A faraway neighbourhood: the Georgian case

A faraway neighbourhood: the Georgian case

The choice to have a focus precisely on the relations between Georgia and European Union (EU), is based on the fact that this country, because of its position, has played a crucial role for the determination of power interactions over this region, split between Russian sphere of influence and the tension to get closer to the EU. The Association Agreement signed in 2017 is only the last step of a huge process that the Georgia has started with the EU after the declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.  In order to analyse the complete process of appeasement, it is important to have an overview on the historical background, and trying to go deeper in the dynamics and forces that push this Caucasian Country in the arms of the EU. On the other hand,  the core issue of this appeasement for the EU could be the improvement in its external relation, mainly economic, with the neighbourhoods.  The article so proposes an analysis of the characteristics of the Georgian political culture and in which measure this could be crucial in order to determine the scale needle in favor of the West.

  1. Historical Background  

A good starting point in order to understand the dynamics within this country, is the war happened in 1992-1993 after the declaration of independence of Georgian territory from the Soviet Union. The war was the result of a discontent spread in a region situated on the Russian borders, the Abkhazia. This region, before the Georgian independence, pushed to remain with USSR, also because part of the population belongs to a different ethnic group compared to the main Georgian population. [1]

In the period of the disintegration of the USSR, Georgia was engaged in an internal war between two factions and at the same time engaged in the military answer to regain the control of the Abkhaz territory. Despite all the efforts the Georgia army was defeat, and there was a definitively close of the bridges between Tiblisi and the new self-defined independent region. [2]

The efforts to ensure a peace building were done mainly by Russia, with the help of the United Nations (UN), but they were quite ineffective, and with some dark corners.

In 2008 another conflict outbreak as a revival of the same issues arose during the previous conflict. This was the turn of the South Ossetia discontent. The situation this time ends with a recognition from Russian’s side of the two independent territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[3]

These two secessionist events marked a clear signal that the Tiblisi leadership was in contrast with the Kremlin’s  political ambitions and since this moment the diplomatic relations between these countries started to be hostile. During the period between the first and the second secessionist conflicts another internal issue broke the stability for the Georgian government, the so called “Rose Revolution” in 2003.

This was a  revolution started with peaceful street protests led by the politicians Mikheil Saakashvili and strongly supported by the civil society.[4] After the revolution the leader became President in the January election of 2004.  From this moment, he started a process of reforms in the country and  according to which the role of the civil society would be the milestone of this new system. Anyway, the hopeful promises were clash with the reality of the facts that in 2007/2008 the politics became increasingly centralized without giving the possibility to the civil society to enter in the decisional dynamics. The war in South Ossetia was the main important issue that the new government led by Saakashvili had to face in 2008[5]. The war caused not only a loss in terms of human life, but a loss in terms of the democracy level improvement.

According to Samuele Dominioni[6], the effects of the August conflict on 2008 was crucial in the determination of the international actors involved in the country. Since this moment for example the EU became the main donor  for the country, and  at  the same time was a crucial in order to define the new consideration of power in the country itself. From this moment the Saakashivili’s power was drastically reduced. Also the US expressed itself about the issues in the Country when in 2005 the President George W. Bush said concerning the country that it is “beacon of liberty for this region”[7]. By the way, these words have not seen a concrete implication over the land. After the invasion held by Russia on the Georgian territory, the US decided to remain outside of the Caucasian squabbles.

By contrast, was the French President in that time, Nicolas Sarkozy that took the burden of the peace process negotiation. In this way we can generally consider the EU as main actor in the resolution of this conflict.[8]

The EU after the war decided to strengthen its positions in the country by using mainly the Eastern Partnership (EaP)[9], which consists in imposing a series of threshold in the field of human rights and democratic governance in order to receive the EU economic and financial aids[10]. The Saakashvili government was in deep crisis when, despite his will to strengthen the power in the hands of the President, he received a strong opposition both from internal and external actors. At the international level for example during the 84th meeting of the Venice Commission in 2010, has been adopted an opinion about the Georgian wish to change the Constitution, in which the main wish for the Europeans toward the Georgian government was to set up rules in order to guarantee a better balance of powers and to ensure the accountability of the government toward the Parliament. [11]

Toward the Saakashvili  words it is possible to frame the meaning of his actions, when he said in Moscow in 2004: “I am not a pro-Russian president, but nor  am I pro-American. I am a Georgian president, and, therefore, I am European”.[12]Even if he expressed himself as not pro-American, in any case he thought that at the top of his tasks list there was the need to be closer to the NATO in order to reach a protection against the Russian influence always pressing from the East . At the time was not so clear if the entrance in the EU was a major priority  compared to the entrance in the NATO in any case, the will of the President Saakashvili was to join the EU as soon as possible. The entrance in the EU become feasible during the enlargement process in which was involved the Balkan region. The Georgian government anyway would have recognize that the entrance in the EU was a remote possibility also when the country was included in the European Neighbourhood Program (ENP) in 2006[13].

The end of Saakashvili fortune as president of the Georgian Republic was clear when the demonstration organized by the civil society became stronger and stronger, when in 2011 they asked for the resignation of their President.[14] This situation creates the reasons that explain the victory of what happened with the Presidential election in 2018. During this phase the party Georgian Dream was born and the main architect of this design was the business man and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili. This new face of the Georgian political life was behind the victory of the election in 2012 of Giorgi Margvelashvili, and in 2018 of the Salomé Zourabichvili.[15]

The position that Ivanishvili had face to the Russian power were in terms of achieving the stability and normalization with the country. By the way his links with the west are much stronger. Based on his view about the Europe, and the importance of its economic help, he tried to strengthen  the link with the EU. Referring to what some scholars claim  about the perception of the West in the Georgian society, even with a lack of the information during the Soviet period, the information collected are in line with the consideration of the West not in geographical way, but more in terms of the idea behind. For example a description of the West concerning, as Stephen Jones wrote: “ for most Georgians, the West means eventual prosperity, democracy, independence, security, and recognition of Georgia’s rightful place in the “civilized world”- despite the West’s reluctance to take a stand against Russian interference in Georgian affaires and the continuing economic crisis and corruption”.[16]

2. The European Side

The reaction of the EU after the war in 2008 was seen as a failure of the political and economic project, the ENP. This plan had first of all the aim of preventing the conflict and ensure a stable situation on the burden zone.

Anyway, the EU aid after the conflict was realized in the presidency of the negotiation of the peace agreement. The peace agreement held on the 12th of August 2008 was structured in six points that included the EU Monitoring Mission in the area.[17] The Eastern Partnership agreement (EaP) started in 2009 and the main purpose is to define new relations between the Union and six eastern countries of the ENP. The main objectives of this plan are to accelerate political association and deepen economic integration, promote democracy and good governance and reduction of socio-economic imbalances.[18]

The EaP envisaged closer political cooperation and new forms of Association Agreement, the eventual visa liberalization and Deep and comprehensive Free Trade Agreements.[19] In any case, this strict collaboration doesn’t foreseen an entrance in EU. The Association Agreement was sign on 27th of June 2014. The Agreement introduce a preferential trade regime –the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) and the EU became the main trade partner of Georgia. The DCFTA creates a closer economic integration based on the principles of the World Trade Organization (WTO). DCFTA allows Georgian trade-related laws to generally match selected pieces of the EU legal framework.[20]  The VISA liberalization for Georgian citizens done in 2017, meant that more than 300,000 of visitors were able to cross the Schengen area for a short stay, 90 days. [21] In any case the European integration remains one of the main objectives for the Georgian society. The integration process is foreseen in many sector thanks to the Association Agreement, the DCFTA and Visa Liberalization Agreement.

Before the entrance in to force of the last agreement, the Georgian government acted a period of serious reforms. Georgia, in an informal way jointed the EU in Military crisis management operations in the frame of the CSPD, as well as the EU military mission in the Central African Republic and in Mali.[22] It is possible to claim  with these agreements that the EU is improving his soft power in the country. It is also true that from the civil society there are pro-EU attitudes[23] even though not all the efforts done by the EU are attributed as such. The process of enhancing the soft power tools is something also on the Russia agenda towards the Georgia and other countries in the region. Constitution of NGOs or foundations led by Moscow are only few example of the strong presence that Russia is trying to enhance, without consider the two independent regions in which Russia has built military and naval basis.[24] According to the State Security Services, in the recent period it seems to be widespread the phenomenon according to which through media and social media some actors are instigating the population to assume anti-West, and so anti-European attitudes in order to preserve the Georgian values and way of life. In any case the Georgian government –the former and the new one- stress the topic of the EU appeasement more and more by legislation tools. [25]

The EU is still supporting Georgian economy since the first introduction of the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) in 2014. Stating to the European External Action Services data, the EU is investing 589,5 million Euros in financing, by bilateral programs, the Georgian economic activities. The activities mainly supported by the EU are in the fields of economic development, justice and public administration reforms, energy and infrastructure development. The European Commission together with the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development worked on the facilities for the small and medium-sized enterprises. The results are already visible in fields such as agriculture and rural development, as well as the improvement in the prisoners situation in jails. [26] Concerning a more geopolitical aspect the EU is always supporting the Georgia government in managing the situation within the two regions declared independent after the 2008 war. Thus the EU does not recognize the independent regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. [27]

3. New (old) challenges

As demonstrated until now Georgia has always  tried to be closer to the EU even with different intensity depending on the period and on the leaders had. Anyway, in the next future seems that this tie could be enhanced because of the new President that has personally very strict relation with the Union. The new president elected in December 2018 is an ex French diplomat, since she was born in Paris after her parents escape from the country. Obviously the election of Salomé in the country was seen as the result of the huge support ensured by the Georgian billionaire and former prime minister,  Bidzina Ivanishvili founder of the Georgian Dream party.[28]

According to the POLITICO article written by Rym Momtaz, the new president main goal is to drive the country as close as possible to the EU and the NATO. During her meeting with the president Macron, he stressed the fully sustain  of the new leadership of the Georgian government. The support of the EU, as it’s possible to figure, will go in a direction that never will be openly against Russia. Even if in the Union there are country, such as France, more likely to have an hard line toward Moscow. [29]  

The Georgian leader herself, probably is aware of the impossibility to became, at least in the next future, member of these two organisations, for at least two reasons. In the case of the EU, after the enlargement process, the Union seems not ready to follow the « classic way » if integration, but it is trying to think back to enlargement according to different logics, precisely by developing Association Agreements and closer economic agreements ( AA and DCFTA and VISA).

Regarding the entrance in the NATO, it seems to be not a realistic possibility because Russia could consider it as the Atlantic’s threat too much close to its borders. Considering the positive impact that the Association Agreement has in Georgia – as well as Moldova and Ukraine – is it possible that the EU has finally found a way of expanding and strengthening its sphere of interests without resorting to enlargement, which often causes tensions between Member States due to political differences?

Giulia Marino


[1] The EU and Civil Society in the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict, by Nicu Popescu 2010 on MICROCON  Policy working Paper 15

[2] Ibidem

[3] Ibidem

[4]Ibidem

[5] The August War and Georgia’s Path toward democracy, Samuele Dominioni, 07 Agosto 2018, Istituto per gli studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI)

[6] Research fellow at ISPI center on Cybersecurity:  https://www.ispionline.it/it/bio/samuele-dominioni

[7] The Guardian, Bush hails Georgia as ‘beacon of liberty’, Agencies 10 May 2005

Web site: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/may/10/georgia.usa 

[8] The August War and Georgia’s Path toward democracy, Samuele Dominioni, 07 Agosto 2018, Istituto per gli studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI)

[9] The Eastern Partnership is a joint policy initiative which aims to deepen and strengthen relations between the EU, its Member States and its six Eastern neighbours: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova  and Ukraine.

[10] ibidem

[11] FINAL OPINION ON THE DRAFT CONSTITUTIONAL LAW ON AMENDMENTS AND CHANGES TO THE CONSTITUTION OF GEORGIA Adopted by the Venice Commission at its 84th Plenary Session (Venice, 15-16 October 2010) :

[12] INSTRUMENTALISING EURO-ATLANTICISM ; EURO-ATLANTIC DISCOURSE IN GEORGIA FROM THE ROSE REVOLUTION TO THE DEFEAT OF THE UNITED NATIONAL MOVEMENT, Frederik Coene 6 December 2013

[13] ibidem

[14] The August War and Georgia’s Path toward democracy, Samuele Dominioni, 07 Agosto 2018, Istituto per gli studi di Politica Internazionale (ISPI)

[15] Salomé Zourabichv, La perferita Wojciech Jagielski and Tygodnik Powszechny, Poland publiched on Internazionale-1292

[16] Stephen Jones, “The role of cultural paradigms in Georgian foreign policy,” in Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics, Vol. 19, No. 3 (2003): 102.

[17] Commentary- After the Georgia War: the EU and Eastern Europe, Marco Ferraro | 07 Agosto 2018 (ISPI)

Website: https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/after-georgia-war-eu-and-eastern-europe-21102

[18] THE EUROPEAN NEIGHBOURHOOD POLICY, Kirsten Jongberg / Mario Damen / Jérôme Legrand 10/2018 : http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/fiches_techniques/2017/N54178/en.pdf

[19] After the Georgia War: the EU and Eastern Europe, Marco Ferraro, 07/08/2018 https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/after-georgia-war-eu-and-eastern-europe-21102

[20] European Commission http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/georgia/

[21] https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_en/23634/EU-Georgia%20relations,%20factsheet

[22] Joint Staff Working Document, Association Implementation Report on Georgia, 9 November 2017

[23] The Road to Georgia’s EU integration, Tinatin Tsertsvadze, 07/08/2018 https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/road-georgias-eu-integration-21059

[24] “Georgia’s unresolved counflicts: More of the Same?” Laure Delcour 28/01/20191: https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/georgias-unresolved-conflicts-more-same-22105

[25] The Road to Georgia’s EU integration, Tinatin Tsertsvadze, 07/08/2018 https://www.ispionline.it/it/pubblicazione/road-georgias-eu-integration-21059

[26] https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage_en/23634/EU-Georgia%20relations,%20factsheet

[27] ibidem

[28]Georgia elects French-born Zurabishvili as president, OSCE says process was undermined, by Chris Harris, Euronews, 29/11/2018 https://www.euronews.com/2018/11/26/explainer-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-race-to-be-georgia-s-next-president

[29] Georgian leader revives French connection Salomé Zourabichvili aims to bring country closer to EU and NATO, with help from her past life, by Rym Momtaz 22/02/2019

Giulia Marino

J'ai 23 ans et je fréquent la deuxième année du Master en Études Européennes à l'université de Florence. J'ai obtenu le BAC en Sciences Internationaux et Diplomatique, dans lesquels j'ai déroulé une période d'étude à l'université SciecesPo d'Aix en Provence (FR). Ici je me suis passionnée au fonctionnement des institutions européennes et au rôle joué à l'échelle internationale. Pendant mes études j'ai aussi approfondie mes connaissances sur le Moyen-orient par les livres et avec une expérience directe. J'ai vécu pour trois mois à Jérusalem où j'ai fréquenté l'université de Al-Quds.

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