On July 17, the European Commission presented its opinions on Ukraine’s, Georgia’s, and Moldova’s EU membership applications. The European Commission recommended that Ukraine and Moldova should be granted EU candidate status, while Georgia received the perspective to join the EU, with candidate status granted after a myriad of requirements is properly addressed. The Opinions are based on the Commission’s assessment of the three sets of criteria for EU membership agreed upon by the European Council: political criteria, economic criteria, and the country’s ability to assume EU membership obligations. In general, the document indicates that, despite recent events undermining the country’s progress, Georgia has the foundation to fulfill the political criteria, achieving the stability of democratic institutions, the inviolability of human rights, and the protection of minorities. Regarding the economic criteria, it is underlined that Georgia has achieved a high level of macroeconomic stability as a result of sound economic policy and a favorable business environment, however, more reforms are required to boost long-term growth and external competitiveness; education reform is also critical to improving human capital. In terms of the capacity to fulfill the obligations of EU membership, Georgia has come close to meeting the requirements in many areas, but while some sectors have progressed, others have not at the similar level. In general, the country has a solid foundation in the criteria.
Regardless, Georgia must meet the following requirements in order to receive candidate status:
First and foremost, according to the European Commission, the country’s most problematic challenge is the severe political polarization. The European Commission urged the political parties to return to the spirit of the 19 April Agreement, which was achieved thanks to the support of European Council President Charles Michel. The agreement was supposed to be the foundation for resolving Georgia’s political crisis, but the parties failed to do so. The ruling party made an irresponsible decision, when unilaterally withdrew from it.
Second, the European Commission recommended that Georgia should strengthen its institutions and enhance their independence. Electoral reform is required, and the shortcomings identified by the OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe/Venice Commission should be addressed.
The judicial system is one of Georgia’s multifaceted problems. As a result, the European Commission urged the government to implement reforms to increase the accountability and independence of judicial system representatives who are politically influenced by the ruling government at this time. To accomplish this, the ruling party should consider the Venice Commission’s recommendations. In the past, the ruling party frequently ignored the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
The European Commission emphasizes another problematic issue – corruption. To effectively combat corruption, the European Commission urged Georgia’s government to strengthen the independence of the Anti-Corruption Agency.
The European Commission’s fifth demand is the most difficult for the ruling government to accept. Despite the fact that oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili no longer holds any positions in the government or party, he is in charge of everything and has the political and economic power to make all decisions. The European Commission has called for the start of “de-oligarchization” of the country. It should be also underlined that the European Parliament has already adopted a resolution calling for the EU to consider imposing sanctions on Georgian Dream founder. If this occurs, the ruling government, which is completely reliant on him, may face an existential threat. Members of the Georgian Dream Party have already made some contentious statements in response to this demand, claiming that the European Commission did not mean Bidzina Ivanishvili, while emphasizing “de-oligarchization,” and even asserting that Mikheil Saakashvili, not Bidzina Ivanishvili, is the oligarch.
The European Commission encouraged Georgia to bolster the fight against organized crime based on detailed threat assessments, particularly by ensuring thorough investigations, prosecutions, and a credible track record of prosecutions and convictions; ensure law enforcement agency accountability and oversight.
The European Commission pointed out another serious problem of Georgia- the deterioration of media independence. Georgia’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has been significantly reduced from 71.36 and 60 out of 180 in 2021 to 59.9 and 89 out of 180 in 2022. The European Commission urges more efforts to be made to ensure a free, professional, pluralistic, and independent media environment. It is also emphasized that the criminal procedures of media owners are suspicious, and safety of journalists in general is deteriorating.
Georgia should take proper steps to strengthen the protection of vulnerable groups’ human rights, including more effectively bringing perpetrators and instigators of violence to justice
Georgia should solve the problems related gender equality and violence against women.
The government of Georgia must ensure civil society participation in decision-making processes at all levels. It is worth highlighting that the ruling party consistently attempts to marginalize civil society organizations, accusing them of being UNM allies.
The European Commission also asked Georgian government to adopt legislation in order to ensure that Georgian courts actively consider European Court of Human Rights decisions in their deliberations
Lastly, the European Commission also underlined the role and need of an independent ombudsperson. The European Commission urged the government of Georgia to ensure an independent person is given a preference when nominating a new ombudsperson. It is worth noting the institute of ombudsperson is constantly under attack from the government and the government –linked hate groups, which often accuse Nino Lomjaria of being just the opposition’s ombudsperson.
These recommendations are not legally binding, and the final decision will be made by all EU leaders on June 24. However, it should be added that during their press conferences in Ukraine, Macron and Scholz did not mention Georgia as a potential candidate. As a consequence, to take abovementioned information into account, negative expectations outnumber positive expectations.