Georgia’s Path to the EU Remains in Question
Jun 29, 2022
On June 23 during a summit in Brussels, EU (European Union) leaders granted Ukraine and Moldova formal candidacy, while encouraging Georgia to carry out reforms specified by the European Commission in order to be ready for potential EU candidacy. This decision came after the European Commission had previously released a recommendation that Georgia implement several democratization reforms before being granted formal candidate status for the EU. The European Commission’s recommendation followed the European Parliament’s June 9 resolution that highlighted the diminishing freedom of the press in Georgia. A notable provision of the resolution considered sanctioning Bidzina Ivanishvili, an influential businessman and former prime minister of Georgia, who still holds substantial influence over the country today. While Ivanishvili no longer formally holds a position within government, he maintains strong influence over much of what happens in politics and has been accused of having business ties in Russia, leading many in the EU to believe that he has had some say in the current government’s cautious approach towards Russia.
The Commission emphasized that democratic backsliding has held Georgia back from being ready to join the EU and provided a concrete list of steps Georgia must take before it is ready. Some of these steps include reducing political polarization, strengthening the judicial system, and increasing anti-corruption efforts. The Commission stated that it will monitor Georgia’s efforts towards increasing democratization and will evaluate Georgia’s progress by the end of 2022.
The resolution followed by the European Commission’s recommendation, and later, its official decision, comes as a major setback to Georgia, which, in the wake of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, hoped to be on track for EU membership. In response to the Commission’s recommendation, thousands of protesters gathered in Tbilisi demanding EU membership. Many Georgians worry that the government will not take the necessary steps. More than 80 percent of Georgians support EU membership and want to see change. Many government officials have made quite inflammatory responses to the news of a delayed path, with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili stating that the resolution was “irresponsible and offensive towards our people.” A member of the ruling party, Dimitry Khundadze, even went so far as to suggest that Georgia might take the preemptive action of rejecting EU candidacy. Many pro-European-integration Georgians fear that this inflammatory rhetoric will only harm Georgia’s chances of joining the EU, although the Commission did grant Georgia the “European Perspective,” a historic decision signaling that the EU has not given up on Georgia. The president of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili, has encouraged her country to not lose hope, saying that “a small but real chance remains.”
The shaky support from the EU could fuel popularity of anti-West groups in Georgia. There is a risk that the rise of far right and anti-European groups could increase instability in the region. However, although Georgia has struggled over the past year, its evolution since the fall of the Soviet Union has demonstrated the country’s strength and commitment to reform. President Zourabichvili had a positive take on the recognition of Georgia’s European perspective, saying that this was an “incredibly historic step”. Although this was a setback for the Georgian people, there is still time for Georgia to turn things around for the better.