The Brief, powered by amfori – Georgia on my mind

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

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/Remko de Waal]

How much good can a single man do for his country? And how many bad things? And isn’t it extraordinary if the same man can do good things during one part of his life and bad things in the other?

In France, for instance, there is a discussion about whether to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death on 5 May. This could be the theme of another Brief. But the arguments here are much the same. Napoleon led France to glory, but after Waterloo, the territory of this country was smaller than it was before he took power.

Mikheil Saakashvili was the third president of Georgia for two consecutive terms, from 25 January 2004 to 17 November 2013. During this period he racked up many achievements – undoubtedly, he was a great reformer. But there were also some really big failures.

While Saakashvili’s first term was marred by a political quagmire, his second term saw unprecedented economic growth (with GDP increasing by 10% a year on average), as well as drastic drops in endemic corruption. His foreign policy was characterised by pro-NATO and pro-Western politics. This remains the policy of his successors and political enemies.

Many blame Saakashvili for having fallen into the trap laid by Moscow in August 2008 and giving Russia the pretext for sending troops across the border to occupy the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which together make up roughly 20% of Georgia’s territory.

It’s difficult to forget the clip filmed at the height of that calamitous five-day war with Russia in which Saakashvili can be seen nervously chewing on his tie. But for Nicolas Sarkozy’s intervention, the Russian troops would have been marching into Tbilisi the next day.

Saakashvili left Georgia in 2013 a year after his party lost a parliamentary election, and was charged and sentenced in 2017 in absentia on charges of abuse of public office and corruption. He now lives in Ukraine, which has no extradition agreement with Georgia. There, Saakashvili is popular and is still seen as a pro-Western reformer.

Saakashvili still wields considerable influence in his home country, as the founder and leader of the United National Movement (UNM), which remains the country’s biggest opposition force.

Last year, the UNM won 27% of the vote in parliamentary elections, securing 36 of 150 seats. Its rival, the ruling Georgian Dream Party, gained 90 seats with 48% of the vote.

But UNM contested the election results boycotted the second round and called on voters to abstain, though it has failed to provide any evidence of mass electoral fraud.

The move plunged the country into chaos, with opposition lawmakers pitching tents in front of the parliament building instead of attending the body’s sessions. Last month, the political crisis deepened further, leading to the arrest of the UNM leader and the resignation of the prime minister.

European Council President Charles Michel travelled to Georgia this week to mediate as the entire Caucasus region appears increasingly shaky, with Armenia still reeling from public anger over last year’s disastrous war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The results of the EU mediation depend very much on Saakashvili. Georgia could be poster child of the post-Soviet space if its former president didn’t cast such a long shadow on its politics.

As things stand, the UNM is still held hostage by Saakashvili’s personal ambitions. He in turn stands his ground only due to the support he enjoys from EU circles willing to turn a blind eye to the damage he has caused since his hey-day as the darling of the West.

‘Après moi, le déluge’, as France’s King Louis XV once said. It seems Saakashvili no longer wants what is best for Georgia. He knows he cannot win and now appears to take an unhealthy comfort in the country’s destabilisation.

That’s why, knowingly or unknowingly, he is once again playing the game set by his former arch-rival Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has an expression for people like him – they call them the “useful idiots.”

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The Roundup

Nine EU member states have called on the EU’s chief diplomat, Joseph Borrell, to have a strategic discussion on the Western Balkan countries and their prospects when EU foreign ministers meet in April, according to a letter made available to EURACTIV.

Hungary and Poland have launched legal action at the European Court of Justice (EJC) against the regulation tying the disbursement of bloc funds to the rule of law situation in EU countries, the court said.

The UK will send a senior Northern Ireland official to Washington in a bid to strengthen relations with US President Joe Biden’s administration ahead of a legal battle with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol.

The US administration is critical of calls coming from the EU for personal data to be localised on the bloc and thus avoid having to be transferred to third countries, following last year’s ruling from the European Court of Justice in the famed Schrems II case.

China’s parliament approved a draft decision to change Hong Kong’s electoral system, further reducing democratic representation in the city’s institutions and introducing a mechanism to vet politicians’ loyalty to Beijing.

The European Parliament has voted to maintain free CO2 allowances. This has provoked outrage among some European People’s Party (EPP) lawmakers, particularly from the French Republican party, who, together with the Greens, have sided against the amendment.

EU negotiators want an ‘absolute guarantee’ that personal data transferred to the US will not be subject to ‘mass surveillance,’ as part of ongoing talks on a new EU-US data transfer mechanism, according to the European Commission’s vice-president for values and transparency, Věra Jourová.

The European Commission is reconsidering the position of gas in its sustainable finance taxonomy by recognising the fossil fuel’s role in keeping the lights on during peak electricity demand, according to a leaked document seen by EURACTIV.

Lawmakers in the European Parliament passed a resolution to tackle environmental and human rights issues in the supply chains of EU businesses by 504 votes to 79 ahead of the Commission’s proposal on corporate due diligence later this year.

Look out for…

  • Informal meeting of EU home affairs ministers
  • European Commission President von der Leyen meets with Prime Ministers of the Baltic States

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/ Josie Le Blond]

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