This article is part of our special report EU ambitions unabated.
The President of Georgia Salome Zourabishvili is paying a visit to all three on European institutions Thursday and Friday (21-22 January) to cement Georgia’s bid for an EU membership in 2024.
The visit of the Caucasian country’s head of state comes in the wake of the new government’s reaffirmation that Euro-Atlantic integration remains top priority of Tbilisi, and the departure from politics of billionaire leader of Georgia’s ruling party, Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is widely seen as the Western-backed country’s most powerful man.
“We seek de-occupation and peaceful restoration of our territorial integrity while continuing to move closer to the US, EU and NATO,” Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia wrote on Twitter.
“Georgia is preparing to apply for full EU membership in 2024,” Gakharia said, announcing that the first piece of legislation reaffirmed Georgia’s top foreign policy goals following the government taking office after heated parliamentary elections.
“The topic of discussion will be how we are preparing for it and what stages Georgia should go through [for the application]. The main focus will be on economic and sectoral integration as a step towards full integration,” the ex-Soviet state’s head of mission to the EU Natalie Sabanadze said in the run up to the visit.
The EU doesn’t treat Georgia as a candidate country, but rather in the less ambitious format of an Associate country member of the Eastern Partnership. This however doesn’t discourage Tbilisi from aiming at full EU accession.
European Council President Charles Michel said after welcoming Zourabishvili that the EU continues “to stand by Georgia in its efforts to overcome COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences and to deepen reforms.”
The bloc provided over €183 million to support immediate and short-term needs after the pandemic hit, as well as a €150 million loan to help limit the economic fallout.
“EU’s support to Georgia’s territorial integrity is unwavering,” he added.
Zourabishvili’s visit to Brussels coincided with the release of the European Court of Human Rights’ judgement that found Russia is responsible for human rights violations, including loss of life, torture, disrespect of property and privacy occurring in Georgian breakaway regions of Abkahzia and South Ossetia after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war.
Zourabishvili described the judgement as “historic.”
“What we need is more involvement from the EU in conflict resolution,” she added on social media after meeting EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell.
The security cooperation between Europe and Georgia makes us stronger.
What we need is more involvement from the EU in conflict resolution.
— Salome Zourabichvili (@Zourabichvili_S) January 21, 2021
The EU has an unarmed civilian monitoring mission dubbed EUMM, deployed since September 2008, following the EU-mediated Six Point Agreement that ended the August war.
Headquartered in Tbilisi, it comprises 200 monitors from EU member states who patrol areas in adjacent Abkhazia and South Ossetia but cannot enter those territories.
Borrell, for his part, “underlined the vital importance of Georgian political parties finding common ground on the current political situation,” referring to contested fall elections that resulted in opposition parties boycotting parliament.
“Georgia needs a fully functioning, representative parliament, enjoying the trust of the population to take resolute action for a speedy, inclusive, green and sustainable recovery from COVID-19 and to advance the wider reform agenda, including in the judiciary,” the Spaniard added.
After meeting European Parliament president David Sassoli, Zourabishvili said “sectoral integration means real results for Georgians. Promoting Georgian students in Europe is a priority.”
She added that “by studying across the EU, they learn the values necessary to build the democracy of tomorrow. They should pay the same tuitions as EU students.”
In 2019, Georgia became the first country where the EU opened a European School of this kind beyond the bloc’s boundaries, with the objective of strengthening relations with Eastern countries.
Zourabishvili is also set to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during her visit in Brussels on Friday. Georgia ambitions to join NATO despite Russia’s position that the enlargement of the alliance close to its borders is a dangerous game. The Biden administration is expected to encourage Georgia’s further NATO integration.