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Will Europe Accept Georgia's European Choice?

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, May 30, 2022
The main expectation of the government and the opposition in Georgia is currently a possible EU response to Georgia's application to become a candidate for EU membership. It is difficult to say what the EU response will be, but for Georgia, refusing is tantamount to recognizing the country as Russia's sphere of influence. In any case, such will be the perception of this refusal by Moscow.

In the post-Soviet period, Georgia aspires to become a member of NATO and the European Union. According to a survey by NDI, 71% of respondents supported Georgia's accession to NATO in March 2022. Interestingly, this percentage of support was also recorded in a poll conducted 10 years ago, when the Georgian Dream came to power.

As for the EU, 82% of respondents supported joining the union in March this year, while 10 years ago support was 4% less. According to the respondents, joining NATO and the European Union will ensure the security and democratic development of the country.

No other country in the Caucasus, except Georgia, is aiming to join NATO and the European Union. But in the post-Soviet space, Ukraine and Moldova have similar foreign policy orientations as Georgia.

Ukraine, like Georgia, wants to join NATO, while Moldova and Ukraine also want to join the European Union. In such a situation, a number of experts and politicians began to talk about the formation of a new region, sometimes called the Black Sea region, sometimes the new Eastern Europe.

At the NATO Bucharest Summit (April 2008), Ukraine and Georgia were told that they would one day become members of NATO, but did not specify a specific date for membership. Russia took advantage of this "ambiguity" and attacked Georgia's sister in 2008. Since 2014, it has been waging war against Ukraine.

The EU has set up an Eastern Partnership program for the six post-Soviet republics between it and Russia. But participation in the partnership did not mean the right to join the EU. Only three of the six Eastern Partnership countries - Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia - actually participated in the partnership.

Therefore, in May last year, these three countries formed the so-called Association Trio and asked the EU to recognize this trio and recognize their right to become candidates for EU membership in the future. Then the EU refused to do so.

But the Russian aggression against Ukraine, which began in late February 2022, changed a lot. Ukraine has demanded quick membership in the European Union, followed by Moldova and Georgia, and filled out the application forms for membership. In Georgia, 83% of respondents support applying for EU membership and only 5% do not support it.

No one expects a quick accession to the EU. It is clear that these three countries are not satisfied with the status of candidate and especially membership, but the EU will have to make a political decision in this case and grant candidate status to all three countries will be a clear incentive support in the face of Russian aggression, especially Ukraine.

The EU will answer the application at the end of June and various predictions are being made about a possible response.

Georgia found itself in a difficult situation. War has two colors - black and white. Georgian society has further distanced itself from Russia. In March 2022, 90% of respondents said that Russia is a major political threat to Georgia, 83% believe that Russia is a major economic threat to Georgia, and 77% believe that Russia's aggression against Georgia continues.

Georgia (54%), USA (53%) and Ukraine (45%) are recognized as Georgia 's main partners. Only 4% of respondents consider Russia as Georgia's main partner.

Against the background of such public sentiment, the statements of government officials, which are pleasing to Moscow and the same government has strained relations with a number of government officials in war-torn Ukraine, seem even more bizarre. A number of steps taken by the Georgian authorities, such as the arrest of Nika Gvaramia, are considered to be a deliberate distancing of Georgia from the West.

The ruling Georgian Dream is preparing for the EU to refuse candidate status. The opposition is already being blamed for this, as they, together with their "lobbyists" in the European Union, seem to be trying to deny Georgia the status of a candidate.

The pro-Western opposition agreed and wrote a joint letter to the European Union to grant Georgia candidate status. The main problem that can prevent Georgia from gaining candidate status is the policy of the current government.

Georgia is really entering a turning point. If Georgia fails to get the candidate status, it will be a serious defeat for Georgia's Western orientation and will strengthen the position of pro-Russian forces, just as Moscow believes that Georgia and the Caucasus as a whole remain under Russian influence.

The status of a candidate for EU membership, with certain conditions to be fulfilled, will facilitate Georgia's Western choice.