(Op-ed) Turning Challenges into Opportunities: The Way Forward for Georgia’s European Integration
(Op-ed) Turning Challenges into Opportunities: The Way Forward for Georgia’s European Integration

Chairwoman of the Georgian parliamentary Committee on European Integration, Maka Botchorishvili and First Deputy Chairman of the Committee Levan Karumidze published the joint op-ed. The text is as follows:

One year ago, when we began to prepare for the parliamentary elections, we defined applying for EU membership in 2024 and preparing the country for this step as the main foundation of the election program of the Georgian Dream, the country’s ruling party. At the time, one probably would not have imagined that “more EU in Georgia and more Georgia in the EU” would have become a part of our daily lives so quickly. A year full of political surprises was truly distinguished by the high degree of EU involvement.

In the wake of Georgia’s boisterous politics, many things have changed in the European Union’s Eastern Neighborhood as well. While the Eastern Partnership has never been exactly monotonous, it has become even more vibrant over the past year and against this backdrop, Georgia has become increasingly prominent as an important partner for the European Union in the Eastern Neighborhood. The Karabakh war, the processes underway in Belarus, Russia’s increasing influence in the region, and the elections in Moldova introduced qualitative changes in the architecture of the Eastern Partnership. A real moment emerged to strengthen the format of the Associated Trio, which gave impetus to the formalization of cooperation between Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in the process of European integration. At the same time, it should be noted that the Eastern Partnership has never been so important for the European Union. This is evidenced by the EU initiative to offer the Eastern Partners an ambitious economic and investment plan for rapid recovery and development.

Let’s review one politically hot year for Georgia’s democracy, spanning from October to October, and think about the role it might play in the relations between Georgia and the European Union.

Erratic steps taken by the opposition since the October 2020 parliamentary elections – a boycott of Parliament, attacks on state institutions, complete disregard for the rule of law – have damaged the country’s reputation. Georgia, which has become a leader in the European Union’s neighborhood thanks to successful reforms, immediately came under the European Union’s special attention.

European Council President Charles Michel made an unusually bold decision and offered to mediate between political parties during his visit to Georgia in March 2021. This move was immediately assessed as a big risk behind the scenes in Brussels. If unsuccessful, this endeavor would have cast a shadow over the reputation of the top EU representative, which, naturally, would not have been desirable for the European Union itself.

The mediation initiative was followed by an exchange of top-level visits, and the dialogue entered an intensive phase both in Brussels and Tbilisi. The ruling party took exceptional steps to ensure the success of the mediation. As a result, some of the political parties signed a political agreement at the Presidential Palace in the presence of the President of the European Council, based on the terms proposed by the mediator. The boycott of Parliament was lifted, and the elected members of Parliament took their rightful seats.

The successful mediation of the President of the European Council presented Georgia with a good opportunity to take the right steps toward developing a truly multi-party democracy and prepare for a new phase, which implies electing the Parliament of the next convocation in a fully-proportional manner. If political parties use the period before the next elections to build platforms and establish strong ideological foundations, there will be a real chance to change the highly polarized political environment of recent years.

However, an extremely polarized environment remains the reality in the country in the run-up to the local elections. The high degree of polarization is not a phenomenon exclusive to Georgia; recently, even the world’s oldest democracies have faced similar challenges. The difference is that Georgia is now going through an important stage of establishing a multi-party democracy, and we have yet to face numerous challenges. This is precisely why it is especially important to have robust state institutions and to look after the foundations that must serve as the basis for further democratic development.

It is also important to note that the significant legislative initiatives carried out in the shortest possible time to implement the mediation agreement were overshadowed by the annulment of the latter by the ruling party in July. However, the main reason for the annulment – the largest opposition party’s refusal to sign the EU-mediated agreement and its use for further polarization – was somehow lost in the noise. The Georgian Government’s subsequent rejection of the 75-million-euro loan and differing interpretations of the process for appointing Supreme Court judges led to another commotion. This was used by the political opposition to cast a shadow over the unwavering European course chosen by Georgia.

In reality, the events this year marked a new stage in Georgia-EU relations and shed light on the need to strengthen and deepen the political dialogue between Georgia and the European Union.

Georgia, as the EU’s Associated Partner, has been successfully implementing reforms required for political association and economic integration with the European Union since 2014. The Government of Georgia has also been talking about the need to deepen relations beyond association for several years now. Concrete steps have been taken to this end, and attempts have been made to establish new formats for dialogue with the European Union.

The need to strengthen dialogue became even more evident after the Government of Georgia announced a concrete step toward the European Union by committing to apply for EU membership in 2024. In the wake of this decision, naturally, new waves of reform will be necessary for full integration into the European Union.

The path to EU membership is fraught with challenges as demonstrated by the experience of the countries that have become members of the European Union in recent decades or are going through this stage as we speak.

One hot year in Georgian democracy and the dynamics of Georgia-EU relations should create new opportunities that will help Georgia achieve its ultimate goal of EU membership and implement the necessary reforms. To do this, we must bolster expert and political dialogue at various levels. While also securing the flow of unbiased, complete and accurate information. Additionally, politicians on both sides must face up to the new challenges of EU integration and actively seek to address them effectively, rather than causing a stir with regard to the strategic goal on every occasion. As the EU-Georgia rapprochement intensifies, new challenges and hurdles may emerge on the way — from domestic or foreign players with vested interests. Thus, the opportunities provided by the Association Agreement are not enough, we need to open up European perspective and create new spaces for EU-Georgia exchange. This is particularly important given the growing influence of Russia and related circumstances in the region.