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Georgia’s Thorny Path to Europe: Now it is time for EU to Deliver

Despite the fact that Georgia serves as a crossroad to Europe and Asia, it is not on the crossroad of choice, constantly challenged by geopolitical turbulence. Indeed, Georgia has demonstrated its firm aspiration to join European Union at the Vilnius Summit in 2013, as it is the wish of the majority of the Georgian citizens. All the recent surveys conducted within the country indicate this trend.

We, the Georgians, are living in a region, which is still vulnerable to security related threats, where the European integration is linked to important political transformation. Despite all the difficulties, strains and constant external pressure, Georgia strives to become a member of the European Union and it is one of the top priorities for the country. Twenty per cent of our territories are still occupied by Russia which is a serious obstacle for our country. Despite the efforts by Russia to stray Georgia from its European path, Georgia stays firm in its direction.

In this regard, great is the importance of effective implementation of Association Agreement, including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement (DCFTA) signed on 27 June, 2014. The Association Agreement has been ratified by 27 countries; Italy has ratified an agreement on 26 November, 2015 and became 27th country ratifying it, but the document has not been ratified by Belgium yet. This ratification will trigger the implementation stage of the agreement, which will eventually make political approximation and gradual economic integration with the EU irreversible for Georgia. The Association Agreement has been already referred as a new generation agreement for our country, having both policy implications and grassroots effects.

It is noteworthy to mention, that on November 16, 2015, the EU-Georgia Association Council hold its second meeting in Brussels, where the Association Council praised Georgia as one of the front-runners of the Eastern Partnership, as the country keeps receiving a very positive feedback from all directions.

Recently, on 27 November 2015 The European Commission has adopted a new €100 million assistance package to Georgia to support reforms related to the EU-Georgia deal. In this respect, Johannes Hahn, the Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, hailed the developments, stating that ‘”with the Association Agreement, the EU-Georgia relations have moved to another level. The assistance package will support central elements in this ever closer relationship.”

The importance of visa liberalisation process is also great. Just a few days ago on 18 December, 2015 the European Commission has published positive report on visa liberalisation that positively evaluates the progress made by Georgia. This is the last, fourth report of the European Commission on Georgia’s visa liberalisation. Specifically, the Commission considers that Georgia meets all the benchmarks set in respect of the four blocks of the second phase of the VLAO (Visa Liberalisation Action Plan). The Commission considers that fulfilled procedures are in line with European and international standards.

Expressions of support and encouragement are not hollow words; to the contrary, they are essential for the success in the country’s pro-EU endeavour. For Georgia, as a post-communist country, it is not easy to keep pace with all the novelties being introduced by the EU, and such kind of appraisals shift perceptions and strengthen the belief in integration.  Therefore, furthering this belief and achieving progress step by step is of utmost importance. It is even more promising, since the words of approval and commitment are followed by concrete steps, discussed above.

We have to recall that by early 21st century, the vast number of East-Central European countries have successfully reinvented themselves as consolidated democracies and functioning market economies. The cornerstone of this transformation was a bold and unequivocal promise of the EU membership. By its firm commitment to take all necessary steps to advance the integration process and meet the required standards and by tackling challenges has a potential to be a regional hub, Georgia is the best aspiring member state the EU could hope for.

It goes without saying that Georgia should be able to exercise its sovereign right to choose its path of development and its alliances and abandon an outdated imperial “sphere-of-influence” type mentality, but to a great extent this depends on how vocal the EU is. Pro-EU policy shifts could be accomplished by a combined political will of Georgian government and the EU’s establishment, but to achieve this mentality shift, even more and more considerable effort must be made.