EU support to Georgia and its citizens

Employment and Social Affairs

Estimated time of reading: ~ 4 minutes

The recent approval in Georgia of the controversial “transparency on foreign influence” bill, often dubbed the “foreign agents law,” created a really serious stalemate between Tbilisi and the European Union authorities. Just in December 2023, the EU granted the candidate status to Georgia, although “on the understanding that the relevant steps set out in the Commission recommendation of November 8, 2023 are taken.” The decision made by the Georgian Dream-Lead government and by the Georgian National Assembly, overriding the veto imposed by President Salomé Zourabichvili, confirmed the lack of coherence demonstrated by the Tbilisi authorities. At the same time, as we saw in the last few months, Georgian citizens really care about their country’s EU integration path and are strongly determined to fight in order to keep Georgia on the right track with regards to its accession.

For more than a decade, the EU’s support for Georgia’s institutions extended beyond mere rhetoric, providing tangible benefits that improved the lives of Georgian citizens and paved the way for a more prosperous future for the country. In fact, the EU’s financial commitment to Georgia is quite substantial. As the country’s largest donor, the EU provides grants exceeding €340 million for the 2021–2024 period. This funding, which is distributed through the Neighbourhood, Development, and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), fuels various initiatives in Georgia. In this context, one of the prominent examples is the EU4Business programme, which has empowered more than 19,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) all over the country, including those led by women. This kind of project not only fosters economic growth but also creates and sustains tens of thousands of jobs. But EU support extends beyond direct financial aid, as the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), established through the Association Agreement of 2014, grants Georgian businesses preferential access to the whole European market. The aim of such an initiative is not only to bolster Georgian exports to the EU but also to encourage foreign investment, creating a virtuous cycle of economic growth.

At the general level, as the European institutions explain in the web page dedicated to the EU-Georgia relationship, Brussels launched “over 130 active projects in Georgia. These projects are implemented by a wide range of partners, including civil society, international organisations, private companies, the Georgian government, and EU member state governments. Funding is provided through various modalities, including grants, service tenders, blending, loans, or sector reform support contracts.”

Additionally, since 2017, Georgian citizens can enjoy the visa-free travel scheme within the Schengen area. All this fosters closer cultural and economic ties between Georgia and the EU in a way that further propels Georgian development. For the European Union, recognising the importance of strong democratic institutions for a thriving society is fundamental, and that is why Brussels actively supports democratic reforms in Georgia. Despite recent setbacks, these initiatives include promoting the rule of law, strengthening civil society, and ensuring respect for human rights. The approval of the Foreign Agents Law clearly has strained relations, but the EU will surely continue to advocate for a democratic path in the country and will maintain its unwavering support for Georgia’s citizens and their long-term stability and prosperity. The next Georgian Parliamentary elections, scheduled to be held on 26 October 2024, will show how the citizens will respond to Georgian Dream’s ambiguous approach to the EU accession.

Written by: Francesco Marino


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