Georgia’s Pursuit of EU Membership: Challenges and Progress Amid Controversies


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Georgia’s bid to join the European Union has been marked by significant progress and challenges. In March 2022, Georgia officially applied for EU membership, and in December 2023, the European Commission granted the country candidate status, pending the fulfillment of certain conditions. This article will delve into the current status of Georgia’s EU accession process, focusing on the recent controversies surrounding the Law on Foreign Agents and the developments in the Georgian National Assembly.

Georgia’s application for EU membership was expedited in response to the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian War. The country submitted its application on March 3, 2022, and the European Commission issued its opinion on June 17, 2022. The European Council discussed Georgia’s application on June 23, 2022, stating that it was ready to grant the status of a candidate country once the priorities specified in the Commission’s opinion were addressed. In December 2023, the European Commission recommended Georgia for candidate status, which was officially granted on the understanding that Georgia takes the relevant steps outlined in a Commission recommendation.

Despite the progress, Georgia faces significant challenges in its pursuit of EU membership. One of the most contentious issues is the proposed Law on Foreign Agents, which has sparked widespread protests and international condemnation. The law aims to designate Western NGOs as “foreign agents,” potentially incurring U.S. sanctions and jeopardizing Tbilisi’s hopes of joining the EU. The law has been criticized for its potential to stifle civil society and undermine democratic institutions.

The Georgian National Assembly has been at the center of these controversies. In April 2024, the governing Georgian Dream party announced plans to revive the Law on Foreign Agents, despite earlier promises to withdraw it. The move has been met with fierce opposition from activists and the international community. The law’s passage could have far-reaching consequences for Georgia’s relations with the EU and the United States.

Georgia’s political landscape has become increasingly polarized, with the governing party and opposition groups accusing each other of attempting to sabotage the EU accession process. The conflict between Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and President Salome Zourabichvili has become a near constant in Georgian politics, with the parliament attempting to impeach the President earlier this year. The President and Parliament now regularly exchange highly critical statements.

The EU has emphasized the need for Georgia to demonstrate a clear commitment to EU values, continue progress on its reform agenda, and fulfill the conditions specified in the Commission’s report meaningfully and irreversibly. The proper functioning of democratic institutions and reforms related to justice and the rule of law are a priority for Georgia to further advance towards future EU membership.

Georgia has made overall progress on reforms related to public administration, public procurement, and the economy. The Council encouraged a sustained level of alignment with EU rules and standards and encouraged Georgia to further deepen sectoral cooperation with the EU, based on the EU-Georgia Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement between the EU, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

However, the EU has stressed its strong expectation for Georgia to substantially increase its alignment with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy positions and restrictive measures, including those against Russia and Belarus. Georgia’s relations with Russia remain a significant challenge, as the country seeks to balance its relations with Brussels and Moscow.

The EU is Georgia’s largest trading partner, accounting for over 21% of its total trade. In 2022, EU-Georgia trade reached €2.8 billion, with the EU importing agricultural products, chemicals, and machinery from Georgia, and exporting machinery, chemicals, and vehicles to Georgia. The Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) has facilitated increased trade and investment, enhancing Georgia’s economic ties with the EU and fostering economic growth and development.

Georgia’s pursuit of EU membership is a complex and challenging process. While the country has made significant progress, it faces numerous obstacles, including the controversy surrounding the Law on Foreign Agents and the political polarization in the National Assembly. The EU has emphasized the need for Georgia to demonstrate a clear commitment to EU values and fulfill the conditions specified in the Commission’s report. Georgia’s ability to navigate these challenges will be crucial in determining its future prospects for EU membership.

In the context of the ongoing political tensions and controversies, it is essential for Georgia to maintain a strong commitment to democratic institutions, the rule of law, and human rights. The EU’s support for Georgia’s accession process is contingent on the country’s ability to address these challenges and demonstrate a clear commitment to EU values. As Georgia moves forward in its EU accession journey, it is crucial that the country prioritizes these essential elements to ensure a successful and sustainable path towards EU membership.

Written by: Nenad Stekić

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