On April 11, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Oliver Varhei presented a self-assessment questionnaire to Georgian Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili.
The First Step on the European Path
By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, April 18, 2022
The Georgian government has a month to complete the questionnaire. The EU response will be announced in June. The opposition demands that both the questionnaire and the answers prepared by the government be made public. Given the rather difficult relationship of the current Georgian government with its Western friends, the Georgian Dream's European statement will face many problems.
Integration into NATO and the European Union is a declared priority of the current Georgian government, but judging by the implementation of the recommendations from the West, the Georgian Dream was in no hurry to take practical steps in this direction.
The GD leaders stated that they were not going to make an official application for Georgia's membership in the European Union until 2024. New parliamentary elections are expected in Georgia this year, which was supposed to be submitted before the elections and used during the election campaign, while the critical remarks made by the EU for the government, which plans to win the next elections, would be ‘easy to pass’.
The Georgian government expected to get the candidate status by 2030.
Russia's attack on Ukraine changed the situation, with Ukraine demanding accelerated EU membership.
Earlier, Georgian authorities, including Irakli Kobakhidze, Chairman of the Georgian Dream party, said on March 1 that they would not apply until 2024 in response to calls from Ukraine to join Ukraine and join the European Union as soon as possible. But they soon changed their position, and on March 2, Irakli Kobakhidze said that the ruling team had changed its position and decided to apply for membership “taking into account the general political context and the new reality.” On March 3, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili signed an application for EU membership.
It is noteworthy that the ruling team made this decision in the light of President Salome Zurabishvili's visit to Brussels, where she met with the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission — Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen.
The recent relationship between the Georgian Dream government and Brussels is noteworthy. The Georgian Dream unilaterally abandoned the April 19 agreement reached between the ruling team and the opposition, mediated by Charles Michel, in July last year and refused to make several legislative changes, prompting criticism from the European Union and the United States.
The EU was dissatisfied with the delay in judicial reform, the Georgian Dream refused an EU soft loan, which it could not get, Irakli Kobakhidze criticized the EU Ambassador to Georgia, and a group of MEPs refused to visit Georgia due to the inability of the Speaker to visit Georgia, which they could not meet. Obviously, these and other problems related to the degree of democracy of the country will be reflected in the questionnaire provided to Georgia, the purpose of which is to check the readiness of the country for EU membership.
Ukraine received a questionnaire on April 8, and Georgia and Moldova — on April 11. As a rule, the procedure for filling in the questionnaire and granting the candidate status takes years, but this time the process is accelerated and the countries were given one month to complete the questionnaire. The European Commission's assessment is expected to be ready in June.
President Salome Zurabishvili responded to the adoption of a self-assessment questionnaire on EU membership, calling it an ‘extraordinary new opportunity’ created thanks to Ukraine, for the realization of which the country's political spectrum and people must unite.
The opposition and non-governmental organizations are calling on the government to make the questionnaire public because European integration is not a backstage process, it is the people's choice. Both the opposition and non-governmental organizations are ready to get involved in preparing the answers.
In response to such calls, the chairman of the Georgian Dream said that the process of making the questionnaire public is being set by the European Union and that they are ready for full transparency within the rules set by the European Union. The opposition, if the government does not make the questionnaire public, intends to apply to the European Union to make the questionnaire public.
Critical background to the questionnaire was created by the US Department of State's April 13 report on the human rights situation in Georgia in 2021. The report prepared in Georgia consists of 85 pages and, according to the opposition, is an unprecedentedly critical document. “Whether this report is crucial for Strasbourg or not, will be of the utmost importance,” the opposition said.
Filling in the EU questionnaire seems to be one of the main problems of Georgian policy in the coming months. The government says the destructive opposition is trying to undermine the country's achievements, while the opposition believes the main cause of the problems related to democracy is the current government. There is a high probability that even filling in the questionnaire will not become a basis for constructive cooperation between the government and the opposition.