After the 2008 war in Georgia integration with the EU became an obvious priority for Tbilisi. The relationship, although useful for both sides, leaves a lot to be desired.
After the 2008 war in Georgia integration with the EU became an obvious priority for Tbilisi. The relationship, although useful for both sides, leaves a lot to be desired.
When discussing the issue of how relations between Georgia and the European Union are developing, it is necessary to define to what extent these relations are really necessary for each party. Since the incidents of August 2008, the desire of Georgia to integrate with the European Union has overrun its ambition to join NATO. Moving closer to the EU has become not only a primary foreign policy goal, but also an element of true security, striving to keep up with Russia’s geopolitical despotism and the annexation of the remaining parts of Georgia. In this way, the EU has become a kind of a buffer between NATO and the Russian Federation. President Medvedyev's ‘Yaroslav initiatives’ on the need to overcome discrepancies between the Russian Federation and NATO, as well as to work together with the EU, are opening a new pathway of possibilities for conducting efficient policy, departing from the principle of ‘"win-win’.
And this is the political reality, which proves to a number of pessimists that with regard to the institutional strengthening of this function of the EU, it is this very organisation, which will be able to do a lot of good for international security, most of all in continental Europe. The EU enjoys more popular trust, regardless of its various weaknesses, than NATO.
Analysing the Georgia/EU relationship, it is essential to underline the asymmetry of these relations. This is a relationship between a huge international organisation and a tiny country with serious, although fully solvable problems. In this relationship the EU is a resource for Georgia, but Georgia also has some opportunities to increase the EU’s influence in Central Eurasia. Firstly because of its geographical location and transit possibilities, but also because of its principled attitude towards democratic values. Against the background of new plans for the similar Western-Asian Union - which is openly anti-European in nature and is attempting to draw Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran into a new geopolitical axis - Georgia is again standing in front of European community as a protector of borders of the European civilization. And it is this which is Georgia’s historical and strategic role. The country has been fulfilling it scrupulously for the two thousand years, and has paid dearly for doing so.
Today Georgia is endangered by the following factors:
* a complete loss of its economic and political independence;
* the occupation of its entire territory;
* the destruction of its statehood.
To what degree is the EU ready to stand up to these threats? From Georgian point of view the EU is an instrument which can prevent the negative development of processes, although it has to be admitted that its resources have not been deployed to a satisfactory extent, and those which have, have not been employed effectively.
The functions and roles of the EU’s institutions in Georgia
The EU plays a number of important functions and roles in Georgia. Here are some of them:
The EU as observer
EU monitoring has three main functions. The first and most important task is preventing the further redeployment of the Russian occupying army onto Georgian territory, reducing the number of such situations in general, and in the longer term, creating a police contingent in these conflict zones and establishing democratic areas. Regardless of the monitoring mission's activities, the Russian Federation is illegally occupying the new territories (in September about 20 hectares of fields near the village of Nikozi were taken) and has voluntarily withdrawn from occupied territories (for example, Russian forces withdrew from Perevi, in the Imeret region, in October this year).
The EU as assessor
The Tagliavini Commission, which was set up after the 2008 war, gave only a partial and therefore inadequate estimation of the events, reducing them to a Georgian/Russian clash, and covering up one of the main parties to the conflict, namely NATO. In fact, by bringing what was an international conflict down to the level of a primitive territorial one, the Commission missed the basic issue of the conflict, which was the struggle for Caucasian and Central Asian hydrocarbons and their transit. On the night of 5-6 August 2008, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was blown up in the Turkish area, and thereafter was not repaired until the conflict ended on 21 of August. The report consisted of 900 pages and cost an astonishing €1.7 m to produce.
The EU as mediator
The EU's attempts to gain the status of mediator were doomed to failure. In parallel with the trilateral ‘membership’ structure of Medvedev-Sarkozy-Saakashvili, separate talks on the sale of French Mistral warships to Russia wereheld. As a result, the trilateral structure changed into a bilateral one between Medvedev and Sarkozy. Saakashvili and Georgia dropped out of the talks altogether. Brussels thus changed from being a mediator into a protector of Georgia's affairs, and Moscow looks after the secessionists. This was an obvious victory for Russian diplomacy and a complete failure for the ‘Brussels sprouts’.
In this way the EU has become an open member of a geopolitical conflict which lowers the general level of the stabilisation and regulation processes. The secessionist leaders have fully exploited the EU diplomats’ oversight and, encouraged by Moscow, have started a media campaign aimed at weakening the EU's position as a mediator. Tbilisi’s position also contributed to this process, as it attempted to use the EU as an international tribune and a promoter of Georgia's interests.
The EU also attempted to play a mediating role during the Georgian opposition’s protests in the spring of 2009. The EU's Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, together with the Ambassador of the Czech Republic, (who at the same time was the EU’s representative), Ivan Jestrab, and the head of the EU delegation in Georgia, Pierre Eklund, were actively involved in talks with representatives of the opposition, the government and the Georgian public. The Special Representative then announced that "the EU is Georgia's partner, and we want to help them find a way out of the present situation”. He also remarked that the EU cannot interfere with Georgia's internal affairs, because “its role will not be active”. A quite important role was played by informal actors, such as the Polish social activist Adam Michnik. In that field, the EU's actions have proved to be quite effective.
The ЕU as donor
The EU delegation has been operating in Georgia since 1995. In the period from 1992 to 2007 Georgia has received funds amounting to €530.8 million. After the 2008 war. the European Commission granted a further €500 million for the period from 2008 to 2010 in order to lighten the burden of the war. The largest instalment of the additional funds is intended to resolve the issue of IDPs (internally displaced persons) who are victims of both the latest conflicts and those which broke out in the 1990s. Some of these funds are meant for infrastructure development and economic stabilisation. In April 2010 the EU granted Georgia €180 million for the period from 2011 – 2013 to support the development of democracy, the rule of law, good governance, trade and investment, regional development, sustainable economic and social development, poverty reduction and peaceful conflict resolution.
In 2010 a new EU programme the Confidence Building Early Response (COBERM), started to operate. The European Union is planning to spend €4 million on it before the end of next November. These funds are intended for small NGOs and projects by initiative groups which operate on territories controlled by the de facto local authorities as well as on areas controlled by the Georgian government. The programme will be implemented by UNDP.
One of the EU's main aims is to support democratic reforms and the civil society. The EU uses a number of mechanisms to do this, one of which is the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), which has been present in Georgia since 2004. Under this initiative, NGOs operating in Georgia received grants of €17 million euro in 2004-2006. In 2009, the program was allocated €1.2 million. The Non-State Actors and Local Authorities in Development Programme is another instrument. For many years the priority of EU programmes in Georgia was to support the independent mass media and the parliamentary structures. All the aspects of the electoral system are supported.
Organisations from Georgia are also involved in other EU programs, for example, as part of the cultural program, for which €400 million have been allocated for the period from 2007 to 2013, within which it is possible to obtain grants of between €400,000 and €700,000.
What does Georgia expect of the EU?
After the failure of the NATO integration policy, which ended with the war of 2008, integration with the EU has become the only specific strategic goal which can be declared by the Georgian government without risking external pressure. Had this policy started earlier, and had the pro-NATO extremism not been so apparent, then the war would not have started. However, responsibility for this cannot be assigned only to Saakashvili’s team (this row had started much earlier, in Shevardnadze’s times), but also to those Western politicians who were unable to predict Russia’s most basic possible moves, as Moscow has always been ready to protect its affairs in the Caucasus by all possible means. As a result, the geopolitical extremism of the Georgian politicians was caught napping, and they got engaged in developing controlled areas of tourism infrastructure, a job which they did quite well. At this stage, they expect new investments from the EU, to create an attractive image of a country to which the rest of the world will be drawn, according to the notorious theory of political gravity. It is obvious that the issue of security still remains a priority, and, as mentioned above, the minimum task is to prevent further occupation, whereas the maximum is to gain at least partial control over the areas previously controlled, with EU assistance.
Medvedev's address in Yaroslavl this September enhanced the understanding of integrative processes with reference to NATO. And the new affair in Moscow may create new opportunities for rethinking the idea of a new security system, or systems, in the world. This gives the hitherto ‘disqualified’ Georgia the chance to play a new round. The situation after the Lisbon summit in November 2010 is of particular importance.
Attitudes towards the EU among the public vary depending on the social class. On one hand, the secessionists have demanded money from the EU (and were quite successful until 2008). On the other hand, they see that the EU does not accept their political adventurism and sees it as dangerous. They seek EU’s assistance as long as Moscow doesn’t mind.
The unionists hope that the EU will help hundreds of refugees and displaced persons return to their homeland, and solve this conflict fairly.
The main areas of EU policy in Georgia
Links between the EU and Georgia started in 1992, after the USSR collapsed. The EU was one of the first international organisations which offered real support in the difficult transitional period. The office of the EU delegation in Georgia opened in 1995. In 1999 the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Georgia came into effect.
Mutual relations became more intensive after the ‘Rose Revolution’, when the EU reconfirmed its plans to support economic, social and political reforms. Georgia became a part of of the European Neighbourhood Policy after signing the EU/Georgia Action Plan. The Plan is a political document which defines strategic objectives in EU-Georgia cooperation. In December 2005 the EU presented Georgia with the General System of Preferences-Plus (GSP+), which was extended in 2008. In spring 2009 Georgia became a member of a new EU programme, the Eastern Partnership. In July 2010, as a result of this programme, Georgia and the EU started talks on Georgia's receiving the status of an Associate Member. In October 2010 the EU Parliamentary Committee on Freedom, Justice and Internal Affairs approved an agreement between the EU and Georgia on visa facilitation for Georgian citizens, which had been signed in June 2010 .
From the beginning of the 1990s, the EU has shown its support for Georgia in overcoming the consequences of the conflicts. In 2003 the EU appointed a Special Representative for the South Caucasus. In 2008 the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) started to operate.
European Neighbourhood Policy
In the context of the EU initiatives of recent years, special attention is merited by the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and an assessment of its effectiveness. Representatives of the expert community and the civil society institutions whose activities are in some way linked to issues of the European politics have devoted a lot of attention to the ENP. From 2004 to 2007, with the support of various funds (The Open Society Georgia Fund, The Bell Fund, The Friedrich Ebert Foundation, The Eurasia Foundation, CORDAID and others) this group has actively participated in the process of preparing recommendations for the ENP Action Plan. However at this point, interest in this programme decreased. The process of introducing reforms in Georgia is being supported by a special project, the Georgian European Policy and Legal Advice Centre (GEPLAC), which is being implemented with EU support. It is mainly focused on the priorities of EU/Georgia cooperation within the ENP. In general, GEPLAC’s activity is focused on strengthening various structures within Georgia. However, the priorities identified in the ENP program are insufficiently familiar to the general public, a weakness especially noticeable in the regions.
The Eastern Partnership
It is obvious that the shortcomings of ENP which undermined its effectiveness should be taken into account in the implementation of the Eastern Partnership. On the one hand, the idea of cooperation has become clearer, but as yet there is little evidence of a true partnership among the ‘Eastern Partners’. If in the beginning there was a plan to create ‘AGA’ (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia), then it has now become a ‘BUMAGA’ group (Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia).
Unlike other EU initiatives, the Eastern Partnership will also be supported by the general public. It was created to simplify dialogue and cooperation between the civil society organisations and the governments of the Partnership’s membership countries. A Forum for the general public was also created as a supporting tool. On the national level, civil platforms are being organised. The electoral process in the platform is quite bureaucratic and non-democratic, which is why most non-governmental organisations do not trust it. It is also quite limited in nature.
Other, additional possibilities for developing ties, contacts, means of communication between representatives of the public in the Eastern Partnership/EU format are needed. In this regard, the Go East conference played a very positive role; this took place in Warsaw on 19-20 October 2010, and was hosted by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, with the cooperation of the Mayor of Warsaw’s Cultural Department.
To increase the Eastern Partnership Programme’s effectiveness in attaining its established goals, and to develop cooperation among the various structures connected with the implementation, it is important to create information centres for the Eastern Partnership in every membership country, and to network them.
Possible priorities for the EU in Georgia.
In the next five to ten years, the EU's priority should be not only to cooperate with political regimes, but also with civil society organisations. Another task will be to support creation of a new political elite.
The EU should pay attention to the mistakes of the past years, when the ‘first wave’ of attempts to develop a South Caucasian Partnership in the Azerbaijan-Armenia-Georgia format broke down. In the past two to three years regional initiatives in the South Caucasus have begun to slow down, and have not given the expected results. Regardless of the fact that bilateral relations with the EU are also developing in the ENP format, integration processes within the South Caucasus are not noticeable. The awareness of how ineffective the partnership’s development has been raised the question a few years ago: how will the countries of the South Caucasus move towards the EU – together or individually?
Nonetheless, the process of regional integration is ongoing, new Caucasian regional institutions are being created, and this is all good news. The South Caucasus Institute for Regional Security has conducted research on the dynamics of developing the Caucasian organisations’ social structure more generally. The EU should pay more attention to diversifying the regional formats of the Caucasian partnership, and also make attempts to developing and strengthening each of them. The approach towards the issue of diversifying the regional partnership formats is presented in a publication by the South Caucasian Institute for Regional Security. 'The Caucasus Archipelago: myths and political reality' was prepared at the end of December 2009 and supported by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The main motivation for creating this work was an attempt to find new principles and points of view, and as a result, a new strategy for developing regional partnerships in the South Caucasus.
The book analyses the dynamics of change in the perception of the term defining the region, and offers an innovative understanding of its political geography. Apart from the three traditional countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia), Russia and Turkey are considered as countries of the region. Iran, other neighbours and non-regional actors are also considered. The study offers diversified perceptions of the formats of regional cooperation, which differ from the traditional understanding in a way that expands the possibilities for cooperation, and in particular, the management and prevention of complex regional conflict situations
The systematic approach also allows us to analyse the region’s participation as a whole in trans-regional processes, which to a certain degree can be treated as an attempt to list the region’s geographic potential and suggest a process for strengthening South Caucasian identification. The study also presents particular regional projects which can be supported by the EU and will help the processes of stabilisation and security in the South Caucasus region.
The EU should also consider existing threats to its activities in the Caucasus and Georgia, such as the occupation of the whole territory of Georgia, the rule of anti-Western government, the victory of the Moscow lobby, and Georgian subjugation to Moscow.