On 1 July 2016, the Association Agreement signed between Georgia and the European Union in 2014 (and subsequently ratified by the supreme legislative bodies of the European Union, its member states and Georgia) entered into full force. Under the agreement, Georgia has committed itself to work actively to harmonize its own legislation with that of the European Union. The timeline for doing so is written into the agreement and the last deadline at this stage is specified as the end of 2029 (specifically, by 31 December 2029, Georgia must complete the harmonization of its national legislation with the September 16 2009 regulation 1005/2009 of the European Parliament and European Council, which deals with substances that damage the ozone layer). In total, Georgia must bring its national legislation into line with a total of 647 regulations, directives, resolutions and recommendations.
At the end of 2016, Georgia received yet another benefit from the European Union. Specifically, it completed the reform process envisaged in the Visa Liberalization Action Place (VLAP) that was initialed in February 2013. Georgia received a positive assessment from the European Commission, and at the beginning of 2017, the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice of the EU’s member states gave the green light to short-term travel to Schengen Zone countries for Georgian citizens holding biometric passports. It could be said that the VLAP remains, to this day the most effective document that he European Union has issued to Georgia. It’s effectiveness stems from at least two factors: firstly, the completion of the VLAP was a precondition for the European Union cancelling its visa regime for short-term travel for Georgian citizens, in other words, on the condition of carrying out concrete and detailed reforms, Georgia would receive a concrete benefit and, secondly, cancelling the visa regime became a tangible benefit of the European integration process, from which any citizen of Georgia with a biometric passport can benefit. In this way, the benefit of the process of European integration has become accessible to a broader part of the population.
Consequently, it can be said that Georgia has made full use of all those opportunities which came from the European Union relating to political, as well as economic integration and establishing people-to-people contacts. But in Georgia, as well as in the EU, one question has been posed that has not been fully answered: what might be the next step for the Georgia-EU relationship and what proposals should Georgia expect at the Eastern Partnership Summit to be held in Brussels on 24 November 2017?
Eastern Partnership Adrift
Within the EU, there is no clear vision for what sort of relationship there should be between the Eastern Partnership and the EU in the long term and what the final destination might be on the path those partner countries have taken. One clear proof of this is a document relating to the future of Europe which was published on 1 March 2017 by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. The document is called the White Paper on the future of Europe.This document, which sets out the future of the EU until 2025, proposes five scenarios for the development of the EU, and yet none of them talk about the Eastern Partnership countries or the EU’s future relationship with them, and they are only mentioned as member countries of the European Council (apart from Belarus, which isn’t a member of the Council of Europe). It’s also worth considering, that in the EU foreign and security policy strategy document Shared vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe, Georgia is mentioned alongside Tunisia as a model of a successful, peaceful and stable democratic state, however in the above-mentioned document too, there is no clear mention of the future relationship between the EU, Georgia and the other Eastern Partnership countries. Nor is the possibility of future expansion or granting membership prospects mentioned in the 18 November 2015 document Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy.
Eight years after its official founding in 2009 in Prague, the Eastern Partnership, the architects of which were the then-Foreign Ministers of Sweden and Poland, Carl Bildt and Radoslaw Sikorski, is in dire need of deep and comprehensive reform. The program unites countries which, at first glance, appear alike. However, those countries have radically different ambitions on their path towards the EU.
The mere fact that some countries within the Eastern Partnership have signed an association agreement with the EU while others haven’t already means there are two groups within the partnership which differ qualitatively from each other in their paths to European integration. Two groups exist also in terms of visa-free access to the Schengen Zone – while citizens of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine enjoy visa-free travel to Schengen Zone countries, citizens of Armenia, Belarus and Azerbaijan do not.
Currently, the EU is making less ambitious (or in other words, more modest) offers to the countries of the Eastern Partnership, and this can be seen in the joint working document published by the European External Action Service, Eastern Partnership – 20 deliverables for 2020 focusing key priorities and tangible results’. Analysis of the twenty goals presented in the document reveals that there is greater emphasis on the so-called ‘second tier’ countries of the Eastern Partnership (Azerbaijan, Belarus and Armenia) rather than those countries which stand at the forefront of the Partnership, which at this stage means Georgia (e.g. the document calls on the Eastern Partnership countries to ratify the Istanbul Convention by 2020, which Georgia has already done, and to increase public support for European integration, while in Georgia support for European Integration is higher than in many EU countries, etc). When speaking about the future of the Georgia-EU relationship, EU officials and accredited diplomatic representatives of EU member states in Georgia always state that, at this stage, Georgia should focus its attentions on the proper implementation of the association agreement and should think less about what the next step might be in the relationship. The question remains open as to whether concentrating exclusively on the implementation of the association agreement means that Georgia shouldn’t expect any further significant initiatives from the EU until the final term of implementation in 2030. It should be noted, however, that the Association Agreement does not prevent Georgia from taking further concrete steps towards membership of the EU or from applying to join the union.
EU Preoccupied with Internal Problems
At the current moment, the EU is closed and preoccupied with internal problems, and consequently isn’t thinking about what substantially new initiatives it could offer to the countries of the Eastern Partnership. In terms of internal problems, four crucial issues can be identified:
1. The process of Great Britain leaving the European Union, which began on 29 March 2017 with the British Prime Minister sending an official letter to the EU stating its intention to leave, a process which will, according to point three of Article 50 of the Lisbon Agreement, last a minimum of two years, until March 2019. This puts the EU in a position of uncertainly, since this is the first time in the history of its existence that a member state has requested to leave the Union. Britain’s departure from the European Union brings with it not only political, but also practical ramifications, since, according to 2016 figures, Britain was third behind Germany and France in terms of its contribution to the EU budget (13.45%).
2. The large number of asylum seekers, which reached a historic high in 2015. The crisis was eased in large part due to cooperation between the EU and Turkey, but, given the current deterioration of relations, it’s hard to predict what this cooperation will look like in future. In 2015 a record total of 1.3 million people sought asylum in the EU’s 28 states, Switzerland and Norway. Of these, 440, 000 made applications in Germany. The last time such a large number of asylum seekers recorded was in 1992, when 700, 000 applied for asylum in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
3. The wave of terrorism which is threatening the security of the EU and its member countries and
4. The resurgence, in some member states of the EU, of far right groups, who are questioning the existence of the EU itself and who are actively trying to discredit European values.
Considering all of this, the EU and the leaders of the member states can no longer find time for the Eastern Partnership, not least since, in their view, making additional important overtures to the Eastern Partnership countries could risk exacerbating relations with Russia (e.g. the annexation of Crimea was sparked by rallies against the former president Yanukovich, brought on by his decision not to initial an EU Association Agreement. Certain circles within the EU believe that they should do all they can not to antagonize Russia by developing closer ties with Eastern Partnership countries.)
Without a ‘European Prospect’
Receiving a ‘European Prospect’ is an important stage on the country’s path towards European integration. ‘European Prospect’ means a promise from the EU that this or that country will definitely become a member of the European Union at some point. At this stage, such a promise has been given to the countries of the Western Balkans. To make a rough comparison, this is the same as what Georgia received at the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit. So far, Georgia has not been given prospects for membership by the EU. Moreover, according to the preamble of the Association Agreement, Georgia is mentioned not as a European, but as an Eastern European country, and not as a ‘state’, in order not to create even the smallest link with article 49 of the agreement, which gives any European state (!) the right to apply for membership of the EU.
The issue of whether or not to make a statement on membership prospects will not be discussed at the Eastern Partnership Summit to be held at the end of November in Brussels. At the summit, reference could be made once again to the EU’s recognition of Georgia’s ‘European aspiration’. In order to avoid creating any false hopes, the EU will refrain from mentioning the Treaty of Rome, the document which established the European Economic Community, in the declaration of the 2017 Eastern Partnership Summit. It is highly likely that the Eastern Partnership summit will be a modest affair, free of any grandiose promises or ambitions. At the same time, the government of Georgia doesn’t have a clearly formulated, detailed and ambitious plan (if we don’t count the Georgian government’s ‘Six-Point Plan’) outlining the next steps to be taken in terms of EU relations.
Towards the EU without a clear vision
Georgia’s foreign policy strategy, which covers the years 2015-2018, names NATO membership and integration with the EU as the country’s foreign policy strategic goals. Despite multiple declarations by senior government and political figures that Georgia’s final goal is membership of the EU, this aim is not explicitly mentioned in the foreign policy strategy. Moreover, in terms of this message, there are certain discrepancies between the Georgian government’s 2017-2020 communications strategy on EU and NATO Membership adopted on 13 April 2017 and Georgia’s foreign policy strategy. Despite the fact that, at this stage, the eastward expansion of the EU is not under discussion and that Georgia still isn’t ready for EU membership, it’s still important for Georgia, whose stated foreign policy priority is EU membership, to formulate a detailed and ambitious action plan which will answer at least the following questions:
- How will Georgia act if the next president of the EU Commission (2019-2024) continues the current president’s policy and extends the moratorium on EU expansion during that period as well?
- Is Georgia better off seeing membership of the EU together with Moldova and Ukraine, or is it better for Georgia to continue this process individually?
- What will Georgia’s strategy be? Will it try to first achieve EU membership prospects and only after that apply for membership, or is Georgia not expecting these prospects to be granted?
- Should Georgia wait for the full implementation of the Association Agreement (in 2030) and only after that take steps towards membership (e.g. by applying for membership), or should it take those steps in parallel with the process of implementing the Association Agreement?
- Apart from the Association Agreement, what steps should Georgia take until the EU plans eastern expansion?
- What sort of political and economic situation should there be within the EU, and in Georgia, for the latter to consider it advisable to apply for EU membership?
The development of an adequate strategy and action plan for EU membership will largely answer the questions posed above, and will formulate a full vision of what steps Georgia should take in parallel with the process of implementing the Association Agreement.
 In compliance with the obligations accepted by Georgia under the Montreal Protocol (articles 5 and 11), by 31 December 2029, Georgia must ban the sale and use of controlled substances, including Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which can be used a cooling agent. Georgia will stop the general use of HCFCs by 2013, will reduce useage by 10% by 2015, 35% in 2020 and 67.5% in 2025 and will phase out their use entirely by 2030.
 „White paper on the future of Europe“; 01.03.2017;available on the European commission’s official webpage. Link https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/white_paper_on_the_future_of_europe_en.pdf
 “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe” A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy; 28.06.2017; Available on the official website of the European External Action Service. Link http://www.eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/top_stories/pdf/eugs_review_web.pdf
 “Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy” Available on the official website of the European External Action Service. Link http://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/enp/documents/2015/151118_joint-communication_review-of-the-enp_en.pdf
 „Eastern Partnership – 20 deliverables for 2020 focusing key priorities and tangible results“; 9.6.2017 Available on the website of the European External Action Service. Link https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/swd_2017_300_f1_joint_staff_working_paper_en_v5_p1_940530.pdf
 Share of total contributions to the EU budget in 2016, by Member States; available at https://www.statista.com/statistics/316691/european-union-eu-budget-share-of-contributions/ Document last viewed on 25.6.2017
 Number of Refugees to Europe Surges to Record 1.3 million in 2015; Pew Research Center; August 2, 2016; available at http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/08/02/number-of-refugees-to-europe-surges-to-record-1-3-million-in-2015/
 „RECOGNISING that Georgia, an Eastern European country, is committed to implementing and promoting these values“ – p.6 of the “Association Agreement between Georgia, of the one part and the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community and their Member States, of the other part”, available on the website of the European External Action Service. Link https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/association_agreement.pdf
 „Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall be notified of this application.“; Article 49 of the Lisbon Agreement, available at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A12007L%2FTXT
 Foreign Policy Strategy - A United, Safe, Democratic and Developed State, Available on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, at http://www.mfa.gov.ge/MainNav/ForeignPolicy/ForeignPolicyStrategy/%E1%83%A1%E1%83%A2%E1%83%A0%E1%83%90%E1%83%A2%E1%83%94%E1%83%92%E1%83%98%E1%83%A3%E1%83%9A%E1%83%98-%E1%83%90%E1%83%9B%E1%83%9D%E1%83%AA%E1%83%90%E1%83%9C%E1%83%94%E1%83%91%E1%83%98-%E1%83%93%E1%83%90-%E1%83%9B%E1%83%98%E1%83%96%E1%83%9C%E1%83%94%E1%83%91%E1%83%98.aspx#str_m_04 Document last viewed on 25.6.2017