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Georgia's Historic Moment: EU Candidate Status Sparks Political Divisions and High Expectations

By Malkhaz Matsaberidze
Thursday, November 23, 2023
November 8, 2023, became a day of historical significance for Georgia. The Georgian society and the polarized Georgian political spectrum agree on this. The European Commission has given a positive recommendation to grant Georgia the status of a candidate for EU membership. The European Council should take the final decision in this regard on December 15.

Regarding the receiving of the candidate status, there were positive expectations in the government and the opposition, at least they made such statements. The argumentation of such expectation was different. Government officials claimed that they had fulfilled all the requirements of the European Union, despite the fact that the European Union considered only 3 of the 12 recommendations as fulfilled. The opposition pointed out that the government had not implemented the recommendations, but they still expected the candidate status in the hope that the EU would "take into account the geopolitical situation."

The day before the decision of the European Commission was announced, on November 7, OC Media published the results of the research conducted by the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) on October 4-8. It turned out that ordinary citizens were more skeptical than politicians. Only 33% believed that the country would be granted EU candidate status, 45% of the population was skeptical, and the rest were unsure about such a decision.

Party differences were also found. Opposition supporters strongly support EU integration (83% fully and 9% partially), but their expectations of candidate status were moderate, with only 24% believing Georgia would receive candidate status. Support for integration among Georgian Dream voters is low (54% fully support, 31% partially), but 47% were optimistic about receiving candidate status.

On November 8, the waiting phase was left behind. A new reality has arrived. As expected, the government team declared the positive recommendation of the European Commission to be entirely the merit of the Georgian Dream. The head of the government spoke at length about the steps taken by the government to implement the recommendations and also noted that "external and internal destructive forces" used all levers to prevent Georgia from receiving a positive recommendation.

The opposition representatives, in response to such statements of the government representatives, point out that the Georgian Dream, on the contrary, was doing everything to block the acceptance of candidate status, direct criticism and accusations of the West were accompanied by steps that distanced Georgia from the West. After receiving the candidate status, the opponents of the government demanded the Georgian Dream to fulfill the obligations imposed by the European Commission. Still, at the same time, they noted that under the conditions of the "Ivanishvili political clan" Georgia should fulfill these requirements and become a full member of the European Union.

On December 15, when the session of the European Council will be held, for Georgia to receive the status of a candidate, the leaders of all 27 EU states must be unanimous.

This will depend on the fulfillment of obligations assumed by Georgia. A little less than a month remains until December 15, and the Georgian authorities have received 9 reservations and an additional 119 technical requests.

The European Commission repeated the previously issued unfulfilled recommendations and added new requirements. First of all, the Georgian Dream must ensure the end of the disinformation campaign against the European Union, and continue with critically important reforms, Georgia's foreign policy on the security issue must be in line with the policy of the European Union, and in the fall of 2024, the parliamentary elections in Georgia must be held fairly, without violations.

The European Commission made a geopolitical decision by granting Georgia candidate status. With this decision, Georgia was recognized as a part of Europe. The European Union is not going to give up Georgia. In the three decades since the restoration of independence, the European Union has done a lot to ensure the formation of the Georgian state and democratic development. Not only Georgia needs the European Union, but the European Union also needs Georgia. Recently, the citizens of Georgia have repeatedly confirmed their European choice with mass actions.

Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova applied for EU membership in March 2022. In June, Ukraine and Moldova received the candidate status, while Georgia received only the European perspective, and in order to obtain the candidate status, the country was instructed to fulfill 12 recommendations. On November 8, Ukraine and Moldova received the right to start negotiations on joining the European Union, and Georgia received the status of a candidate. Georgia remains in the "associate top three", neither not as a leader, nor as an outsider.

Will the Georgian Dream fulfill the numerous reservations and technical requirements issued with the candidate status? The opposition considers this to be suspicious because the Georgian Dream will face the inevitable prospect of losing the government. In addition, the representatives of the current government claim that they have actually done everything.

According to the opinion of the opposition representatives, the government should change in the parliamentary elections of 2024, and only then will it be possible to fulfill the demands of the European Commission. Less than a year is left before these elections.

It is symbolic that November 8 is the birthday of Ilia Chavchavadze, the ideologist of modern Georgia, who strived to strengthen Georgia's European compass. Before the decision of the European Commission, the Russian forces killed another citizen of Georgia, who entered the church of his village, which was closed down by the occupation forces. Until December 15, new provocations from Russia and its agency are expected, because the advancement of Georgia on the European road means the defeat of imperial Russia.