Division at the Ministry of Defense of Georgia. Previously, Ms. Kekenadze worked for five years in civil society organizations on national and international levels. Since 2019 she has been Chairperson of the CAMCA Network, an organization that unites professionals working toward the success of the 10 countries of Central Asia, Mongolia, the Caucasus, and Afghanistan. In 2008, she was awarded the “Young European of the Year” Prize for outstanding commitment to fostering international understanding and the union of Europe. In 2009, she was privileged as a non-EU member country representative to have a stage in the Cabinet of the President of the European Parliament. In 2007-2008, Ms. Kekenadze was an elected board member of the European Youth Forum (Brussels). Ms. Kekenadze is Rumsfeld Fellowship and Stanford Leadership Academy Program, fellow. She is a member of the network “Alliance of Her” (ALDE Party). She holds a BA in Computer Systems and Networks (2003), a MA in Computer Engineering, Information Science and Management Systems (2006), and currently, she is a Ph.D. Student in Economics, all from Georgian Technical University.