This is a very open question, as the EU has proposed granting Candidate status to Georgia. This symbolic act has taken the wind out of the sails of the opposition parties, especially the United National Movement (UNM) who were hoping that the EU would turn down the Caucasian nation’s application due to a list of sins, especially the accusation of the current government having close and cozy relations with Russia.
In early November, the European Commission recommended granting EU candidate status to Georgia. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von derLeyen, announced the decision at an EU press conference dedicated to the 2023 Enlargement package and the new Growth Plan for the Western Balkans. The European Council will take the final decision on granting the status in December 2023.
Patting Georgians on the Back
Already the US Embassy and other foreign missions are patting Georgians on the back, “Congratulations to all Georgians! Today’s recommendation is a tremendous step forward for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. The United States will continue to work closely with Georgia, supporting its EU trajectory. We believe in Georgia’s European future!”
I wasn’t expecting them to grant it.
The EU is using it to try and sabotage any rapprochement with Russia. Now the government will have to be more hushed in its relations with Moscow, and this status means the vocal opposition has to shut up for a while, and it will not be able to use it as a pretext for a violent coup attempt, as was planned if it was refused.
What comes next is sheer speculation, regarding what this candidate’s status means, and if Georgia will be motivated to clean up its act, at least on the surface, for outside consumption.
Let us not forget that Turkey has had candidate status for the last 40 years, and to what result? It was hoping for something more than candidacy status but has ended up with nothing.
It now boils down to a question of principle, and if the government can turn drastically towards the RF openly, at least as somebody is trying in this government. Many in the US Embassy and other EU missions see this granting of candidacy as a step in spoiling normal relations with the Russian Federation, nothing more, nothing less.
Whether to punish Turkey or to dumb down the requirements, so Ukraine can be offered the same, has people wondering why now with so many unresolved problems in terms of democracy that exist in reality, not only on paper for Georgia, has candidacy been granted. Keep in mind that Ukraine and Moldova are ahead of Georgia in line for membership, and have far greater problems with their democratic credentials and corruption.
Still, the focus, the main objective, is to fast-track Ukraine, and this puts Georgia in the position of somewhat of “a sideshow at the announcement where Ukraine was the primary focus, the Commission’s recommendation is indeed of huge consequence for a country where EU membership is seen as a solution to many economic, democratic and security woes. “
As is to be expected, as part of a running process, President Salome Zourabichvili held a large get-together to celebrate, which was attended by foreign diplomats and dignitaries, at her official residence. Congratulating the crowd, she said, “This is our response to Russia and Russian occupation.”
But still, what can Georgia expect in the short term, other than to continue having high hopes that eventually it will have full-fledged EU membership?
It is the conditions that the EU has set that serves as the small print, so to speak “the strings attached”, and perhaps the most tangled one that Georgia must strive to address is for Georgia to align its foreign and security policy more closely with EU standards. Additionally, the country is expected to bolster its efforts in countering disinformation.
But whose counter-disinformation, as it is flying in all directions these days?
That can be translated into getting on board with punitive sanctions against Russia over its special operation in Ukraine and decoupling its economy from close relations with Russia, even if this means creating undue hardship for many Georgians and damaging the overall economic development of the country.
And perhaps one of the most interesting snips from the various texts and commentaries is that Georgia is expected to bolster its efforts in countering disinformation. But no mention is made as to whose disinformation, as the intended target is obvious —and for Georgia to go against its principles of free speech and get into the censorship mood as is the current direction of the EU.
Despite all the patting of one another on the back among the ruling political class, not all are convinced that Georgia is going in the right direction, Giga Bokeria, leader of the European Georgia party, takes a different stance. He believes that today’s decision doesn’t alter anything for the country and its people, and the “celebration” surrounding the status is a form of self-deception. He contends that essentially not moving closer to Europe but drifting further away.
The key word is eventual membership, it describes the recommendation for Georgia’s candidate status and affirms the aspirations of Georgians for eventual full E.U. membership and reintegration into the European family.
Most Georgians are interested in EU membership from a more pragmatic perspective, to be able to work freely and relocate to Europe, as they are already doing in mass. Georgia is facing a brain drain of the young and professional classes of society, and likely this tendency will speed up in the future should EU membership ever be granted.
Potentially EU relations with Georgia will be complicated by its location in an already destabilized region of the world, its proximity to Iran and the Middle East, and its efforts to use Georgia as a part of larger geopolitical games that are controlled from outside of Europe, especially by power players in the US and the UK.
What should be kept in mind is the conditionality of what the EU is offering Georgia, the European Union’s executive recommended on Wednesday that the block grants formal candidate status to Georgia if and when it fulfills the remaining conditions.
That may be a long time, and for now, a promise of the possibility of future membership is like dangling a carrot in front of a hungry donkey.
It should be noted that Georgia does even have EU candidate status yet, only a recommendation that it be granted. The headline reads, EU executive proposes to grant Georgia EU candidate status but let us not forget about Turkey having earned the candidate status decades ago, and it still not a part of the EU.
That same thing will likely happen to Georgia
Most Georgians fully understand that they won’t be a part of the EU any time soon, but this recommendation still means a lot to them. It gives them some hope that their reform efforts have been appreciated and that they are on the right track—working in the right direction.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.