We believe that the next general elections, scheduled for October 2024, will bring the renewal of the political mandate for Georgian Dream to bring Georgia to actual integration into the European Union, the Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili remarked in his statement posted on Twitter.
Below is his full statement as delivered:
“Five myths about Georgia’s EU candidate status
The European Commission’s recommendation this week to grant Georgia the EU candidate country status was a historic decision. After granting the European Perspective last year, this week’s decision constitutes an entirely new level of progress. It also brings a higher level of responsibility for the Georgian Government. The European Commission’s announcement met the Georgian government’s and public’s expectations, duly reflecting our decade-long unwavering commitment to the European path and Western orientation. This decision is, hopefully, a precursor to an even more important decision this December.
The Georgian public and government welcomed and appreciated the European Commission’s seminal decision. Sadly, the day that should have been a moment of national unity, was marred by the opposition’s relentless attempts to discredit the government’s role in this achievement. These attempts rest on myths that aim to discredit the Georgian government and, despite being baseless and slanderous, require an answer.
Therefore, this piece is not about the future plans for addressing the EU’s new propositions about Georgia’s future membership in the EU. The incumbent Georgian Dream government will, in due course, make efforts to advance the country to the next stage of integration with the EU, the membership negotiations. Rather, I am writing to dispel the myths that have been contrived and disseminated about Georgia’s EU candidate country status in the past few months. These myths were born out of disinformation, political bias, and misperceptions.
1. Georgian government has done too little to deserve the candidate status
The major myth among them is that Georgia was given the candidate status without duly fulfilling the 12 priorities originally set out by the European Commission in June 2022. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The 12 priorities were dealt with, almost single-handedly, by the Georgian Dream authorities. The Parliament, in particular, worked hard. Parliamentary working groups, the Committees, and the staff completed an immense volume of work. Nearly a hundred laws were passed for the purpose of fulfillment of the EU recommendations, which constitutes one third of the overall Parliamentary work.
This was accomplished in close coordination with the executive branch – the governmental ministries, agencies, and the diplomatic corps. The bulk of this work, as usual, may not have been immediately visible to the outsiders, but those in charge in Brussels and the European capitals know all too well what has been accomplished.
Majority of these 12 priorities that were somewhat imprecise and nebulous at first, were re-conceptualized and re-defined in more or less precise and verifiable terms by the Georgian Parliament and Government, and then communicated with the European partners, to be fulfilled during the last year and a half.
In fact, the new nine ‘steps to be taken’, recommended by the European Commission now, repeat only few of the previous points, and do so in a more rigorously formulated way than the previous 12 recommendations. They implicitly indicate that the Commission recognizes that the majority of the past recommendations have been met or need to be reformulated for further, more elaborate effort.
2. People deserved the status, not the government
Separating the democratically elected government from the people is a tactic from the Kremlin’s playbook, and a beloved revolutionary approach of the Soviet regime in the past. In democracy, such as Georgia, the government acts upon the will of people. The government’s obtaining, first, of the European Perspective and, then, the candidacy recommendation are the proofs thereof. Georgian Dream was the only party that incorporated the intention to apply for EU membership by 2024 in its pre-election program of 2020, and diligently worked its way along the designated path.
Moreover, even if the sophist argument about separating government from people is taken for its face value, it does not stand up to scrutiny in Georgia’s case. According to ALL public surveys and polls, Georgian electorate resolutely favors the ruling Georgian Dream party over the opposition by a large margin, sometimes all of them, taken together.
The opposition’s attempt to virtually separate Georgian people from their government even made one foreign critic to arrogantly refer to the status recommendation as a ‘gift’ to the Georgian people, which probably was demeaning more to the EU than to the Georgian public.
3. Georgian government distanced itself from Europe
Georgian Dream incorporated the double clause of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, respectively the EU and NATO, into the new edition of the Constitution in 2018. Apart from these and other legislative measures, ALL major diplomatic victories on the EU front that advanced Georgia towards Europe, have been secured under the Georgian Dream government in the past 11 years. We signed the Association Agreement with the EU, which included the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. We achieved and, equally importantly, successfully maintained the visa-free travel between Georgia and the European Union. Finally, last year, we gained the European Perspective for the country.
All these achievements stemmed from the Government’s strong political will and the efficiency of the ever-improving public institutions.
4. The opposition worked hard for the status
This is the most vicious and cynical myth. The opposition, especially its radical part, attempted first to sabotage the work on EU’s 12 priorities, then to smear the Georgian government’s efforts, and, finally, to downplay the importance of the accomplishment. However, once they realized that the candidacy was happening and its political importance was high, the opposition tried to claim a stake in the achievement.
Then, the truth, of course, is not on our opponents’ side. The parliamentary work on 12 priorities was organized along the working groups and the Parliamentary Committees. The opposition’s participation (or, rather, non-participation) in the process can be very easily measured both quantitatively and qualitatively. This simple measurement would only indicate that the opposition’s contribution was modest, to put it mildly. Quite to the contrary, the radical part of the opposition, in fact, tried in earnest to damage the process. Their calculation was that failure to fulfil the 12 recommendations would lead to the failure to get the candidate status. This, in the opposition’s mind, would turn the people against the government and, therefore, their radical part boycotted most of the work in the Parliament. They did not participate in most of the voting either, for passing the legislation presumed by the EU recommendations. Again, this is very easy to verify. Moreover, many of them took pains of travelling abroad extensively to smear the government’s efforts. The opposition did not achieve much in the national capitals or the European Commission itself, but were more ‘successful’ in the European Parliament, which is the EU political body most malleable to political influences and bias.
Unfortunately, some politically biased non-governmental organizations worked in close coordination with the radicals.
So, in cases where it was possible for the ruling party to cooperate with the moderate wing of the opposition (e.g. electing the ombudsman with the parliamentary consensus), progress was achieved and the recommendation was counted as ‘fulfilled’ unequivocally. The same can be said about the electoral reform, which was assessed under the rubric of ‘significant progress’ by the EU.
However, those EU-designated priorities that required involvement of the opposition or civil society proved to be more problematic, to put it mildly. Opposition, especially its radical part, torpedoed the fulfillment of those preconditions. Such were the cases of de-polarization or involvement of civil society in decision-making. Even when the moderate opposition MPs co-operated with the governing party, they were systematically bullied by their radical colleagues and by some politically biased NGOs. This shameful practice was later publicly revealed by those moderate opposition MPs who voted for the consensual election of the ombudsman, as required by one of the EU priorities.
Similarly, in cases where civil society organizations showed interest and intent for cooperation, the ruling party duly involved them in the process (e.g. the Parliament’s cooperation with the Georgian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum). However, unfortunately, some politically biased NGOs opted out from the process and attacked the government’s efforts from the outside.
5. Candidacy was about geopolitics, not Georgia’s performance
Geopolitical factors create the permissive or challenging environment but it is up to the governments to exploit it to their advantage. International political change, per definition, influences Georgia’s progress towards Europe. The Russian invasion of Ukraine cannot be cast as an opportunity for Georgia. In fact, this unjustified and inhumane invasion has exacerbated the already daunting security challenge for our country. Everybody knows that Russian occupying forces are almost in the vicinity of Tbilisi, threatening Georgian sovereignty on daily basis, as tragically showcased by the recent murder of Georgian citizen Tamaz Ginturi, near the occupation line of the Tskhinvali region.
In the past three decades, Georgian people developed its democratic governance structures at a gunpoint. It is very difficult to find any other nation with the same extent of democratic achievements as Georgia in a similarly threatening geopolitical environment.
Presenting the invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity for Georgia is immoral. It did change geopolitics but let us not forget also that Georgia has always been forerunner in the Eastern Partnership format, since the day of its creation, and remains as such according to all numerical data.
Above all, geopolitics did not change since June 2022, when the European Commission’s recommendation on granting Georgia a candidate status turned out to be negative. So, to ask a rhetorical question, how did geopolitics favor us this time, if Georgia did not improve its credentials?
What lies ahead?
With all this said, the major achievement that will remain in history is the European Commission’s decision, not the politicking around it.
We have a lot of work ahead. It is good that the communication with the EU over the new nine recommendations appears, this time, to be better structured than before. This gives us good understanding of recommendations so that to measure and codify our progress. We believe that the existing structured dialogue with the EU would actually enhance the efficiency of Georgia’s continuous progress.
Especially interesting is the new clause on disinformation. It may be crucial for Georgia’s political development. This clause is very welcome by Georgian authorities. Manipulation, creation of misperceptions, and outright disinformation are the diseases that poisoned Georgia’s political climate for years. Tackling disinformation will be the most important step forward for ending polarization and radicalization in Georgian politics. Disinformation feeds confrontation in our political life. Diminishing the level of disinformation will help us consolidate our democracy and move more quickly towards the EU.
Georgian government is resolute about achieving the maximum on Georgia’s path of European integration in the coming years. We believe that the next general elections, scheduled for October 2024, will bring the renewal of the political mandate for Georgian Dream to bring Georgia to actual integration into the European Union.
The future is promising. We should seize the opportunity and return Georgia to where it belongs, to the European family of nations.”