On Georgia’s Candidate Status for European Union Membership: Some Practical Considerations and Observations 


Much has been said about the historical significance of the European Council decision of December 14, 2023, and much will be said in the future. Given the political and legal, economic, moral and social nature of the EU membership candidate status for Georgia, this is absolutely understandable. Moreover, now there will be more to say and evaluate: after all, our country is still in the process of fulfilling the conditions set by the European Union, which should create prerequisites for the start of membership negotiations.

And despite the abundance of comments, let us dwell on some practical aspects of the December 14 decision. We believe that mentioning them is necessary not only to fully understand the importance of the EU's support for Georgia as a Caucasian country in the medium and long term, but this decision also helps us to fully characterize possible reforms within the EU and its expansion to the East.

In our opinion, the "markers" corresponding to the historical decision of Georgia's European partners are formed as follows (the proposed sequence in no way indicates the determination of any priority among them. We are only presenting them for the judgment of the audience, and for us each of them separately has a great purpose):

1. We believe that the decision of December 14, 2023, both as regards Georgia and Ukraine and Moldova, demonstrates the intention of the European Union to abandon the so-called "deaf defense" and move to a "strategic counterattack" in our complex Caucasus region.

Accordingly, if we recall the early statements of a number of Georgian politicians and researchers who viewed the decision on the candidate's status, in addition to its meritocratic nature, also in the geopolitical dimension, we can say that the peripetias before and after the decision justified the forecast of such a "dualistic" approach. And it came at the right time: in today's world, too much preoccupation with the idealism of today makes it difficult to grasp the reality of tomorrow, let alone overcome the challenges that will have accumulated by then.

Thus, the conclusion drawn from the Georgian end of the coherent European integration process is very likely to be the following: the said decision is equally important for the European Union, as it emphasizes its strategic vision towards one, very complex geopolitical space of Eurasia and means taking (co)responsibility for the future of the same space.

2. The decision repeatedly mentioned in this article demonstrates the unity of the EU Member States in taking decisions of principle. Undoubtedly, the stated position with regard to Georgia (as well as Ukraine and Moldova) is particularly valuable against the background of Russian aggression in Ukraine and in the context of current events on the Eurasian continent.

It is a fact that skeptics envisioned a possible crack in unity, and not without reason. This skepticism was largely "fed" and is still "fed" by the challenges posed in Western democracies in general, and by the growing voice of radicalism and populism based on these challenges.

3. We believe that the officially stated position on eastward enlargement reflects the EU's desire to establish itself as a self-sufficient geopolitical player. We think that this message from the European Union was addressed not only to the revisionist countries of the international legal order in its East, but also to the United States of America.

We have chosen the word "self-sufficient" here after some thought, i.e. we want to say that with such decisions the EU is trying to find its own voice in relations with both competing and partner geopolitical actors. At the same time, such an attempt should not (and cannot) be interpreted as a separation of the European Union from the United States in European affairs. Nor can it be regarded as an indicator of European autonomy doomed from the start to failure.

4. The ideological or conceptual burden of the decision of December 14, 2023 is enormous without exaggeration. It is the European Political Union's response to a gross violation of the order established after the Second World War: the inviolability of that order is based, above all, on the inviolability of internationally recognized borders.

Therefore, this EU decision, like the 2030 enlargement policy document, is a kind of constitutional basis for the geo-political anatomy of international legal norms and order in Europe. The declaration by European partners of their "code of conduct" is a stated counterbalance to the "code of conduct" aimed at expanding their own geopolitical-geo-economic Lebensraum, the so-called "living space", in violation of international norms, including in the neighborhood.

Since we have already mentioned the coherence of the European integration process, in order to ensure "two-way traffic" within it, the Georgian side should necessarily take into account:

1. With the granting of candidate status to Georgia, it is highly likely that the geopolitical "content" of the issue has been finally exhausted or, at least, sharply reduced. Accordingly, on the way to the opening of negotiations on the country's accession to the European Union, it is unlikely that the "turbo mode" will be turned on by our European partners. This time, the country's successes will be largely merit-based and measured on a strict meritocratic scale. Simply put: the change required for European integration must be real, not "fake change", "half change", "pseudo change" or "quasi change".

2. The fulfillment of the conditions set by the EU for the start of negotiations, besides the essential importance of their implementation, also requires a timely and well-established communication policy: not only at the EU level, but also in the capitals of the EU member states. We believe that we gained some experience in this during the final stretch of becoming a candidate. However, the impression remained that this line of communication was not complete and coherent and was more like speeding up on a straight line to the finish line. This approach, already for the second time, this time in the process of fulfilling the 9 conditions, is risky and, with a high probability, will not work. Therefore, the nuances of correct and systematic communication with the Europeans should be taken into account from the very beginning. Given the hesitations of the electorate and isolationist political tendencies in several EU member states, this is all the more relevant.

In addition, another significant circumstance requires separate emphasis:

3. It must be realized that after obtaining the candidate status and before starting membership negotiations (and, of course, during the negotiation process itself), the space for "emotional diplomacy" (e.g., "standing on two feet" vs. "standing on one foot" and other political overtures of the epistolary genre) will also be limited. In general, we have already talked about tomorrow's agenda of Georgian diplomacy and, with high probability, we will talk about it specifically again in the near future. Therefore, here and this time we will save the reader's time and patience. Our generalized call in this article is again to "deromanticize" national political thought and pursue realistic Georgian politics.

Provided that the call for realism is fulfilled, one should also take into consideration that:

4. The EU is planning to reform itself, which should keep this rather clumsy structure from turning into a second United Nations and enable it to meet modern challenges. Here we should mention the so-called "Roadmap" for reforming the European Union by spring 2024. Needless to say, we should not only observe this process, but go along with it with our own reforms at home, which will ultimately create a better way for us to adjust to a renewed European Union and adapt to its written and unwritten rules ("Operating Code").

This and many other opinions, their reminding and voicing, obviously in order to be taken into account in the process, are of practical benefit for the continuation of European integration in Georgian reality by deeds, not words. Naturally, there are several participants in this process. However, the degree of our participation is, of course, the main and determining factor. In this respect, our modernity is indebted to the past and accountable to the future.