EU-Logos

The choice to have a
focus precisely on the relations between Georgia and European Union (EU), is
based on the fact that this country, because of its position, has played a
crucial role for the determination of power interactions over this region,
split between Russian sphere of influence and the tension to get closer to the
EU. The Association Agreement signed in 2017 is only the last step of a huge
process that the Georgia has started with the EU after the declaration of
independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  In order to analyse the complete process of
appeasement, it is important to have an overview on the historical background,
and trying to go deeper in the dynamics and forces that push this Caucasian
Country in the arms of the EU. On the other hand,  the core issue of this appeasement for the EU
could be the improvement in its external relation, mainly economic, with the
neighbourhoods.  The article so proposes an analysis of the
characteristics of the Georgian political culture and in which measure this
could be crucial in order to determine the scale needle in favor of the
West.

1.Historical Background
 

A good starting point in order to understand the
dynamics within this country, is the war happened in 1992-1993 after the
declaration of independence of Georgian territory from the Soviet Union. The
war was the result of a discontent spread in a region situated on the Russian
borders, the Abkhazia. This region, before the Georgian independence, pushed to
remain with USSR, also because part of the population belongs to a different
ethnic group compared to the main Georgian population. [1]

In the period of the disintegration of the USSR,
Georgia was engaged in an internal war between two factions and at the same
time engaged in the military answer to regain the control of the Abkhaz
territory. Despite all the efforts the Georgia army was defeat, and there was a
definitively close of the bridges between Tiblisi and the new self-defined
independent region. [2]

The efforts to ensure a peace building were done
mainly by Russia, with the help of the United Nations (UN), but they were quite
ineffective, and with some dark corners.

In 2008 another conflict outbreak as a revival
of the same issues arose during the previous conflict. This was the turn of the
South Ossetia discontent. The situation this time ends with a recognition from
Russian’s side of the two independent territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[3]

These two secessionist events marked a clear
signal that the Tiblisi leadership was in contrast with the Kremlin’s  political ambitions and since this moment the
diplomatic relations between these countries started to be hostile. During the
period between the first and the second secessionist conflicts another internal
issue broke the stability for the Georgian government, the so called “Rose
Revolution” in 2003.

This was a 
revolution started with peaceful street protests led by the politicians
Mikheil Saakashvili and strongly supported by the civil society.[4]
After the revolution the leader became President in the January election of
2004.  From this moment, he started a
process of reforms in the country and 
according to which the role of the civil society would be the milestone
of this new system. Anyway, the hopeful promises were clash with the reality of
the facts that in 2007/2008 the politics became increasingly centralized
without giving the possibility to the civil society to enter in the decisional
dynamics. The war in South Ossetia was the main important issue that the new
government led by Saakashvili had to face in 2008[5].
The war caused not only a loss in terms of human life, but a loss in terms of
the democracy level improvement.

According to Samuele Dominioni[6],
the effects of the August conflict on 2008 was crucial in the determination of
the international actors involved in the country. Since this moment for example
the EU became the main donor  for the country,
and  at  the same time was a crucial in order to define
the new consideration of power in the country itself. From this moment the
Saakashivili’s power was drastically reduced. Also the US expressed itself
about the issues in the Country when in 2005 the President George W. Bush said
concerning the country that it is “beacon of liberty for this region”[7].
By the way, these words have not seen a concrete implication over the land.
After the invasion held by Russia on the Georgian territory, the US decided to
remain outside of the Caucasian squabbles.

By contrast, was the French President in that
time, Nicolas Sarkozy that took the burden of the peace process negotiation. In
this way we can generally consider the EU as main actor in the resolution of
this conflict.[8]

The EU after the war decided to strengthen its
positions in the country by using mainly the Eastern Partnership (EaP)[9],
which consists in imposing a series of threshold in the field of human rights
and democratic governance in order to receive the EU economic and financial aids[10].
The Saakashvili government was in deep crisis when, despite his will to
strengthen the power in the hands of the President, he received a strong
opposition both from internal and external actors. At the international level
for example during the 84th meeting of the Venice Commission in
2010, has been adopted an opinion about the Georgian wish to change the
Constitution, in which the main wish for the Europeans toward the Georgian
government was to set up rules in order to guarantee a better balance of powers
and to ensure the accountability of the government toward the Parliament. [11]

Toward the Saakashvili  words it is possible to frame the meaning of
his actions, when he said in Moscow in 2004: “I am not a pro-Russian president,
but nor  am I pro-American. I am a
Georgian president, and, therefore, I am European”.[12]Even
if he expressed himself as not pro-American, in any case he thought that at the
top of his tasks list there was the need to be closer to the NATO in order to
reach a protection against the Russian influence always pressing from the East .
At the time was not so clear if the entrance in the EU was a major
priority  compared to the entrance in the
NATO in any case, the will of the President Saakashvili was to join the EU as
soon as possible. The entrance in the EU become feasible during the enlargement
process in which was involved the Balkan region. The Georgian government anyway
would have recognize that the entrance in the EU was a remote possibility also
when the country was included in the European Neighbourhood Program (ENP) in
2006[13].

The end of Saakashvili fortune as president of
the Georgian Republic was clear when the demonstration organized by the civil
society became stronger and stronger, when in 2011 they asked for the
resignation of their President.[14]
This situation creates the reasons that explain the victory of what happened
with the Presidential election in 2018. During this phase the party Georgian
Dream was born and the main architect of this design was the business man and
billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. This new face of the Georgian political life
was behind the victory of the election in 2012 of Giorgi Margvelashvili, and in
2018 of the Salomé Zourabichvili.[15]

The position that Ivanishvili had face to the
Russian power were in terms of achieving the stability and normalization with
the country. By the way his links with the west are much stronger. Based on his
view about the Europe, and the importance of its economic help, he tried to
strengthen  the link with the EU. Referring
to what some scholars claim  about the
perception of the West in the Georgian society, even with a lack of the information
during the Soviet period, the information collected are in line with the
consideration of the West not in geographical way, but more in terms of the
idea behind. For example a description of the West concerning, as Stephen Jones
wrote: “ for most Georgians, the West means eventual prosperity, democracy,
independence, security, and recognition of Georgia’s rightful place in the
“civilized world”- despite the West’s reluctance to take a stand against
Russian interference in Georgian affaires and the continuing economic crisis
and corruption”.[16]

2. The European Side

The reaction of the EU after the war in 2008 was
seen as a failure of the political and economic project, the ENP. This plan had
first of all the aim of preventing the conflict and ensure a stable situation
on the burden zone.

Anyway, the EU aid after the conflict was
realized in the presidency of the negotiation of the peace agreement. The peace
agreement held on the 12th of August 2008 was structured in six
points that included the EU Monitoring Mission in the area.[17]
The Eastern Partnership agreement (EaP) started in 2009 and the main purpose is
to define new relations between the Union and six eastern countries of the ENP.
The main objectives of this plan are to accelerate political association and
deepen economic integration, promote democracy and good governance and
reduction of socio-economic imbalances.[18]

The EaP envisaged closer political cooperation and
new forms of Association Agreement, the eventual visa liberalization and Deep
and comprehensive Free Trade Agreements.[19]
In any case, this strict collaboration doesn’t foreseen an entrance in EU. The
Association Agreement was sign on 27th of June 2014. The Agreement
introduce a preferential trade regime –the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade
Area (DCFTA) and the EU became the main trade partner of Georgia. The DCFTA
creates a closer economic integration based on the principles of the World
Trade Organization (WTO). DCFTA allows Georgian trade-related laws to generally
match selected pieces of the EU legal framework.[20]
 The VISA liberalization for Georgian
citizens done in 2017, meant that more than 300,000 of visitors were able to
cross the Schengen area for a short stay, 90 days. [21]
In any case the European integration remains one of the main objectives for the
Georgian society. The integration process is foreseen in many sector thanks to
the Association Agreement, the DCFTA and Visa Liberalization Agreement.

Before the entrance in to force of the last
agreement, the Georgian government acted a period of serious reforms. Georgia,
in an informal way jointed the EU in Military crisis management operations in
the frame of the CSPD, as well as the EU military mission in the Central
African Republic and in Mali.[22]
It is possible to claim  with these agreements
that the EU is improving his soft power in the country. It is also true that
from the civil society there are pro-EU attitudes[23]
even though not all the efforts done by the EU are attributed as such. The
process of enhancing the soft power tools is something also on the Russia
agenda towards the Georgia and other countries in the region. Constitution of
NGOs or foundations led by Moscow are only few example of the strong presence
that Russia is trying to enhance, without consider the two independent regions
in which Russia has built military and naval basis.[24]
According to the State Security Services, in the recent period it seems to be
widespread the phenomenon according to which through media and social media
some actors are instigating the population to assume anti-West, and so
anti-European attitudes in order to preserve the Georgian values and way of
life. In any case the Georgian government –the former and the new one- stress
the topic of the EU appeasement more and more by legislation tools. [25]

The EU is still supporting Georgian economy
since the first introduction of the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) in
2014. Stating to the European External Action Services data, the EU is
investing 589,5 million Euros in financing, by bilateral programs, the Georgian
economic activities. The activities mainly supported by the EU are in the
fields of economic development, justice and public administration reforms,
energy and infrastructure development. The European Commission together with
the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and
Development worked on the facilities for the small and medium-sized enterprises.
The results are already visible in fields such as agriculture and rural
development, as well as the improvement in the prisoners situation in jails. [26]
Concerning a more geopolitical aspect the EU is always supporting the Georgia
government in managing the situation within the two regions declared
independent after the 2008 war. Thus the EU does not recognize the independent
regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [27]

3. New (old)
challenges

As demonstrated until now Georgia has always  tried to be closer to the EU even with
different intensity depending on the period and on the leaders had. Anyway, in
the next future seems that this tie could be enhanced because of the new
President that has personally very strict relation with the Union. The new
president elected in December 2018 is an ex French diplomat, since she was born
in Paris after her parents escape from the country. Obviously the election of
Salomé in the country was seen as the result of the huge support ensured by the
Georgian billionaire and former prime minister, 
Bidzina Ivanishvili founder of the Georgian Dream party.[28]

According to the POLITICO article written by Rym Momtaz, the new president main goal is to drive the country as close as possible to the EU and the NATO. During her meeting with the president Macron, he stressed the fully sustain  of the new leadership of the Georgian government. The support of the EU, as it’s possible to figure, will go in a direction that never will be openly against Russia. Even if in the Union there are country, such as France, more likely to have an hard line toward Moscow. [29]  

The Georgian leader herself, probably is aware of the impossibility to became, at least in the next future, member of these two organisations, for at least two reasons. In the case of the EU, after the enlargement process, the Union seems not ready to follow the « classic way » if integration, but it is trying to think back to enlargement according to different logics, precisely by developing Association Agreements and closer economic agreements ( AA and DCFTA and VISA).

Regarding the entrance in the NATO, it seems to be not a realistic possibility because Russia could consider it as the Atlantic’s threat too much close to its borders. Considering the positive impact that the Association Agreement has in Georgia – as well as Moldova and Ukraine – is it possible that the EU has finally found a way of expanding and strengthening its sphere of interests without resorting to enlargement, which often causes tensions between Member States due to political differences?

Giulia Marino


[1] The EU and Civil
Society in the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict, by
Nicu Popescu 2010 on MICROCON  Policy working Paper 15

[2] Ibidem

[3] Ibidem

[4]Ibidem

[5] The August War and
Georgia’s Path toward democracy
, Samuele Dominioni, 07 Agosto 2018, Istituto per gli studi di Politica
Internazionale (ISPI)

[6] Research fellow at ISPI center on
Cybersecurity:  https://www.ispionline.it/it/bio/samuele-dominioni

[7] The Guardian, Bush hails Georgia as ‘beacon of liberty’, Agencies 10 May 2005

Web site: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/may/10/georgia.usa 

[8] The August War and Georgia’s
Path toward democracy
, Samuele Dominioni, 07 Agosto 2018, Istituto per gli
studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI)

[9] The Eastern Partnership is a joint policy
initiative which aims to deepen and strengthen relations between the EU, its
Member States and its six Eastern neighbours: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus,
Georgia, Moldova  and Ukraine.

[10] ibidem

[11] FINAL OPINION ON THE DRAFT
CONSTITUTIONAL LAW ON AMENDMENTS AND CHANGES TO THE CONSTITUTION OF GEORGIA
Adopted by the Venice Commission at its 84th Plenary Session (Venice, 15-16
October 2010) :

[12] INSTRUMENTALISING EURO-ATLANTICISM ;
EURO-ATLANTIC DISCOURSE IN GEORGIA FROM THE ROSE REVOLUTION TO THE DEFEAT OF
THE UNITED NATIONAL MOVEMENT, Frederik Coene 6 December 2013

[13] ibidem

[14] The August War and
Georgia’s Path toward democracy
, Samuele Dominioni, 07 Agosto 2018, Istituto per gli studi di Politica
Internazionale (ISPI)

[15] Salomé Zourabichv, La
perferita
Wojciech
Jagielski and Tygodnik Powszechny, Poland publiched on Internazionale-1292

[16] Stephen Jones, “The role of
cultural paradigms in Georgian foreign policy,” in Journal of Communist Studies
and Transition Politics, Vol. 19, No. 3 (2003): 102.

[17] Commentary- After the Georgia War:
the EU and Eastern Europe, Marco Ferraro
| 07 Agosto 2018
(ISPI)

Website:
https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/after-georgia-war-eu-and-eastern-europe-21102

[18] THE EUROPEAN NEIGHBOURHOOD POLICY,
Kirsten Jongberg / Mario Damen / Jérôme Legrand 10/2018 : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/fiches_techniques/2017/N54178/en.pdf

[19] After the Georgia War: the EU and Eastern
Europe, Marco Ferraro, 07/08/2018 https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/after-georgia-war-eu-and-eastern-europe-21102

[20] European Commission http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/georgia/

[21]
https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_en/23634/EU-Georgia%20relations,%20factsheet

[22] Joint Staff Working Document, Association
Implementation Report on Georgia, 9 November 2017

[23] The Road to Georgia’s EU integration, Tinatin
Tsertsvadze, 07/08/2018 https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/road-georgias-eu-integration-21059

[24] “Georgia’s unresolved counflicts: More of the
Same?” Laure Delcour 28/01/20191:
https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/georgias-unresolved-conflicts-more-same-22105

[25] The Road to Georgia’s EU integration, Tinatin
Tsertsvadze, 07/08/2018 https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/road-georgias-eu-integration-21059

[26]
https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_en/23634/EU-Georgia%20relations,%20factsheet

[27] ibidem

[28]Georgia elects French-born
Zurabishvili as president, OSCE says process was undermined, by Chris Harris,
Euronews, 29/11/2018 https://www.euronews.com/2018/11/26/explainer-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-race-to-be-georgia-s-next-president

[29] Georgian leader revives French
connection Salomé Zourabichvili aims to bring country closer to EU and NATO,
with help from her past life, by Rym Momtaz 22/02/2019

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