Since COVID-19 changed our lives, the larger powers are virtually alone in meeting global challenges, while smaller countries like Georgia are striving to re-launch the machinery of the larger debates, Salome Zourabishvili, the President of Georgia, writes in an exclusive op-ed.
Salome Zourabichvili is a Georgian politician and former French diplomat who currently serves as the 5th President of Georgia, in office since December 2018.
The pandemic’s cost to society remains unmeasurable. More than two million deaths and counting, a financial impact in the billions that continues to increase, a psychological toll that we don’t fully grasp yet. Light is at the end of the tunnel, but we remain in uncertainty.
One of the more unsung casualties of the pandemic has been the diverse, multi-faceted world of diplomacy. Before COVID-19 changed our lives, we used to address the world together at UN summits, exchange ideas at international conferences and meet during visits. The well-oiled machine of diplomacy functioned at a historically rapid rate.
It was this same machine that let world leaders come up with solutions together to address the world’s most pressing issues.
During my first year in office, I visited 15 countries, from Japan to the United States, and addressed a dozen international conferences, from the halls of the United Nations in New York to the hundreds of businessmen and women assembled in Paris for the annual conference of MEDEF.
That machine was paused when the new Coronavirus appeared. Instead, a new trend appeared. The larger powers, who maintained their lines of communication, are virtually alone in meeting global challenges, while smaller countries, like Georgia, are striving to be part of the larger debates.
We will need to address this. Small countries around the world need to be able to find a common voice to remain relevant on the global stage. Last Friday, in my conversation with President Higgins of Ireland, I emphasized the importance of coming together and making a big impact as one voice.
On the Road to Europe
For Georgia, as the pandemic might be here to accompany us for a while, it’s more important than ever to relaunch the machinery of diplomacy.
In this context, I chose Brussels as the destination of my first visit in this new reality.
Ever since the restoration of its independence in 1991, Georgia has looked to be reunited with its greater European family, from which it was separated by 70 years of Soviet occupation. We have traced our path toward the European Union, toward NATO and our resilience is strong enough that this pandemic could not slow us down.
What I heard in Brussels were words of solidarity. Solidarity is the only concept that will take us out of the current crisis. No country, no region can overcome this pandemic alone, especially when our entire modern society relies so heavily on interconnectivity. The European Union has shown this solidarity since the first days of the COVID-19 pandemic, through financial and logistical assistance to both the public and non-government sectors.
Now that we are moving to a new stage of responding to the virus, this solidarity needs to be translated into vaccines.
A few days ago, Georgia received the confirmation for the first batch of doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of February. These will be used for our medical personnel, the fighters on the frontlines of this battle against an invisible enemy.
But for a truly equitable and global response, the world needs to show solidarity. And for Georgia, part of the greater European family, we need Europe to show more of this solidarity.
In 2024, the Georgian government is set to announce the country’s candidacy to join the European Union. This shows not only that Georgia has diligently continued its path, unaltered thanks to its resilience and determination, but that it is ready to set a concrete horizon toward its ultimate goal. Georgia will use the next few years to pursue sectoral integration to its fullest extent.
This means accessing the Single Market. This means being part of the planning around the TEN-T program. This means giving Georgian students access to higher education across Europe at the same tuition rates as EU students. This means making sure that Georgia remains a high priority for Brussels and deepening cultural, institutional, environmental cooperation.
Almost 12 years after the launch of the Eastern Partnership, we need to face a new reality. Georgia is ready to move forward. The election of my counterpart Maia Sandu in Moldova is an opportunity to find new ways to cooperate together on the path we have both chosen toward joining the European Union.
My visit to Brussels was also a chance to reaffirm our commitment to NATO.
Last year witnessed a tragedy for the entire Caucasus. The war between Georgia’s two neighbors and friends showed the dangers of ignoring frozen conflicts.
And it also showed the need for Europe and NATO to not fall behind and strengthen its work toward peace and stability, whether it is by strengthening the Minsk Group or helping Georgia solve its own conflicts by supplementing the Geneva International Discussions, now barely capable of solving technical issues, with a higher political level of talks.
Georgia has been the strongest ally of the Alliance in the region, an island of stability and of democratic and economic development. Over the past few years, we have seen an increasing amount of vocal support from every level of NATO. I welcomed in my country the Secretary General, the Deputy Secretary General, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Chair, and the North Atlantic Council, who each made it clear that Georgia was ready to move forward.
The new presidential administration in the United States has signaled a new outlook toward transatlantic partnership. The recent words of Secretary Blinken confirm that America will support Georgia on its path. The next step is for the Alliance to invest in preserving the stability and security of the Black Sea as a sea of connectivity, transportation, trade and communication.
Like I said during my joint press statement with Secretary General Stoltenberg, it is time for the Alliance to show further solidarity and audacity.
The crisis we are going through is unprecedented. Our response to it must also be unprecedented.
We must rebuild what has been lost. After WWII, the United States saved Europe’s economy with the Marshall Plan. Seventy years later, something similar of a new Marshall Plan can help the world recover, and the United Nations can take this lead. This cannot be the end, but it can be an opportunity. The solidarity we will choose will set the tone for how we choose to address climate change, gender equality and sustainability tomorrow.
Georgia has reconfirmed once again its priorities and its path, in a bolder and more united European family.