The messenger logo

Eastern Partnership Programme – the yellow brick road?

By Messenger staff
Tuesday, December 9
The current administration needs success stories as much as air. Therefore it has reported as a significant success, and a step in the EU’s direction, the latter’s announcement of the introduction of the Eastern Partnership Programme and Georgia’s inclusion in it.

State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili thinks that this gives Georgia a big chance to become an “associate member” of the EU. Some independent analysts, however, think it is vitally important for the Georgian establishment and people to regain a sense of reality. Overestimated hopes, unrealistic promises and inadequate interpretations could lead to incorrect evaluations of a given situation.

We have already seen vivid examples of this. The authorities created illusory and exaggerated hopes in the population about joining NATO and it possibly assisting Georgia in times of trouble. Unfortunately the authorities swallowed their own propaganda and started to believe it. The result was devastating, as we can observe. The propaganda ignored the reality that NATO had merely stated that Georgia would become its member one day, without saying when, or whether this period should be measured in months or decades. NATO considerably assists the country in its attempt to adopt its values, promoting democracy, freedom of the courts and media, human rights and so on. Thus we should be grateful for it. But NATO has never identified when we could join the organization, and therefore receive its full protection. The Government propaganda machine fed the population with certain unrealistic hopes, ignoring what NATO actually said, and consequently people are left with a feeling of frustration and betrayal, not of NATO’s making.

We should avoid falling into the same trap over relations with the EU. Unlike NATO, the EU has never even promised that Georgia would eventually become its member. Out hope that the Eastern Partnership will bring us into the EU’s orbit is just that, hope. Neither the Eastern Partnership nor the longstanding European Neighbourhood Policy have ever claimed that participation in these is a stepping stone to integration with the EU. On the contrary, they are designed to maintain the EU’s equilibrium. These programmes give wide opportunities for outsiders to collaborate with the EU and develop their countries according to EU standards. If you follow them exactly you will build a country it would be the EU’s privilege to invite into its ranks. But of course, this implies that is the only way you will get in.

The country’s leadership should not feed its people illusions about possible quick integration with the EU. Maybe at some point Georgia will become an EU member but it would need to have shown good if not perfect performance for a considerable time prior to this. The EU has already given Georgia many chances to reach a level where it might suggest eventual membership, but Georgia has not taken them. It offered a possible EU-Georgia free trade regime. How did Georgia respond? Serious changes were needed in our legislation, specifically concerning the labour code and the Law on Competition. The visa regime also needs to be further simplified. But Georgia has yet to make these and other amendments.

The most important element of the offered programmes is assistance with building sustainable democratic institutions. The Eastern Partnership Programme is also being offered to five other post-Soviet countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine. The details will be different for each country, defined by spring 2009. If any one of these countries outperforms Georgia, how will that affect Georgia’s EU membership aspiration?

Georgia will receive an extra EURO 120.4 million to successfully implement the Eastern Partnership Programme. Now we will see whether the country cares more for noble tales of future glory or seizing the chance to show it can meet EU standards.