Georgia looking for EU formal statement on ‘European perspective,’ party boss says

Irakli Kobakhidze [Parliament of Georgia. 2018.]

Georgia hopes it will “quite soon formally get a statement about the so-called European perspective”, the executive secretary of the ruling Georgian Dream party and former chairman of the Eastern European country’s parliament told EURACTIV in an interview.

“We can consider it as a target, as the next step,” said Irakli Kobakhidze, who led the legislative three years ago when European integration was elevated to an obligation in Georgia’s constitution.

The EU-Georgia association agreement, which is currently the basis for the bloc’s relations with the South Caucasian country, already acknowledges “the European aspirations and European choice of Georgia.”

The ‘European perspective’ would correspond to the wording used for the Western Balkans, as mentioning enlargement has become an unspoken taboo in Brussels after the general enlargement fatigue and outright opposition from some member states.

Western Balkans summit encourages 'European perspective' but omits enlargement

A virtual meeting of EU and Western Balkan leaders to discuss the future of the region on Wednesday (6 May) will produce a final declaration that is set to omit the word “enlargement” altogether, instead focusing on EU support during the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of continued adherence to European value and reforms.

Asked by EURACTIV, a Commission spokesperson said only that “as the EU, we are focused on implementing the Association Agreement/DCFTA [Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement] to the full, in order to reap its full potential,” echoing the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s words following the Eastern Partnership teleconference last week.

Kobakhidze said Georgia recognised that its EU membership “will not be possible within the next couple of years but it is just important for us to be consistent in our efforts and have permanent progress with regard to the EU integration”.

“80% of Georgians support the idea of Georgia’s EU integration, so it’s not just the will of the Georgian government, it’s the strong will of the Georgian people.”

The politician said that the post-Soviet country is also looking to particularly speed up its economic integration, as the country’s economic growth is important both domestically and for its bid to become an EU member.

Georgia’s GDP per capita remains almost twice lower than that of the EU’s poorest member state, Bulgaria.

“We are very much interested in getting the same or at least similar kind of tools of support, even if we are still not a full member of the European Union.”

Kobakhidze described as “crucial” Sunday’s (21 June) vote, where the parliament passed in first reading the electoral reform bill.

Protests erupted in Georgia in November last year, after the bill that would have ensured fully proportional elections in October 2020 failed.

A compromise was reached between Georgian Dream and the opposition in March after three months of negotiations facilitated by the representatives of the EU, Germany, the Council of Europe and the US.

Under the reform, the number of proportionally elected MPs in the 150 seat parliament would increase from 77 to 120, with an additional 1% electoral threshold and a requirement that the winning party must gain at least 40% of the votes to form its own majority.

However, two opposition parties, United National Movement and European Georgia, are promising to vote against the reform in second and third reading unless Giorgi Rurua, a co-founder of TV channel Mtavari Arkhi, is released from prison. He was detained in November for illegal possession and carrying of a firearm.

“The second part [of the March agreement] was about the improper politicisation of the judicial system,… and there was a different understanding of this provision,” said Kobakhidze, whose ruling party maintains that the government cannot interfere with the justice system.

On the appointment of former president Mikheil Saakashvili, who faces multiple prison sentences in Georgia, as a top reform adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kobakhidze said: “We don’t think that his appointment was a friendly kind of decision from the side of the Ukrainian government.”

“But again, we don’t think that it will in the long or even medium-term influence the relations between the countries. Also, because we believe that Saakashvili will not manage to keep his position for a long period of time.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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