Home Europe News The EU in the Georgian political crisis: Is it time to expand...

The EU in the Georgian political crisis: Is it time to expand cooperation?

Georgia’s ongoing political crisis has been a consistent issue for nearly five months. Matters worsened when the country’s opposition refused to recognize October parliamentary elections – in which the incumbent Georgia Dream government comfortably won 90 seats in the 150-seat legislature. Georgia – with the claim that the votes were fraudulent. The OSCE’s election observation mission concludes that the vote is “competitive and in general, fundamental freedoms are respected”; however, it also mentions that there have been “rampant allegations of pressure on voters and a blurring of lines between the ruling party and the state”.

While the Georgian Dream party insists the elections are free and fair, most opposition MPs still refuse to accept duties and continue to demand new elections. As a result, one-third of the mandate of Parliament remains unrepresented, which seriously impedes the representation of the legislature, as well as domestic and international credibility.

Post-election turmoil was exacerbated when a court sentenced an opposition leader, Nikanor Melia, to prison for allegedly inciting protesters to occupy Parliament building during summer protests. 2019. This move has been considered politicized by many people, and it once again reveals the problems facing the country’s judiciary. This prompted Giorgi Gakharia – Georgia’s fifth prime minister in eight years – to resign the next day to disagree with his party over a plan to detain Melia. This led to a wave of domestic opposition and international criticism.

While the EU, still busy with pandemic resolution, has somewhat ignored relatively “free” elections, increasingly audacious actions by the government have prompted the Union and its partners Other West Georgia expressed serious concern. The EU ambassador to Georgia, Carl Hartzell, described the circumstances surrounding the prosecution of Melia as a “dangerous trajectory for Georgia”. The EU then issued a statement saying that Melia’s sentence “risks undermining Georgia’s democracy” and urged the ruling party and the opposition to “find common ground.” It emphasizes that “a comprehensive parliamentary process” is paramount for the country’s future relations with the EU.

Many believe this chaotic situation will be resolved by the end of February, when European Council President Charles Michel embarks on a tour of the East Partner countries – Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine – to show off “commitment to the EU’s Eastern partners” and discusses the initiative’s future. While his visit coincided with the domestic upheaval in Georgia, Charles Michel immediately prioritized solving the political crisis in Tbilisi. The participation of a senior EU official at the conciliation of the crisis demonstrated Georgia’s importance to the EU. Although Charles Michel emphasizes Georgia’s success as an Eastern Partner, he notes that constructive dialogue is crucial to solving the current political crisis.

On his initiative, the ruling party and the opposition met at the presidential palace to try to reduce political polarization and de-escalate issues, as well as actively participate in the EU as mediator. President Michel urged the government to follow democratic frameworks, reform the “more ambitious” country and compromise with the opposition. He has prepared a work program covering a number of key issues, such as election and judicial reform, releasing political prisoners and holding temporary elections. The scheduled mediation process will be reviewed at the EU-Georgia Association Council meeting in Brussels on 15 March.

While the country’s political crisis involved opposition protests against “fraudulent elections” and the existence of political prisoners, the opposition declared a readiness for dialogue ( prisoners should have been released), negotiating new elections and reforming the politicized judiciary.

During Charles Michel’s visit, Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili agreed to “do everything necessary” to take concrete steps to reduce the escalation of the situation, emphasizing that “Georgia needs to continue to become more democratic” and “Dialogue with the opposition is paramount.” Charles Michel’s visit has prepared a solid foundation for an agreement between the government and opposition parties. However, after President Michel left the country, the government story suddenly changed, with Irakli Gharibashvili announcing that new elections would not be held and remained a “red line” for with the ruling party. Thus, the work plan proposed by the President of the Council of Europe has been somewhat ignored and the Georgian government has “empty-handed” to the summit of the EU-Georgian Association in Brussels.

Many also hope that the new political dialogue led by Christian Danielson, representative of Charles Michel, as well as the EU-Georgian Association Summit in Brussels, can end the crisis. Mr. Danielson extended his stay in Tbilisi to resolve the situation but has yet to reach an agreement. Similarly, after the Brussels summit, Prime Minister Gharibashvili insisted that the next election could only be held in 2024, and that the release of prisoners could not be decided by the government. As a result, the ruling party has repeatedly made it clear that it is not ready to compromise with the opposition. Consequently, the EU’s efforts to help a ‘pioneering’ Eastern Partner state out of the political wilderness may not be fruitful, and in any case it will not be. The long-term solution to the profound crisis that Georgia has. are facing.

The close partnership between Georgia and the EU was primarily established under the Eastern Partnership in 2009. As a leader in the six-nation initiative, Georgia has successfully assembled. join the organization by signing the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, which allows free tourist visas to be granted to Georgian citizens to the states of the Schengen Area. Consequently, Georgia accumulated all possible tangible benefits under the EaP framework. While the country wished to become an EU member, the EU stated that cooperation as part of the EaP agreement and the association had no prospects of membership. Recent developments, as well as the notable democratic lag in the country, have shown that if the EU wants to keep Georgia committed to democratic values, the EU needs to provide it with more momentum.

Georgia’s ability to become an EU member currently has no realistic prospects given the organization’s fatigue and authoritarian tendencies in some member states, such as Hungary and Poland. In addition, although Georgia may appear more willing to become a member, the West Balkan states are still given higher priority from the EU due to their proximity to geopolitical positions.

The EaP appears to be an outdated initiative for a partnership unless it’s upgraded. Due to the limited progress of key democratic reforms in EaP countries related to institutional building, good governance, judiciary, prosecutor services and anti-corruption measures, Brussels is taking a stand. faced with the urgent need to introduce more tools under the upgraded EaP initiative to consolidate democracy. in Georgia and the region in general.

While the EU-Georgia relationship is in a state of uncertainty, there may be new opportunities for the EU to improve relations with this country and other eastern partners. One possible approach would be to strengthen sectoral cooperation in transport, energy and other sectors, along with the full realization of the four EU freedoms: freedom of goods, services, capital and labor. This was proposed by the foreign ministers of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, who signed a joint statement on the establishment of an EU + 3 format to ensure closer cooperation with the EU. EU + 3 may contradict the EU strategy of regionalism, but it could be reshaped as an Eastern + Partnership format, which could include all Eastern Partner countries for the sake of Inclusion, with the EU’s preferences tied to the commitments of countries to democratic reform.

The EU also needs to engage more in Black Sea connectivity, giving Georgia a more strategic and commercial approach to Central Asia to balance Russian and Chinese influence. Additional support for energy and infrastructure projects could reduce the EU’s dependence on Russian energy and enhance the importance of regional transportation. The alliance could also participate in the currently paused Anaklia deep sea port project, which could play an important role in regional connectivity.

Various interests of EU member states prevent Brussels from keeping the EaP on the agenda as an EU transitional tool in the region. In order to continue effective democracy-building processes in the region, member states should speak out about the depths of sector integration in the East Partnership policy.

The EU should transform its one-size-fits-all approach towards its Eastern Partner countries by adopting country-specific sustainability policies that will match their aspirations and needs. national essentials. The modern vision of commitment could create new mechanisms for the EU to foster far-reaching cooperation and new incentives to keep Georgia in the Western democratic trajectory.

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