Verbal attacks between Georgia and the European Union and United States have been escalating as ambassadors and spokespeople alike voice criticisms with each other after the E.U. decided to grant Georgia a “European perspective” rather than candidacy to the Union. Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia were dubbed the “associated trio” when they all simultaneously applied for candidacy status shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. However, while the former two were granted candidate status almost immediately, alleged democratic backsliding has prevented Georgia from reaching European integration. On June 23rd, Georgia was awarded a European perspective and presented with political reforms, which must be implemented before candidate status can be attained.
Georgia has promised to fulfill these requirements; however, the ruling party has been levelling sharp criticisms at both the E.U. and the U.S., which have reciprocated. Georgian Dream leadership accused E.U. Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell of damaging E.U.-Georgia relations and “not working hard enough” to help secure E.U. candidate status after his departure. U.S. Ambassador Kelly Degnan was additionally met with accusations that the U.S. was attempting to drag Georgia into a war with Ukraine and Russia. Mikheil Kavelashvili, a former member of the Georgian Dream party, criticized Degnan for not rejecting what Kavelashvili described as “pro-American” propaganda. Degnan has since retaliated by calling Kavelashvili’s claims lies, and has accused ruling party leaders of repeating proven misinformation.
On July 20th, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price criticized the Georgian ruling party for weakening Georgia’s pro-European path. Studies show that 80% of Georgians vehemently aspire to become an E.U. member. However, “rhetoric from Georgian officials… is intended to distract Georgia’s citizens from that goal,” Price said.
Natalie Sabanadze, former ambassador to the E.U., criticized Georgia’s “confrontational attitude” and accused Georgia of having a “Eurosceptic” government.
More moderately, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has recognized and praised Georgia’s “enormous desire” to reach candidate status. However, given Georgian Dream leadership’s accusations that Georgia’s failure to be integrated into the E.U. is due to a lack of commitment on Ambassador Hartzell’s part, the extension of the deadline now seems even more justified. E.U. External Affairs spokesperson Peter Stano argues that “blaming others for own unfulfilled ambitions” is not representative of European Union ideals, and Georgia needs the extra time granted to align more “geo-politically,” as French president Emmanuel Macron said, with the E.U.’s archetype.
Thus, political reforms are to be met before candidate status can be granted. Such reforms include engaging with civil society, reducing political polarization, implementing reforms to strengthen the independence of the judicial system, and reinforcing anti-corruption efforts. Initially, the political reforms were to be reviewed at the end of 2022. However, an extension has been granted to push the deadline to later in 2023, giving Georgia ample time to implement these reforms.
Tensions are likely to be running high, given the events of the past year – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th has displaced approximately 14,000,000 people and has caused Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. While it is understandable that these tensions manifest in political lambasting, it would be helpful for Georgia, the United States, and the European Union alike to remember that an overwhelming majority of Georgians wish to become part of the E.U. All parties should be working towards an outcome that reflects the will and desires of the Georgian people.
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