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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Brussels Warns Georgia: More Efforts Needed for EU Membership

Amid growing concerns about increasing Russian influence in the country and ongoing disputes in Brussels over accession deadlines, Josep Borrell’s high-profile visit to Georgia takes place.

In Kazbegi, Georgia, Ukrainian flags proudly wave from the houses lining the highway leading to the Georgian border. Meanwhile, below on the road, numerous tow-trucks transport brand-new luxury Porsches and Land Rovers over the mountain pass and into Russia, as the super-wealthy seek to evade Western sanctions.

If Georgian politicians have their way, this could soon become the easternmost frontier of the European Union.

However, Georgia has chosen not to impose sanctions on Russia and faces accusations of assisting in their circumvention by exporting consumer goods and luxury items, such as the cars queued up at the Kazbegi border.

For years, this South Caucasus nation has openly expressed its desire to join the EU, despite being over a thousand kilometers away from the nearest member state across the Black Sea. The former Soviet Republic has even enshrined its aspirations to become part of both the EU and NATO in its constitution.

During his long-awaited visit to Georgia on Thursday, the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, cautioned that Brussels would require more evidence of progress on crucial reforms before granting approval for the country’s application in an enlargement update expected in October.

Borrell, in an article written for the Civil Georgia news site to coincide with his visit, stated, “Georgia’s efforts have been recognized, but further actions are necessary. There is limited time remaining until these critical decisions regarding Georgia’s future are made, which is why we strongly urge Georgian authorities to seize this opportunity.”

A year ago, the European Union granted candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, both hopefuls for EU membership. However, Georgia was only acknowledged for its “European perspective” and received a list of 12 reforms to implement, including “de-oligarchization,” addressing political polarization, strengthening institutions, and fostering ties with civil society.

Unfortunately, the outlook is not particularly optimistic. Bidzina Ivanishvili, an oligarch and former prime minister whose net worth reportedly amounts to a significant portion of the country’s GDP, is said to be a major driving force behind Georgia’s recent political shift towards Moscow since the onset of Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to a report by the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Rough road ahead

In July, a pride festival in the capital city, Tbilisi, faced an intrusion by religious rioters, all transpiring under the watchful gaze of the authorities. This incident drew condemnation from Western capitals. Moreover, just last week, the ruling Georgian Dream party initiated impeachment proceedings against the president due to her friendly visits to EU countries.

Concerns have also been voiced in Brussels about the well-being of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Ukraine alleges that he is being subjected to a slow demise while in custody, supposedly at the behest of Russia.

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Josep Borrell’s cautionary message contradicts Georgia’s own assessment of its progress. A representative from Georgia’s diplomatic mission to the EU informed POLITICO, “We have made significant strides in addressing all the priorities.” The spokesperson further emphasized that Georgia has earned the status of a candidate for EU membership, both in terms of its technical preparedness for this step and its consistent geopolitical choices over the past 25 years.

A nationwide survey conducted in April by the International Republican Institute revealed that a remarkable 89 percent of Georgians support the idea of joining the EU, marking the highest level of support in years. However, only 38 percent of the 1,500 participants believe that the current government is pursuing a “pro-Western” direction.

The impending EU enlargement process may still hold some surprises. Hungarian Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, responsible for enlargement within the bloc, has endorsed a proposal by European Council President Charles Michel to admit new members by 2030, challenging the Commission’s official stance that there is no set deadline.

Borrell’s hastily arranged visit appears to be a signal from Brussels that the opportunity for Georgia’s EU candidacy remains open. The question now revolves around whether the Georgian Dream party is still interested in pursuing it.

According to Tom de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, the ruling party seems “serious about candidate status—but on their own terms.” In a few months, they may either take credit for the success of their strategy or be forced to explain its failure to an irate public.

John Collins
John Collins
John is an esteemed journalist and author renowned for their incisive reporting and deep insights into global affairs. As a prominent contributor to City Telegraph, John brings over 5 years of experience covering diverse geopolitical landscapes, from the corridors of power in major capitals to the frontlines of conflict zones.

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