Issue 3, 2017. June-July

   

AFTER EU VISA LIBERALIZATION: GEORGIA'S NEXT STEPS

Georgia's visa-free regime with the EU went into effect in March 28. Even as the country celebrates this milestone, Georgian officials have been open about their ambition to continue to move closer to the EU. Investor.ge spoke with specialists on EU integration and international policy about what Tbilisi should do next.

The freedom to travel to and throughout the Schengen area without a visa has been lauded as a milestone in Georgia's relations with the EU.

But Georgian officials have made it clear this is just one step toward their ultimate goal to become a full-fledged member of the Union.

Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili has repeatedly spoken about Georgia's future in the EU.

In comments at the European Parliament when the visa-liberalization legislation was signed, Kvirikashvili reiterated Georgia's commitment to becoming a full member of the "European family."

"Today, the European Union's doors have opened to Georgians. This is not only a step towards Euro-integration but a tremendous achievement," he said in comments to journalists, adding that the country needs to "continue implementing reforms to become a full member of the European family."

Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze also pledged that Georgia will take "all steps" to move closer to Europe.

"Georgia has a clearly fixed interest-to have more political integration with the EU, and we will take all steps within the framework of all formats," Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze was shown saying on Rustavi-2 TV on April 13.

But some political scientists and international policy specialists have cautioned against Tbilisi moving too quickly.

Difficult Political Climate

Alexandra Hall Hall, a former UK Ambassador to Georgia and now a senior fellow at the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, told Investor.ge that it is to the credit of both Georgia and the EU that the visa liberalization regime has been put in place.

In a recent editorial published on the Atlantic Council website, Hall Hall argued that the new visa-free deal was a "one small step for Georgia and one huge leap for the EU."

"I think it is to Georgia's huge credit that it persisted with its visa liberalization process. It took longer than the Georgians wanted, but it was actually quicker than a lot of other countries have achieved, and it reflected very well on the EU that despite this incredibly difficult domestic environment and backlash against migration generally in the EU, it honored its promise to Georgia. So I would take that as a very good sign," she said.

But she cautioned that Tbilisi should not play up expectations that full membership is on the horizon for Georgia.

"I have seen senior Georgian leaders talk about Georgian liberalization and say, 'Of course, our long-term aspiration remains full integration within the EU.' I think that the Georgian leadership needs to be careful not to play up expectations on that," she said.

Time for Reform

Koba Turmanidze, the director of Caucasus Research Resource Center in Georgia, told Investor.ge that now Georgia needs to focus on taking full advantage of its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU.

"We need to focus on an information campaign to explain DCFTA opportunities to businesses. At the same time, the government should design programs to help businesses with export potential. Meeting formal requirements related to DCFTA is hard, but relatively straightforward," he said.

Political scientist Kornely Kakachia also urged the government and the Georgian people to push ahead with needed reforms. "I think it's important that Georgian government and society should not think whatever they achieved is enough," he said.

"It is quite the opposite; it's just the beginning of a lengthy and time-consuming Europeanization process. Despite the skeptical position of some EU members, Georgia should continue its reforms and act like a member state adopting, step by step, EU standards. The experience of EU-candidate Balkan states is important in this regard: the more Georgia will do its homework, the closer it will be with the EU and there will [eventually] be momentum when the EU can't reject Georgia's progress." Hall Hall stressed, however, that the Georgian government must be sensitive to the political situation in the EU. "There is definitely a difficult political environment within the EU; they have many other things on their plate and enlargement, further enlargement, is not on the agenda within the EU as far as I can observe," she said.

The views expressed in this article by Alexandra Hall Hall are her own, and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the United Kingdom.