Georgians are gearing up on Monday (20 June) for a mass rally in support of the country’s membership in the European Union, days after the European Commission recommended to defer Tbilisi’s candidacy.
EU leaders are expected to decide by Friday on granting candidate status to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, which applied for EU membership shortly after Moscow declared war on Kyiv on 24 February.
Georgia, the third country in what has been dubbed the Associated Trio consisting of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, is set to be left behind for now.
Georgia is suspected of playing a strange game since the start of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine. The country’s strongman is Bidzina Ivanishvili, a billionaire with strong ties with Russia. He is officially retired from politics, but foreign diplomats say he still calls the shots in the country.
Georgia’s leading pro-democracy groups have called for a “march for Europe” to be held on Monday evening in the capital Tbilisi to “demonstrate the commitment of the Georgian people to its European choice and Western values”.
The appeal has been supported by all of the Black Sea nation’s opposition parties.
“Europe is a historical choice and an aspiration of Georgians, for which all generations have given sacrifices,” the rally organisers said on Facebook.
“Freedom, peace, economic sustainability, protection of human rights and justice are the values that unite us all, which would be guaranteed by integration into the European Union.”
On Friday, the European Commission recommended that the European Council grant candidate status to Kyiv and Chisinau, but said it will “come back (by the end of 2022) and assess how Georgia meets the number of conditions before granting its candidate status”.
The commission also recommended granting Georgia “the European perspective”, something its chief Ursula von der Leyen called a “huge step forward” on Georgia’s path towards eventual membership.
“The door is wide open,” she said, adding: “The sooner you deliver, the sooner there will be progress.”
Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party said at the time it “regretted” that the country was not recommended as a candidate together with Ukraine and Moldova, saying that “by all the measurable parameters (of compliance with EU standards) Georgia is ahead of both Ukraine and Moldova”.
“We are glad that today the European Commission officially approved the European perspective for Georgia and offered us a concrete roadmap towards getting candidate status,” party chairman Irakli Kobakhidze said in a statement.
“The ruling team will do everything to further strengthen democratic institutions, protect peace and ensure economic progress,” he added.
The Georgian Dream government has faced mounting international criticism over perceived backsliding on democracy, seriously damaging Tbilisi’s relations with Brussels.