What are Georgia’s Twelve European Labors?

The European Union has officially welcomed Georgia into the EU membership waiting list, following a summit of European leaders’ endorsement of a proposal to put the country on the list. However, the real work for Georgia to meet EU membership requirements begins now. The country needs to fundamentally change its practices in domestic political culture, foreign relations, and human rights to meet club membership requirements.

Leaders and political figures must either change the rules of the game or ensure there are rules to begin with. Georgia’s progress from candidate to member has been stalled due to authoritarian urges, economic ties with Russia, and messy domestic politics. As the last in the line, Georgia may get stuck in European purgatory indefinitely unless it proceeds with its makeover in a meaningful manner. Brussels gave Tbilisi twelve labors to complete, of which three have already been carried out. The hardest part of the process lies down the road, as most of the required reforms are largely about sharing, controlling, and yielding political power.

Georgia, the single richest man in the country, is believed to be running the country as his personal business, moving around the nation’s top officials and trees as he finds fit. Georgia’s prime minister is Ivanishvili’s former factotum, and the interior minister is his former bodyguard. Georgian Dream, founded by Ivanishvili, is composed of steadfast loyalists. Executive officials and lawmakers sing the tycoon’s praises and vie for his favors, but when asked about the EU’s requests for deoligarchization, the officials pass the buck to moneyed individuals in the opposition camp.

Some observers believe that Brussels might have to accept the Ivanishvili phenomenon as a fact of life in Georgia, but will try to bring him out into the open and attach more accountability and transparency to his role. The EU will gravitate toward solutions that are legal, long-term, and not personalized, aimed at leveling the field and reducing corruption. The EU is wary of letting in a member with anger issues, and one of the tasks set for Tbilisi is to introduce the concepts of compromise and collaboration into the fiercely divided world of Georgian politics. Political tensions have gotten so bad that political opponents cannot even sit down in the same television studio for a debate, as each side speaks to its preferred news outlet.

During parliamentary debates, opponents often engage in physical altercations, leading to a heated atmosphere. The opposition is less averse to starting fights and often offers excuses for their actions. Brussels is urging Georgia to move towards depolarization and civilized debate, with cross-party cooperation, compromise-building, and inclusive consultations on issues such as European integration. Most opposition groups claim that joining the EU is their top priority, but often prioritize local political objectives. In European diplomatic circles, some opposition groups are filibustering to negotiate advantages out of the European integration process before moving forward.

To move forward, the government and opposition must accept that retaining power is not acceptable. The EU wants to see good and clean elections in Georgia, which are broadly accepted by political actors, observers, and the public. To achieve this, Georgia was asked to democratize the nation’s election administration system, as the governing party has disproportionate control over the composition of the main electoral body. This year’s changes to the election law have allowed the Georgian Dream party to select seven members of the Central Election Commission and its chairman. The EU expects Georgia to improve the independence of the electoral system by the next parliamentary polls and effectively tackle other long-running election issues such as voter intimidation and procedural violations.

The EU is seeking to establish an independent court in Georgia to address voting violations, aiming to rid the courtroom of political influences. The EU wants to design a system for vetting judiciary appointees for integrity, ensuring key judiciary positions are filled by highly trusted individuals with a proven record of political independence. The EU also wants Georgia to strengthen the independence of other government institutions, such as the police and national bank, as they are criticized for acting as guardians of the ruling establishment’s interests.

Georgia has been avoiding joining the Euro-Atlantic community in shaming Russia over Ukraine’s invasion, instead enjoying a rapprochement with Moscow, allowing Russian goods, tourists, and investment. Georgia regards Russia as an invading force, occupying Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Tbilisi earns economic support from the Kremlin.

The Georgian government claims it can’t risk antagonizing an increasingly aggressive Moscow, as Georgia Dream sees Russia as a source of income and a fall-back option if ties with the West go south. As the EU asks all prospective members to back up the bloc’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), Georgia will have to clearly choose sides as the EU asks all prospective members to back up the bloc’s statements and actions toward Russia.

The Georgian government has been accused of attempting to drag Georgia into a war with Russia by accusing its Western allies, such as the EU and the U.S., over its atrocities in Ukraine. This has led to the government’s mantra, “Do you want a war?” becoming a popular phrase in Georgians. The EU has warned that Georgia cannot expect to make headway toward European integration as long as such disinformation campaigns continue. The Georgian government has toned down its anti-Western rhetoric and made steps toward synchronization of its foreign policy statements with the EU.

However, there are lingering doubts about Georgian Dream’s true intentions. By nabbing the status of candidate Georgian Dream, the party scored a major point with voters and delivered a blow to its political rivals, who accuse the ruling party of being in cahoots with the Kremlin. This short-term political success does not guarantee a long-term change, and Georgia can make itself comfortable in the waiting room and do little to progress further, observers warn.

The EU will be checking in every year to see how Georgia is doing vis-à-vis its obligations and readiness for membership. Civil society in Georgia hopes that European integration can bring better protection of minorities, reduce corruption, and strengthen the rule of law. Local watchdogs play an important role in this process, as they can see if authorities are making changes or trying to window-dress issues.

Georgian society, predominantly progressive and liberal, views European integration as a means to ensure human rights, fair elections, free media, and minority protection, with EU requests primarily focusing on these aspects. The Georgian people are the driving force behind Georgia’s journey towards Europe, with their support driving the government back into line after a previous incident. Despite past snafus, Georgian politicians have yet to prove their commitment to Europeanization, but the people are likely to continue pushing for reforms to ensure the country’s progress.

EuropeEuropean LaborsEuropean UnionGeorgiaWhat are Georgia's Twelve European Labors?