On February 1, the European Commission published analytical reports on Georgia’s, Ukraine’s and Moldova’s respective alignment with the European Union’s acquis. The reports complement the opinions adopted by the European Commission on the three countries’ applications for EU accession in June 2022. In its report, Georgia is rated positively and performs relatively well compared to Ukraine and Moldova (Ec.europa.eu, February 1). As a result, the report has added fuel to the Georgian government’s propaganda.
For more than half a year, the ruling elite in Georgia have been forced to make excuses to the domestic population, as Ukraine and Moldova received the status of EU candidate states last summer and the issue of assigning the same status to Georgia was postponed. Georgia’s top political leadership immediately responded to the European Commission report. Georgian Foreign Minister Ilia Darchiashvili declared, “The report outlines the tangible outcomes of the appropriate and consistent efforts exerted on behalf of the Georgian government in terms of undertaking reforms along the path toward European integration” (Facebook.com/IliaDarchiashvili, February 3). Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili argued that, thanks to its achievements, Georgia already deserved the status of an EU candidate as early as June 2022 (Facebook.com/ShalvaPapuashvili, February 3). Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili also responded to the analytical report on Twitter: “The document clearly reflects our country’s progress in the EU integration path and once again demonstrates that Georgia, as a top reformer, deserves to be granted candidate status” (Twitter.com/GaribashviliGe, February 3).
The EU report is of course a positive signal for Georgia, though this analytical document has no direct connection with the assignment of candidate status to Georgia. According to Brussels, Georgia has not yet received candidate status because the country still does not meet the necessary political criteria of the EU. Overall, the most critical issues are completing de-oligarchization, reducing the level of political polarization and strengthening democratic institutions. The EU will start developing another document starting this coming spring, which will contain an assessment of whether Georgia has fulfilled the 12 political requirements necessary to obtain candidate status (Ec.europa.eu, June 17, 2022).
Dissatisfaction is growing in the EU over Tbilisi’s accession process. Although Georgia shows a relatively satisfactory readiness in the fields of economics or legislation, in the fields of politics, human rights, as well as security and foreign policy, Georgia seems to be increasingly in disagreement with EU policy, including on the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine and joining the Western sanctions regime against Russia.
The recommendations adopted by the European Parliament on November 23, 2022, regarding the new EU strategy for enlargement indicate the necessity of the countries within the enlargement package to comply with the common foreign and security policy of the EU, including sanctions (Europarl,europa.ec, November 23, 2022). Georgia’s behavior appears contradictory in this regard, considering that Tbilisi still refuses to join the EU sanctions regime against Russia. Further, Georgia’s alignment with EU declarations and decisions has been decreasing from year to year. In the Association Implementation Report on Georgia (dated August 10, 2022), in 2021, Georgia’s alignment rate with relevant official statements on behalf of EU decisions was 53 percent, marking a decrease from 62 percent in 2020. During the first half of 2022, the rate further decreased to 42 percent (Consilium.europa.ec, August 12, 2022).
If Georgia fulfills all 12 recommendations and receives candidate status, its reliability test will continue: the Georgian authorities will have to demonstrate adherence to EU principles and prove with concrete steps that Tbilisi is a reliable partner. For example, in Georgia, there is little demand for the introduction of a visa regime for Russian citizens, which is actively opposed by the current Georgian government. But if Georgia receives official candidate status, Brussels will most likely require Tbilisi to introduce such restrictions for Russian citizens, as it did with Bosnia-Herzegovina immediately after the country was granted candidate status in December 2022 (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 30).
Meanwhile, the EU continues to urge Georgia to join its sanctions regime against Russia in the aviation sector and to remain vigilant against any possible attempts by Moscow to circumvent these sanctions. The EU’s lead spokesperson for foreign affairs and security, Peter Stano, in an interview for the Georgian outlet Netgazeti, stated, “The EU sanctions regime is considering imposing sanctions on those who participate in or support the possible circumvention of EU sanctions against Russia” (Netgazeti, February 4). The Russian state media reacted harshly to this comment, unleashing propaganda that the EU threatens Georgia with sanctions if flights between Georgia and Russia are resumed (RIA Novosti, February 6).
An additional problematic difficulty for the EU-Georgian relationship is the issue of the arrest and imprisonment of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, On February 2, a debate was held in the European Parliament over Saakashvili’s future. Many members of the European Parliament are concerned about the deterioration of the former Georgian president’s health (Ecrgroup.eu, February 2). Furthermore, Kyiv has launched several appeals to have Saakashvili, who retains Ukrainian citizenship, extradited to Ukraine (Kyiv Post, February 2). However, on February 6, the Tbilisi City Court rejected the request of Saakashvili’s lawyers to have his sentence suspended or to have the former Georgian president released (Interpressnews.ge, February 6). In a resolution adopted on February 15, the European Parliament, in response, expressed its grave concerns about Saakashvili’s deteriorating health and called on the Georgian authorities to release the former president and allow him to receive proper medical treatment abroad (Europarl.europa.eu, February 15).
Thus, the steps taken by Georgia’s ruling elite demonstrate that they neglect the political requirements of rapprochement with the EU. For full membership, commitment to the EU’s fundamental values is non-negotiable. Currently, the Georgian authorities are lazily fulfilling the 12 requirements for EU membership while conducting an uncoordinated foreign and security policy. Instead, Tbilisi is highlighting other formal, technocratic achievements, including the synchronization of the country’s legislative framework with standards in different industries. The Georgian government also emphasizes various improving economic indicators. And it is with these “modest dowries” that Tbilisi hopes to join the European family.