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The Riga Consequences: From Hopes to Skepticism
13:43 02-06-2015
The Riga Consequences: From Hopes to Skepticism Georgian Journal has sat down with Eugene Kogan, a political analyst based in Vienna and an expert on security in the Caucasus region in order to discuss the not-so-happy outcome of the recent Eastern Partnership summit in Riga:

– What do you think were Georgia’s expectations of the summit and what did the EU deliver? How do these two meet each other?

– I think it is obvious that Georgia’s expectations for the last two months have become very strongly downgraded. I think that everybody in Georgia has come to terms with the fact that Georgia would not be granted visa liberalization that was eagerly expected in the beginning of the year. After the signing of the Association Agreement, there was a hint, not a promise, that introduction of a visa-free regime was feasible for the Riga summit. Remember that last year, when Moldova was made visa-free, Georgians felt that they got mistreated. It went like this: If Moldova is given a visa-free regime, then we are entitled to it too.
But now, this mistreatment has grown into skepticism, as everybody has realized that the decision will be postponed until the next summit, when political conditions are hopefully more favorable for the EU to make that step. And realizing this has certainly given the Georgian establishment a taste of sour apples - hardly pleasant. It’s not easy to tell your voters that despite all the efforts and reforms, the EU failed to provide a tangible reward for it. In addition, there is a consensus in Europe that both Georgia and Ukraine should wait a bit longer.


– The EU would like to see the ongoing conflicts come to an end. It is also very reluctant to aggravate the situation in Ukraine any further: they are not happy with the current stalemate, but they do not want things to get worse.

– So Georgia and its EU aspirations, including the visa liberalization, have just become a bargaining chip between the EU and Russia?

– Exactly. The main reason of the delay of the visa-free regime is not related to Tbilisi’s actions in any way. It’s the EU’s stance not to give any reason or excuse to Russia for it to justify further aggression towards Ukraine and Georgia, which in turn would make life harder for the EU.

– Why was that not the case in Moldova? Did Transnistria somehow become any less of a lever for Russia?

– Transnistria still is a huge problem, but I think at the time of Moldova’s being granted the visa-free regime, the situation was not as bad as it is now. Also, Moldova enjoyed very strong lobbying by the Romanian government in the EU. Georgia has no such luxury. Ukraine has Poland, which is doing its best to help, but it’s still not enough. And there is of course, lack of unanimity. Being a union consisting of 28 members, it is very hard for the EU to achieve unity on matters as sensitive as the conflict in Ukraine. Therefore, the EU is very reluctant to take steps that could tip the balance in Ukraine, and granting Georgia a visa-free regime might well prove to be one such step.

– In this case, I would like to ask: Was the outcome of Riga summit, the content of the declaration, ever fully dependent on Georgia and the efforts it made towards achieving visa liberalization?

– As they say, it takes two to tango. It’s a tango between Georgia and the EU. No matter how good at dancing you are, the performance won’t turn out so well if your partner is not really enthusiastic. I see a very similar thing with NATO as well – it’s a very long-term endeavor. Its materialization in the foreseeable future is under a big question mark.

– But the process itself, the steps towards the West, towards Europe, would you call them a futile endeavor as well? And if so, what other option would you propose instead? Russia?

– No, the process and the aspirations are really worth pursuing. And Georgia should definitely continue on this path because it changes the country for the better. Take Turkey, for example: It has made big steps in terms of domestic development on its path of equally distant European future. Did it make Turkey a better, more prosperous and developed country? Absolutely, and that’s the goal Georgia should be striving for as well. Because what Moscow is very much interested in is Georgia moving nowhere, stagnating and becoming a failed state, dependent on the big brother.

– Back to the initial question. Was the content of the declaration dependent on the performance of the our government? Could they have done better?

– I think that in terms of introducing reforms, they’ve done well enough. What the Georgian government should not have done, however, is give people in Brussels an additional reason to point fingers and say: “See, you’re not ready yet because this and that happens in your country.” One good example of such an action would be the ridiculously quick change of the ministers’ cabinet. Especially when the PM announces that only two ministers will be changed and suddenly three of them leave. This creates an image of political instability in the country, and it is very convenient for the EU to point it out. And Georgia has no luxury of handing out such excuses.

One last question. It seems that considering the latest events, Euroscepticism is on the rise in the county. How dangerous do you think that is and what should be done to counter that?

– What I think both Tbilisi and Brussels should do is provide each other with correct images. Tbilisi should stop painting Georgia as one big Tbilisi where all is well; they should show the European diplomats how poor and desperate people in the countryside are and tell them that they comprise the majority of the country’s population, not vice versa.

In addition, the Georgian people should stop receiving praise from the EU as a prelude to something bigger – like membership – and realize that it’s all political babble. When I tell my friends from abroad that elderly Georgians have 150 GEL pensions, they do not believe me. You would die of starvation in Europe with a pension of 150 EUR. What saves Georgia is the tradition of the extended family, similar to that of Scottish clans, but does it justify the pension rates being so abnormally low? Absolutely not. And I have yet to see any European politician addressing that while talking about Georgia.
It is time for both Tbilisi and Brussels to cast away the fake, shiny images and look Georgia straight in the eye, addressing the existing problems directly. This will be the first step towards the eradication of Euroscepticism.

Author: Vazha Tavberidze

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