The European Commission has recommended Georgia for candidate status, but what conditions have they set?
Conditions on EU candidacy
On November 8, during a press conference in Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the European Commission will propose the granting of candidate status for EU membership to Georgia in December 2023.
▇ The European Commission recommends granting Georgia candidate status for EU membership with the proviso that the country must carry out certain reforms.
Von der Leyen’s statement is rooted in the European Commission’s yearly report on EU enlargement, which was released today. The report evaluated the progress made by countries seeking to join the union.
The report also assessed the progress of Ukraine and Moldova in their pursuit of European integration. Furthermore, the EU report suggests that Ukraine and Moldova should initiate formal accession negotiations with the EU.
Since the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, three countries – Ukraine itself, Moldova and Georgia – have submitted applications for EU membership. In June 2022, the EU granted Ukraine and Moldova candidate membership status, while Georgia was denied this status. To gain candidate status, Georgia was presented with 12 specific recommendations for reform. Consequently, Ukraine and Moldova found themselves one step ahead of Georgia on the path to European integration.
The European Commission’s recommendation is significant, yet not conclusive. The definitive decision on whether Georgia will be granted candidate status for EU membership will be in December. The ultimate authority lies with the 27 EU member states, as their unanimous agreement is essential for Georgia to attain this sought-after status.
If even one country dissents, Georgia will not get candidate status.
What was said in Brussels?
At the press conference, Von der Leyen underscored the European Union’s deep appreciation for the Georgian people’s aspirations to join the EU, stating:
“The European Union wholeheartedly backs the genuine desire of the vast majority of the Georgian population to become a part of it.”
She further mentioned that this aspiration should be more effectively mirrored by their government.
The President of the European Commission also noted that in recent months Georgia has taken measures to enhance its collaboration with the EU and carry out various reforms. These include enacting laws to combat gender inequality, violence against women, and organized crime.
EU Ambassador to Georgia, Pavel Gerchinsky, conducted a briefing in Brussels to announce the decision. He said:
“My sincere congratulations to all political leaders, the government, the opposition, the parliament, the president, the non-governmental sector, the media, but, above all, my congratulations to the Georgian people who consistently and wholeheartedly support the European choice.”
He also stressed that the recommendation for granting Georgia candidate status comes with specific requirements:
“The progression to the next stage depends on the fulfillment of these requirements. This aligns with the enlargement process—continuous reforms are essential to ensure that your country is prepared to assume its role as a full member of the European Union.”
The ambassador explained that Georgia has work to do in areas such as media freedom, judicial independence, fair elections, and countering anti-Western propaganda.
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What specific reservations or conditions were imposed on Georgia?
Georgia has successfully implemented only three of the 12 recommendations:
- The selection of an ombudsman;
- Advancements in gender equality and efforts to combat violence against women;
- Implementation of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights.
Nevertheless, the European Commission has issued a recommendation to grant Georgia candidate status, accompanied by nine significant reservations.
Many of these reservations are identical to those previously outlined among the 12 recommendations. And there are also new stipulations.
One crucial requirement is for Georgia to align its foreign and security policy more closely with EU standards. Additionally, the country is expected to bolster its efforts in countering disinformation.
The complete list of reservations is as follows:
- Combating disinformation, foreign information manipulation, and foreign interference with the EU and its values.
- Bringing Georgia’s foreign policy more in line with the EU’s common foreign and security policy. (Georgia’s current compliance with EU foreign and security policy stands at about 43 percent, a decrease from over 60 percent a couple of years ago, while Moldova and Ukraine have much higher rates – JAMnews).
- Mitigating political polarization, with a particular emphasis on more active collaboration with opposition parties in parliament, especially concerning legislation related to Georgia’s European integration.
- Ensuring a free, fair, and competitive electoral environment and electoral process. This entails full consideration of recommendations from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and finalizing electoral reforms, including ensuring adequate voter representation well ahead of election day.
- Enhancing parliamentary oversight, with a specific focus on security services, and securing the institutional independence and impartiality of critical entities, such as the election administration, the National Bank, and the Communications Regulatory Commission.
- Completing and executing judicial reform, which includes reforms to the High Council of Justice and the Prosecutor’s Office, and full adherence to the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
- Ensuring the effectiveness, institutional independence, and impartiality of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Special Investigation Service, and the Personal Data Protection Service.
- Enhancing the existing de-oligarchization plan by executing it through a comprehensive, multi-sectoral approach in line with the Venice Commission recommendations, involving opposition parties and civil society.
- Elevating standards in the protection of human rights, which includes adopting an ambitious human rights strategy and guaranteeing freedom of assembly and expression. It also involves initiating impartial, effective, and timely investigations into threats targeting vulnerable groups, media professionals, and civic activists, and ensuring accountability for the organizers and perpetrators of violence. Additionally, consultation with civil society, their inclusion in the legislative and policy-making processes, and safeguarding their freedom of operation is vital.
What is stated in the conclusion of the European Commission
The European Commission’s working paper examines the political landscape in Georgia, the judicial system, human rights and other important issues.
According to the report, the existing legal framework, institutional structure, and an active civil society in Georgia indicate that the country is ready for further democratic and rule of law-based reforms.
However, these reforms are hindered by the deep political polarization in the country.
The report underscores the challenge of achieving constructive collaboration between political parties, even on matters of national significance.
The inability of parliamentary multi-party cooperation is highlighted as a concern, as the opposition has limited involvement in the ruling party’s legislative processes, and part of the opposition periodically engages in boycotts.
Additionally, the working paper addresses issues within Georgia’s judicial system, with a primary concern being the failure to reform the High Council of Justice.
Concerning the fight against corruption, Georgia has made some progress, but there is a need for further steps to complete the de-oligarchization plan.
In terms of fundamental rights, Georgia has ratified numerous international human rights conventions and instruments and generally fulfills its obligations under international human rights law.
The report also addresses the media environment, which is described as “largely pluralistic but highly polarized.”
“Business and political interests continue to intersect, hindering media independence. Incidents of intimidation, physical and verbal attacks on media representatives have occurred, often linked to pre-election rallies and demonstrations. Investigations into these incidents have yielded limited results. High-ranking government officials have made harsh statements against the media, and there has been an increase in trials and investigations involving opposition media owners, which negatively impact critical media coverage,” the document says.
The report notes persistent issues related to freedom of assembly in Georgia, citing the example of the July 8, 2023 incident when far-right radicals attacked participants of the Tbilisi Pride parade.
What about Ukraine and Moldova?
Ukraine and Moldova, which were granted candidate status in June 2022, have already progressed to the next phase of aligning with the European Union and have commenced negotiations regarding EU membership. However, certain conditions must be met in this context.
According to Von der Leyen, Ukraine’s accession negotiations will begin once Kiev fulfills additional conditions. These conditions encompass combating corruption, aligning lobbying activities with European standards, and safeguarding the rights of national minorities.
Ursula von der Leyen praised Kiev for implementing “more than 90%” of the seven reforms outlined by Brussels in June 2022.
Moldova has been presented with three conditions, namely reforming the Supreme Court and the prosecutor’s office, combating corruption, and advancing de-oligarchization.
Both Ukraine and Moldova are required to fulfill these tasks by March 2024, at which point the European Commission will present a new report.
How has the Georgian government responded to this development?
Following the European Commission’s announcement, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili held a briefing, attributing this outcome to the efforts of the ruling Georgian Dream party. He stated:
“Today marks the culmination and recapitulation of our 11 years of work, which have brought peace, stability, and significant transformations. A decade of Europeanization – that’s what we can term this peaceful ten-year period. If any government or leader has made substantial strides toward European integration, it’s Georgian Dream.”
Garibashvili also acknowledged billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the Georgian Dream, stating that the country’s progress would not have been possible without the “historic transformative changes” initiated by Ivanishvili and his team. “We are continuing this great work,” Garibashvili said.
Furthermore, Garibashvili emphasized that the report unequivocally and clearly asserts that the recommendation is based on the results achieved, rather than being a reflection of popular will, as some members of the opposition have presented it.
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili also responded to the European Commission’s conclusion, stating:
“Alongside the Georgian people, I am pleased and warmly welcome the European Commission’s positive recommendation to grant Georgia candidate status. As president, I am more committed than ever to carry out my role as a pro-European leader to advocate for and continue the necessary reforms that lie ahead.“
I rejoice with the people of Georgia and welcome the positive recommendation of the EU Commission to grant 🇬🇪 the Candidate status. As President, I will continue more than ever to play my role as a pro European leader to facilitate and push the still needed reforms.— Salome Zourabichvili (@Zourabichvili_S) November 8, 2023
Chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Irakli Kobakhidze, highlighted that over 20 months have transpired since Georgia submitted its candidacy for status, a period marked by numerous challenges.
“These challenges range from the initial sabotage of candidate status to an attempted revolution.”
Kobakhidze is of the opinion that the European Council’s ultimate decision on December 15 will aid in de-escalating political tensions in Georgia.
The majority of opposition leaders agree that the European Commission’s favorable decision signifies an accomplishment by the Georgian people, and the country would obtain this status despite the government’s endeavors, rather than because of them.
Badri Japaridze, leader of the Lelo party, asserts that the Georgian people rightfully earned the positive recommendation for EU candidate status. He alleges that “both the Georgian Dream and the pro-Russian government attempted to sabotage the process.”
He remarked, “I extend my condolences to Georgian Dream regarding the European Commission’s decision. Despite their extensive efforts and sabotage, even though they failed to meet most of the recommendations, the European Commission has still recommended to grant the country candidate status for EU membership.”
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now in prison, wrote on Facebook that “granting candidate status to Georgia is a significant historical event, and all Georgians have cause for celebration.” According to Saakashvili, the government’s merit lies in applying under the pressure exerted by the people.
“Our primary battle is to oust the oligarch-led government. The removal of this government paves the way for EU membership,” Saakashvili asserts.
Giga Bokeria, leader of the European Georgia party, takes a different stance. He believes that today’s decision doesn’t alter anything for the country and its people, and the “celebration” surrounding the status is a form of self-deception.
According to him, even with EU candidate status, under the “Ivanishvili regime” the country is essentially not moving closer to Europe but drifting further away.
“No citizen should be deluded into thinking that the situation is less worrisome now because of the candidate status. As long as the Ivanishvili regime persists, the risk of complete isolation from the West will only increase, and today’s decision, unfortunately, won’t be able to change that,” Bokeria contends.