On April 19, Georgia’s political leaders signed a major political agreement after weeks of mediation by the European Union. The following opinion piece is written by those who initiated and supported this mediation: the President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. Together, they look forward to what this agreement means for Georgia, for the EU and for EU-Georgia relations.
When it regained its independence 30 years ago, Georgia renewed its historic aspiration to rejoin the European family. Since 2004, the European Union responded by opening a constant process that has brought Georgia closer to Europe from the European Neighborhood (2004) to the Eastern Partnership (2009). In the last decade, the movement accelerated with the signing of the Association Agreement of 2014, which also included a free trade zone; and in 2017, the visa liberalization allowing Georgians to travel to the EU visa-free for short stays was completed. The connections between Georgia and the EU are much deeper than ever, an achievement that no one could have contemplated when the country freed itself from Soviet rule in 1991.
However, in early 2021, Georgia faced a political stalemate. The latent polarization pitted the ruling and opposition parties against each other. Despite the facilitation efforts of the EU and US envoys, the tensions turned into a political crisis. With the stability of the region challenged by the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan reigniting in the fall of 2020, it became essential to consolidate Georgia’s democracy and stability. With the full support of the President of Georgia, the President of the European Council offered EU mediation in the relaunched political dialogue during his March 1 visit to Georgia.
We, the President of Georgia and the President of the European Council, want to express our deep satisfaction to see this agreement agreed and signed by the ruling and opposition parties. This agreement ends a crisis that could have interrupted the democratic advance made in recent decades and weakened Georgia’s progress on its European path. Through dialogue, leadership and commitment, Georgian political leaders put differences aside for the good of the country. This was done in a truly European spirit, reviving Georgia’s image as a democratic anchor in the region. The political crisis is over, it is necessary to maintain a constructive political commitment. We call on each and everyone to fulfill their commitments.
This agreement is a victory for Georgia, its people and the European Union.
A victory for strong democratic institutions in Georgia
With European support, this Agreement will deepen the reforms of the country’s institutions. The electoral process will meet the highest standards and reforms to the judicial system should end any perceived politicization of the judiciary.
The power-sharing procedures will make the Parliament of Georgia one of the most pluralistic. These changes will not only make Georgian democracy more vibrant, but will also ensure that reforms are inclusive and viable.
A victory for the people of Georgia
Away from partisan disputes, the focus will shift to addressing the urgent problems facing the country: addressing the pandemic and its economic and social consequences; maintain stability; investing in the future. Georgians have seen that they were not alone in overcoming the crisis. To date, the EU has been Georgia’s largest donor with more than 200 concrete projects underway and a total budget of € 500 million. The European Investment Bank has invested some 1.85 billion euros in economic development, agriculture, education and infrastructure, to name a few.
More tangible support from Europe will follow. The agreement, entitled “The way forward for Georgia”, paves the way for closer cooperation with the EU; financial support to soften the blow of the post-COVID recovery; increased participation in EU programs; and a renewed focus on physical and digital infrastructure projects that can increase the connectivity of the Georgia and Caucasus and Black Sea regions with Europe, with the potential to further increase growth.
A victory for the European Union
The EU can count on a stable and firmly pro-European partner in a region essential to Europe’s values, security and connectivity. At a time when the regional landscape is reshaping, Georgia is more important than ever.
With mutual interests at stake, the EU and Georgia must now further deepen the implementation of the Association Agreement and further strengthen their cooperation. In addition to bilateral agendas, we will continue to work for a renewed and deepened Eastern Partnership that broadens areas of cooperation, increases EU support and broadens ties between our peoples. In parallel, to mark the special relationship between the EU and its associated partners in the Eastern Partnership, we propose to hold, in the coming months, a meeting of leaders with the presidents of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova.
At a time of increased geopolitical pressures in the region, there is no better answer than the demonstration just given by Europe and Georgia. On the one hand, strong European political support for a small but vibrant democracy and to avoid any form of destabilization. On the other hand, Georgia’s determination to continue undeterred on the chosen path towards its Euro-Atlantic future.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism