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Georgia’s European Take

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Friday, March 11, 2022
The war waged by Russia in Ukraine has accelerated and at the same time overshadowed an important event for Georgia — the application for membership in the European Union. It is clear to everyone that this statement will not bring results anytime soon, but it is important for Georgia's pro-Western forces in terms of maintaining the country's European perspective. This, first of all, implies the implementation of the reforms that the European Union demanded from Georgia.

In May 2021, the three Eastern Partnership countries (Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova), which have signed Association Agreements with the EU, signed a Memorandum of Understanding and agreed to work together to join the EU.

However, the EU did not recognize this ‘trio’ nor their prospect of joining the EU. Putin's attack on Ukraine in February this year has changed a lot.

Official Kiev demanded that the EU consider the issue of the country's accession to the EU in an expedited manner and separately, and that the EU would, in principle, respond positively to the current situation.

Moldova and Georgia have applied for EU membership. However, the Georgian government fluctuated from the beginning. In response to the opposition's call that the Georgian government imitate Ukraine and demand that it join the European Union expeditiously, Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the Georgian Dream, said on March 1 that the government would not apply for EU membership until 2024.

He said that by this time Georgia would have fulfilled some obligations and his statement would have been ‘more relevant’. According to him, the ‘political gesture expressed’ by the EU to Ukraine did not concern Georgia and Moldova.

However, the next day Irakli Kobakhidze changed his position diametrically and said at a briefing at his party's headquarters on March 2 that the ruling team had taken into account ‘a common political context and a new reality’ and decided to apply for EU membership. On March 3, the Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, who was alone, signed an application for membership in the European Union and addressed a 6-minute speech to the citizens of Georgia.

The pro-Western opposition unanimously supported the application for EU membership, considering it as a result of pressure from Georgian citizens on the government, and addressed its appeal on behalf of the Georgian people. "We do not have a decent government, but we are a decent fighting nation. Our government may not deserve your loyal attitude, but we, the Georgian people, deserve it.

Therefore, please accept this application from all over Europe. ‘Georgia's place is in Europe,’ said, for example, Nika Melia.

The official statement of the government and such appeals of the pro-Western opposition were followed by a document signed by the highest officials of the Georgian government since Zviad Gamsakhurdia's government in 1991:

Two Presidents (M. Saakashvili and G. Margvelashvili), 4 Speakers of Parliament (D. Usupashvili, D. Bakradze, N. Burjanadze, A. Asatiani), 5 former Prime Ministers, 8 Foreign Ministers, other former officials and in Parliament 11 opposition parties represented.

On March 9, Mikheil Saakashvili, in custody, wrote an open letter to the European Commission and European leaders asking them to grant EU candidate status to Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.

In the letter, Saakashvili also criticized the Georgian government, saying that “the Georgian government is very far from democratic standards,” but that “people really have a European identity.”

According to the opposition, the European statement of the government needs to be filled with real content and the Georgian Dream should return to the document of Charles Michel and carry out the reforms, the commitment of which was obliged by this document at the time. Without this, says Mamuka Khazaradze, the leader of ‘Lelo’, “no one will read Georgia's application.”

It is already known that the European Commission will prepare a report and assess the extent to which Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova meet the fundamental values and requirements of the European Union. It can be said in advance that many critical remarks will be made about Georgia, which are not pleasant for the government.

The Georgian Dream understands this as well, and statements have already been made that the UNM is trying to hire lobbyists in the EU to prevent Georgia from gaining candidate status.

Charles Michel's 2021 document, which was a compromise between the government and the opposition, primarily provided for judicial reform, which included real steps towards the establishment of an independent judiciary, and electoral reform to give the opposition confidence in the electoral process.

The war waged by Putin in Ukraine has changed many things and raised even more claims against the Georgian Dream government both in the opposition and among Georgia's foreign friends. Putin's alleged defeat in Ukraine will make the Georgian government more attentive to the West, while the opposition still demands early parliamentary elections.