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Georgia’s EU Candidate Status, Potential Rejection and Consequences

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Monday, June 20, 2022
On June 23-24, Georgia’s EU candidate status will be confirmed or rejected. Both the government and the opposition are eagerly awaiting this decision. Several possible options are actively considered. In any case, no matter what the response from Brussels, the political situation in Georgia will become even tenser. However, the answer will define who will have the upper hand - pro-Western or pro-Russian forces.

Ukraine and Moldova are waiting for EU candidate status along with Georgia. In general, putting this issue on the agenda is a result of the war in Ukraine. Ukraine's heroic struggle against Russian aggression is a factor that makes it virtually impossible for the EU to refuse Kyiv. It is also a fact that out of these three countries, the current government of Georgia has made the least effort to obtain the status of a candidate for EU membership. Given this fact, they do not rule out the possibility of separating Georgia from Ukraine and Moldova and postponing the decision on Georgia.

Some believe Georgia will receive the so-called ‘potential candidate status’. According to this option, Georgia will be given a deadline to fulfill additional obligations, and then the Council of Europe will be ready to discuss the granting of candidate status to the country. This is the so-called ‘Albanian version’.

Others are more likely to believe that because the EU is making a political decision, it will not separate the three post-Soviet countries that have applied for membership status. This is the view of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, for example, who believes that all three countries will receive EU candidate status on the basis of reservations. But Georgia will have much more reservations than Ukraine and Moldova. In the case of Georgia, these reservations will include everything: a request for serious changes in the court, the prosecutor's office, the police, the electoral system; de-oligarchization, media freedom, practical guarantees of human rights, and other institutional changes.

The ruling Georgian Dream is in a strange situation. While announcing its candidacy for EU membership, the rhetoric of its officials is probably different from the rhetoric of the authorities of all the countries that have ever applied for EU membership. The speeches of the current Georgian authorities are of a sharply anti-Western and anti-European nature. For example, according to Irakli Kobakhidze, Chairman of the Georgian Dream, the European People's Party (EPP) is a European union of criminal parties. According to him, the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on Georgia "has a straw price" and criticized the members of the European Parliament who adopted the resolution.

Georgian officials have strongly argued that the EU and the United States want to ‘drag Georgia’ into the war, and the state-run Imedi TV channel immediately aired a public opinion poll in which a majority of respondents agreed with the Georgian government's opposition to Georgia's involvement in the war. This biased poll was harshly criticized, with US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan saying that no one in the West wants to ‘see Georgia embroiled in a war’.

The issue of imposing sanctions on Bidzina Ivanishvili, as a Russian oligarch, has caused particular outrage among government officials. Authorities felt obliged to make one statement after another in defense of Ivanishvili.

Relations have soured between the Georgian Dream and President Salome Zurabishvili, who has accused the Georgian Dream of not only not doing much but ‘failing the case’ of gaining a candidate status. The leaders of the Georgian Dream were also accused of not working properly to protect Bidzina Ivanishvili and failing to avoid mentioning sanctions against him.

The public was waiting for Salome Zurabishvili to speak up. The opposition expected the president to exercise her right to pardon Main Channel manager Nika Gvaramia, whose arrest raised many questions and intensified criticism towards Georgia in the West.

Zurabishvili is not considering such an option and the pro-Western opposition considers this fact as another proof that Zurabishvili will not oppose Bidzina Ivanishvili, and that she’s only attempting to win the dissatisfied crowd over and distance it from the opposition.

The denial of EU candidate status to Georgia will reinforce the anti-Western rhetoric of government officials about ‘unfair treatment’ and further intensify pro-Russian forces. Accepting the status quo, with the reservation of the reforms to be carried out, will play the role of an action plan for the Western-oriented political forces, which will try to increase the pressure on the government for the European future.