Georgia should become a candidate for EU membership

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Georgia’s application for EU membership did not come out of the blue. It was neither on a whim of the government nor a cynical exploitation of growing European sympathy towards Ukraine, write Nikoloz Samkaharadze and Giorgi Khelashvili. [Shutterstock]

Georgia’s application for EU membership did not come out of the blue. It was neither on a whim of the government nor a cynical exploitation of growing European sympathy towards Ukraine, write Nikoloz Samkaharadze and Giorgi Khelashvili.

Nikoloz Samkaharadze is chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Parliament of Georgia. Giorgi Khelashvili is deputy chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Parliament of Georgia.

The Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) has recently published two separate studies about the membership bids of Ukraine and Moldova after both countries handed in their respective requests to the European Commission.

Logically, it was expected that this renowned Brussels-based think-tank would also prepare a study about Georgia – a frontrunner among the “Associated Trio” in the implementation of reforms envisaged by the Association Agreements. Surprisingly, with regard to Georgia, CEPS decided to limit itself to only a highly disappointing opinion piece, riddled with inaccuracies and contradictions, where the two respected authors claim Georgia’s bid to the European Union is “dubious”.

Calling Georgia a “paradox” in the process of EU membership, the authors chose to neglect the evidence and rely on hearsay and a one-sided political opinion from a polarised Georgian political discourse.

Through the denial of facts, the authors dealt with the self-inflicted notion of “paradox”, rather than trying rigorously to understand the strong and consistent logic behind Georgia’s European bid.

The authors argue that Georgia’s implementation of the economic parts of its Association Agreement (AA) and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU has been impressive.

In this respect it has surpassed not only Ukraine and Moldova, but also some of the candidate states of the Western Balkans. It has largely eliminated common corruption, with better performance than quite a few EU Member States, which CEPS’s very own thorough research only a year ago, based on solid evidence, strongly agreed.

What went wrong this time, then?

The problem with the article in question is its confused methodology.

Whereas the first half of the analysis is based on solid evidence-based research, which indicates Georgia’s impressive performance in reforms in all areas, the rest of the text is peppered with a few anecdotal (and often inaccurate) references to events from the last few years that are put forward as “arguments” to invalidate Georgia’s progress.

The sequence and causality between the arguments and facts are reversed: It is not that the Georgian government’s actions led to the opposition’s rowdy response, but rather the opposition’s unprovoked and unjustified sabotaging of the Georgian Parliament and their defiance of the law which created a political crisis in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This opposition then undermined the efforts of EU Council President Charles Michel when it failed to sign the agreement between the political parties which he had mediated.

When the method is wrong, when the dates, stakeholders, facts, and their consequences are all mixed up, it is no wonder that the findings of the opinion piece are dramatically different from the findings of more rigorous research that was properly done by CEPS itself only a year ago.

Blatantly omitted from the article’s partial analysis are the achievements of the Georgian government, including a re-balanced constitutional system towards greater checks and balances, dramatically improved freedom of speech and freedom of media, an ever-growing pluralistic political environment, and a greater popular trust in the judicial system than ever before in Georgia’s history.

The article also fails to mention the popular support for the government policies.

Thus, the implied conclusion derived from the authors’ logic is that Georgia’s uncontested achievements are merely technocratic in nature while the overall political milieu is imbued with democratic backsliding. However, without the government’s strong political will, the country would not achieve any of the oft-cited impressive breakthroughs, be it in the economy, politics, judiciary, or governance.

Georgia’s democratic resilience has been amply demonstrated by the state institutions’ ability to cope with the post-2020 election political turbulence, manage the COVID-19 pandemic, and most recently, navigate the catastrophic regional upheaval caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, without sacrificing an iota of its democratic practices.

Georgia’s application to the European Union membership did not come out of the blue, neither at a whim of the government, nor by a cynical exploitation of growing European sympathy towards Ukraine and, by association with the rest of the region.

The governing Georgian Dream party made the “2024 European membership application” its leading pre-election promise as early as summer 2020 and won the elections largely by popular support of this promise as over 80 % of the population favoured European integration.

Moreover, Georgia has little to prove when it comes to resilience of its democratic credentials, as our country has endured its more than its fair share of Russian aggression since the early 1990s and then in 2008 and, despite all odds, has always emerged as a democratic state.

Georgians are confident that our impressive record of reforms; our commitment to democracy despite our war-torn society; our advantageous comparison to both fellow bidders for EU membership and EU membership candidate states; and, above all, our country’s history and culture qualify Georgia for candidate status for EU membership.

For these reasons we sincerely hope that the EU will take a merit-based decision on candidate status in the spirit of Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union.

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