Fateful 180 days: can Georgia become an EU candidate and what Tbilisi should do to meet all criteria?
How can Georgia obtain EU candidate status?
According to preliminary data (the final decision will be made on June 23-24), the EU will grant Ukraine and Moldova the status of candidates for EU membership on the condition that the countries fulfill several requirements. Georgia, on the other hand, must first work on meeting the requirements, and then – in six months – it will have a chance to receive the status of a candidate.
The door to the EU remains open for Georgia. However, twelve specific recommendations must be followed in order for the country to proceed to the next step.
The government of Georgia has a very short period for this – only 180 days. At the end of this year, the commission will re-evaluate the work done by the government, and if the recommendations are implemented, the country will receive candidate status.
What happens if the government implements or does not implement these recommendations? Will the associated trio survive or will Ukraine and Moldova continue this struggle without Georgia? Will there be any other opportunities for Georgia if the EU’s door to Georgia is closed forever? Why is it said that these 180 days are crucial for Georgia?
JAMnews answers these questions with Vano Chkhikvadze, head of the European Integration Program at the Open Society Georgia Foundation, who returned from Brussels this morning.
Two days are left before the decision of the European Commission. Will anything change?
Vano Chkhikvadze believes that the picture is unlikely to change and that by June 24, unlike Ukraine and Moldova, Georgia should not expect a positive response.
The next time when Georgia will again have a chance on its way to Europe will come in six months.
Experts count this period from June 17. On this day, a negative conclusion of the European Commission was published, in which 12 recommendations were written and the deadline for their implementation was determined – the next 6 months.
Therefore, now it is more important what Georgia will do in the time remaining until the end of the year.
What can happen in 180 days? Vano Chkhikvadze explains three possible scenarios:
#1 – The Georgian government will implement all the recommendations and receive the status of an EU candidate, Ukraine and Moldova will not be able to implement the recommendations given to them and will not be able to enter the negotiation stage. That is, the members of the associated trio will once again be on the same level. According to this scenario, Georgia will catch up with partners and the united trio will continue to move together;
#2 – All three countries will implement the recommendations, Georgia will receive a status, and Ukraine and Moldova will move into the negotiation stage. This is also a good scenario, because Georgia will not exit the process, it will simply fall behind the other two members of the trio;
#3 – Georgia will not be able or will not follow the recommendations, and Ukraine and Moldova will move on to the next stage. This is a bad scenario, because the distance between Georgia and these countries will be two steps away, and it will gradually move away from the associated trio.
“It is in the interests of Georgia to keep up with the trio”, Vano Chkhikvadze said.
Why is it so important to keep up with Ukraine and Moldova?
The EU is characterized by regional expansions. If Ukraine and Moldova join the organization, but Georgia does not, then Georgia will have to look for other partners to get closer to the EU:
“We’ll have to wait for the countries of our region, the South Caucasus. And also wait for a change in relations between Turkey and the EU. At the moment, there are no signs of this happening any time soon”, Chkhikvadze said.
In addition, the EU presidency will change, and the future of Georgia will depend on how the new presidency will treat the Caucasus.
France is now the president of the European Union, the Czech Republic will take over this position in a few days, and Sweden will become the president in the first half of 2023.
“Sweden is very interested in our region. Therefore, it would be good if we took advantage of this opportunity. If we take the following chairmen, then these are: Spain, Belgium, Hungary and our region is of less priority for them”, Vano Chkhikvadze believes.
Another important factor that Georgia should take into account is that in 2024 big changes will begin in the EU itself – a new European Commission and the European Parliament will be elected. Vano Chkhikvadze assumes that during this period the EU countries will be engaged in internal processes and “it is possible that they will no longer have the time or interest in Georgia”.
Based on this, it is difficult to say when Georgia will have another opportunity to move forward on the path to the EU, so the current situation is called a “historic opportunity” that the country should not miss.
What should the government do now?
Vano Chkhikvadze says that the government should draw up a specific action plan for all 12 points listed in the recommendations. Then, Georgia should seize the opportunity for dialogue with the EU, go to Brussels and agree on this plan.
Georgia should then start working on this plan.
“The sooner we do this, the better. Not every day, but every hour matters. August in the European Union is a vacation period, so it would be good to do all this in July, and in September, start doing our “homework”, Vano Chkhikvadze said.