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Alexander Skakov

PhD in History, Working Group Coordinator at the Central Eurasia Research Center, RAS Institute of Oriental Studies

The European Union Association Agreements with Georgia and Moldova came into force on July 1, 2016. The agreements envisage harmonizing the legislation to bring the Associated Members closer to the EU norms and requirements. But what does the European Union have to offer Georgia other than European values and numerous consultants and advisers?

The European Union Association Agreements with Georgia and Moldova came into force on July 1, 2016. The agreements envisage harmonizing the legislation to bring the Associated Members closer to the EU norms and requirements. But what does the European Union have to offer Georgia other than European values and numerous consultants and advisers?

On June 27, 2014, Georgia and Moldova signed an agreement with the European Union on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. The agreement was applied on a temporary basis on September 1, 2014, and fully entered into force, as promised, on July 1, 2016 when the ratification procedure was completed.

Associated Membership, owing to the concept of “membership,” was from the outset more of a promotion campaign and gesture rather than a real and full-fledged programme of action. The initiators of this propagandistic move achieved their goal by managing to tempt the peoples of Moldova and Georgia with the prospect of full integration into Europe. Many people in these countries (like in Ukraine and Armenia) were all too willing to believe in the European future for their countries, viewing associated membership as a stepping stone towards full-fledged membership in the European Union. However, the prospects of full membership are rather vague, especially due to the large-scale crisis the European Union is experiencing.

The agreements envisage harmonizing the legislation to bring the Associated Members closer to EU norms and requirements. But what does Georgia stand to gain from being part of the Free Trade Area? What goods can the country supply to the European Union? Is Georgia competitive in the European market? In turn, what does the European Union have to offer Georgia other than European values and numerous consultants and advisers?

In the popular conception, visa liberalization is wrongly interpreted as a right to work in EU countries.

The answer, according to those who developed the Associated Membership plan, could be visa liberalization or a lifting of the visa regime between Georgia and the European Union. In the popular conception, visa liberalization is wrongly interpreted as a right to work in EU countries. In reality, however, these are two very different issues. Nobody would welcome thousands of Moldovans, Ukrainians and Georgians to the European labour market.

Yet the solution of this issue faces the challenge of European bureaucracy, and it has been met with resistance from a number of some countries, primarily Germany. Angela Merkel has said that Germany is considering developing a mechanism for suspending the visa-free regime if too many citizens of a single country seek asylum in the European Union. This is obviously just a pretext, as there was nothing to prevent the European Union from introducing a visa-free regime with Georgia at the same time it did with Moldova, that is, from April 28, 2014, although with a number of conditions – a huge package of documents required, applicants being not entitled to work in the European Union, and a possibility to stay for no longer than 90 days in any six-month period. However, the European Union did not do this, which resulted in Georgia finding itself in the same group as Ukraine and Turkey. Germany and several other European Union states are in no hurry to grant even such a truncated visa-free regime to those two countries.

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Visa liberalization for Georgia was to be discussed on June 27, 2016 at the Brussels Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. However, the meeting was postponed due to the Britain’s referendum on exiting the European Union. However, as early as June 20, the EU Foreign Affairs Council sent the issue of visa liberalization back to the Committee of Permanent Representatives. Only then will it be considered by the EU Council of Ministers. The problem is that the Committee of Permanent Representatives has already discussed the issue three times and each time passed the buck to the Council of Ministers, which in turn kicked it back in what seems to be a game of ping pong.

Apparently, the solution to the issue is being deliberately delayed, despite the fact that, according to the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, Georgia has complied with all the requirements and conditions set by Brussels. Some European officials would like the visa regime for Georgian nationals to be officially eased before the parliamentary elections on October 8, 2016. The more sceptical hope the visa regime will be lifted before the New Year. However, considering the slow pace of the process, even they seem to be too optimistic.

On July 7, 2016 the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs approved a draft document abolishing the visa regime for Georgian citizens. According to European Parliament member Andrejs Mamikins the main vote will take place at the plenary session in September.

The Georgian political narrative tends to unwarrantedly exaggerate Georgia’s role and place in the world (link in Russian). If Brussels hands out visa-free regimes as a reward for democratization, Ukraine and Georgia will be joined in a long queue by Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria and many other important countries which also have various agreements with the European Union.

Brussels, like Washington, is sure that Georgia, unlike Moldova, for example, is not going anywhere, being tied as it is to the European Union and NATO by many invisible threads. Meanwhile, Georgia has a growing number of Eurosceptics who are disenchanted with their country’s European prospects. Will quantity turn into quality? Will the Eurosceptics be able to influence the future of their country? Or will Georgia continue to labour under inflated expectations and false hopes for a long time to come?

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