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EU Commission recommends denying Georgia candidate status

17 June 2022
Anti-government protesters outside the Georgian Parliament in June 2019 hold the EU and Georgian flags. Photo: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The European Commission has recommended that Georgia be denied EU candidate status later this month, while stating that Ukraine and Moldova should be offered immediate candidacy to join the bloc.

Announcing the decision, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the decision was based on a number of political and economic criteria. She said Georgia’s application had ‘strength’ and that their application could be reassessed in the future if the country met a number of criteria.

‘The sooner you deliver the sooner there is progress’, she said in an address to Georgia. ‘Therefore it is in the hands of Georgia to really speed up and be clear.’

She said Ukraine was a ‘robust presidential-parliamentary democracy’ while praising Moldova’s ‘decisive step towards reforms’. Von der Leyen said that Ukraine and Moldova would still need to carry out a number of reforms in parallel to their candidacy.

Oliver Varhelyi, the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement said the criteria for Georgia’s application to be reassessed included improvements on democracy, an end to political polarisation, judicial reforms, the independence of anti-corruption agencies, and fundamental rights, including the freedom of the press.

Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine all applied for European Union membership following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, concerns over democracy and the rule of law in Georgia have led to widespread criticism of the country’s government in Brussels and other European capitals.

A final decision on the application of the three countries is expected at a meeting of the heads of EU member states in Brussels on 23–24 June.

The ruling Georgian Dream Party responded defiantly to the rejection. Party chair Irakli Kobakhidze characterised the Commission’s recommendation as ‘disappointing’ but insisted it was political rather than objective. 

He described Ukraine and Moldova being granted candidate status as ‘encouragement’ because of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine and its economic and humanitarian aftermath.

‘We do understand, though, that Georgia, unlike Ukraine and Moldova, has not sacrificed enough to get this status. We understand that by now, the sacrifice and blood spilt 14 and especially 30 years ago, and the 300,000 IDPs, is no longer relevant for our European partners’, he said.

Georgia’s opposition widely blamed the government and its failure to implement reforms.

Polling shows that EU Membership is supported by an overwhelming majority of the Georgian public, and a protest against the government’s handling of relations with the EU was already scheduled for Monday before today’s decision.

Georgia’s drift away from the EU

The recommendation comes as Georgia’s relations with the EU have hit an all time low.

On 9 June, the European Parliament adopted a scathing resolution on Georgia. While the resolution focused on the deterioration of media freedom in Georgia, it also denounced a lack of investigations over street violence in Tbilisi last year and a scandal over mass wiretapping, as well as ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili’s ‘destructive’ influence on Georgia’s politics.

[Read more on OC Media: European Parliament calls for sanctions to be considered on Ivanishvili]

The resolution was met with hostility by the government in Tbilisi, with some in the ruling Georgian Dream party suggesting that Georgia should not seek EU membership if it meant accepting ‘intereference’ in its internal affairs. Other party leaders blamed the ‘destructive’ and ‘radical’ opposition, referring to the UNM, for the EU’s criticism.

The Prime Minister went as far as suggesting, without evidence, that the EU’s growing impatience with Georgia was a result of their government’s unwillingness to risk going to war with Russia. 

The European Parliament’s resolution reflected growing criticism of the Georgian government by the EU and US over unimplemented commitments to address criminal cases regarded as politically motivated and to reform of Georgia’s judiciary. 

These were all a part of an April 2019 deal brokered between the government and opposition by EU Council President Charles Michel meant to end seven months of political deadlock. Georgian Dream pulled out of the deal several months later.

While Georgian Dream have insisted that they have continued to implement the reforms detailed in the EU-brokered deal, they have been unsuccessful in convincing others it was done in democratic and inclusive way. 

Last summer, the US Embassy in Georgia made clear that these, including additional appointments to the Supreme Court, were the opposite of Georgian Dream’s commitments while the EU Ambassador to Georgia warned it would be reflected on Georgia’s EU membership prospects.