In October 2016, a post-Soviet Georgia successfully passed yet another exam in democratic development. As international observers recognized, the Parliamentary elections were conducted in a competitive, fair and mostly peaceful environment.
Georgia, a small country in the Caucasus, stands out among other post-Soviet countries: following the Baltic nations, Georgia is the most successful country in building democratic institutions, strengthening the market economy and developing steps toward Euro-Atlantic integration.
Take, for example, the country’s intensive cooperation with NATO within the framework of the Partnership for Peace project. At the NATO summit in Prague in 2002, the then President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, officially declared that Georgia is committed to becoming a NATO member country. Since 2001, Georgian military officers have continuously been participating in NATO military operations.
Despite the fact that Georgia gains the highest praise from NATO leaders for its efforts in this regard, getting the much desired Membership Action Plan (MAP), not to mention full NATO membership itself, remains unattainable for Georgia. Georgians have often heard from Brussels in recent years that NATO’s door is open to Georgia, but no ‘open door’ is useful if you are unable to pass through. Georgians do know that Russia cannot directly veto a NATO decision because Russia is not a NATO member, but they do realize that Russia has a huge impact on some of the Western European countries that are blocking Georgia’s access to the Alliance.
Soon, it will be a quarter-century since Georgia has been cooperating with the European Union, but this Caucasian country attained its greatest achievement in June 2014 when the EU-Georgia Association Agreement was signed. As of July 1, 2016, as well, we have the coming into force of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). It is also to be highlighted that Georgia met all of the preconditions for obtaining EU visa liberalization, but due to the large influx of immigrants into the bloc, Brussels is not in a hurry to deliver on the obligation it undertook in terms of easing EU travel.
There are obvious obstacles on the road to NATO and the EU, however these are caused not so much by Georgia but by the Alliance and the Union themselves and this raises some skepticism. A political party of a non-Western orientation was just elected to the Parliament of Georgia in the October elections and will be represented with a small faction. This is perhaps the first so-called ‘red flag’ that Georgians are losing hope, not to mention trust, in the West – NATO and the EU.
Among the supporters of Georgia’s independent statehood, the USA is the most robust proponent among all of the Western countries, although, it can be said, this support has not been as strong from President Barack Obama’s Administration as it used to be from his predecessors. However, the US still remains Georgia’s strongest strategic partner and so Tbilisi is watching the President Trump’s upcoming administration with great expectations.
One-fifth of Georgia’s territory is illegally occupied by Russia, which continues to carry out its creeping annexation of the country. Under these circumstances, the Western-oriented Georgia needs not just general statements of support, but truly effective actions.
The example of Cyprus is worth noting as its northern part is under Turkish occupation and not controlled by the capital, Nicosia. This sets a positive precedent for Georgia in that the country, despite the Russian occupation, may still one day be integrated into the EU.
Russia’s most recent project is the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which consists of four countries (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) under the umbrella of Russia. Two of these EAEU countries border Georgia in the north (Russia) and the south (Armenia). Being in the middle of this so-called Eurasian ‘sandwich’ means that providing effective support for Georgia’s Western orientation is of key importance.
Although Georgia still has a long way to go to be in line and harmonized with EU standards, it may also be credited as being far away from the trends in the EAEU. For instance, according to the Corruption Perceptions Index study conducted by Transparency International, the most corrupt country in the EU in 2015 was Bulgaria (it ranks in the 69th place among the least corrupt countries worldwide). Armenia is the least corrupt country in the EAEU, while it ranks in the 95th place worldwide. The most corrupt countries in the EAEU are Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan which share the 123rd place worldwide. For comparison, Georgia ranks in the 48th place and this result shows that it is definitely closer to ‘European standards’ (from the most recent EU members, Latvia ranks in the 40th place and Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia rank in the 50th place). It is not surprising that Georgia does not want to return to its corrupt past.
We consider that becoming an EU member country is not a goal, but a means that will allow the Georgian population to lead a European style with a dignified life.
Everyone knows that the EU has to tackle a range of drastic problems in its own backyard: immigration, the Eurozone crises and now Brexit.
Georgia understands the EU’s difficulties, as well as NATO’s cautionary approach towards Russia, but it is incomprehensible that Tbilisi meets its obligations undertaken before the EU and NATO, but they are, regrettably, taken no further than the simple expressed recognition of Georgia’s achievements on its road towards Western approximation and integration.
This is a point in history when the West needs to recognize that there is a small country in the Caucasus, perhaps one of the most strategic regions in the world that is pursuing its advance towards democratic values, but encounters obstacles on its way to truly becoming a part of the Western family of nations.
GEENTRANCE means that Georgia’s Entrance has started and its integration process with the West is being implemented with more or less success. It is crucial now that the West believe that GEENTRANCE is underway. GEENTRANCE is coming!
*Vladimer Papava is former a Minister of Economy of the Republic of Georgia, and is the author of Necroeconomics, a study of post-Communist economic problems.