Friday

1st Mar 2024

Borrell in Tbilisi warns Georgia on Russia flights and rule of law

  • EU foreign relations chief Josep Borrell urged Georgian Dream to do more (Photo: ec.europa.eu)
Listen to article

Georgia's ruling party still has far to go in living up to its pro-EU claims, Europe has said, with Russian flights and political impeachments among new irritants.

Georgia has passed only three out of 12 grades the European Commission has set out for it to be awarded official "candidate status" this year, the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said in Tbilisi on Friday (8 September).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Borrell also pointedly met with Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili, who is facing impeachment from the ruling Georgian Dream party (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

He mentioned "[political] depolarisation, de-oligarchisation, [and] justice reform" as top priorities.

Borrell complained about Georgia's decision to resume flights to and from Russia in May, in the teeth of EU aviation sanctions.

"It is part of the alignment of Georgia with our foreign policy, this is a commitment, that Georgia undertook ... and what we expect from those countries who aspire to become members of the EU. And right now certainly there's a lot of room for improvement," he said.

Borrell also signalled concern on rule of law by mentioning last week's impeachment proceedings against Georgian Dream's political nemesis, Georgian president Salome Zourabichvili.

The party wants her impeached on grounds she held constitutionally unauthorised meetings with EU VIPs, such as German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

She responded with a wry-smile picture on Instagram, after leading months of opposition criticism that Georgian Dream was cozying up to Russia and backsliding on democracy.

Borrell met Zourabichvili on his Georgia tour in a show of support.

And amid EU talk of "de-oligarchisation", Georgian Dream's founder and chairman, Bidzina Ivanishvili, is himself an eccentric oligarch, who made his fortune in Russia, and who lives in futuristic mansions, with miniature railways, Picasso paintings, and menageries of exotic pets.

Georgian Dream could still turn things around by the end of the year, when the EU decision on candidate status is due, Borrell told the party's prime minister Irakli Garibashvili in a joint press briefing in Tbilisi on Friday.

"There's still time do it," he said.

But for all the EU envoy's smiles and elbow-rubbing of his Georgian host, the press event had a prickly atmosphere.

Frequently addressing him face-to-face as "Mr Borrell", Garibashvili claimed his party had already delivered "the main part of the [12] recommendations" and deserved the EU stamp of approval in December.

The EU had been "unjust" and "unfair" to Georgian people, he said, because it gave Moldova and Ukraine candidate status last year even though Georgia was technically more advanced in terms of EU criteria.

"We know very well this is also a political decision not only a merit-based one, because the bonus for Moldova and Ukraine was on a political basis only," Garibashvili said.

Opposition accusations of untoward Russia ties were "fake news ... classic disinformation", he added.

And any EU insinuations on the Zourabichvili impeachment were out of order, Garibashvili said. "This is not a political topic. This is a purely legal matter," he said.

Ivanishvili's dream

Georgian Dream has been in power since 2012 and faces re-election next year, in a country where 81 percent of people want to join the EU and 73 percent want to join Nato in the shadow of Russia's war on nearby Ukraine.

People have been waving EU flags there ever since the pro-democratic Rose Revolution in 2003.

Some 20 percent of its land is under Russian occupation following Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008.

But Georgian imports from Russia grew by €594m last year despite Russia's shock attack on Ukraine and EU calls for international isolation, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a US think-tank.

And exports from Georgia to Russia went up €1.7bn — a massive 79 percent — in the same period on Garibashvili and Ivanishvili's watch.

"The EU has not abandoned Georgia and will not abandon Georgia," Borrell said on Friday, before using an academic analogy on the EU-candidate decision.

"But if a student is doing an exam and doesn't pass, he can't say the professor has abandoned me. No. A professor is an objective factor," he told the Georgian PM.

Opinion

Why is Georgia strengthening relations with Moscow?

It is a mystery why the ruling Georgian party has pursued a warmer relationship with Russia. For months, the citizens of Georgia and Georgian opposition groups have called on their country to strengthen ties with the West.

EU farm chief backs extending Ukraine grain ban and subsidies

EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has backed extending the temporary ban on Ukrainian grain imports in five frontline countries until the end of 2023 — and proposed providing subsidies for Ukrainian grain exporters.

One in two countries in democratic decline, finds study

Half of countries saw a decline in at least one indicator of democracy from 2017-2022 —and Europe is no exception to a "worrying deterioration" in rule of law and press freedom, says rInternational Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

Opinion

Georgia needs EU membership — despite its government

Of course, EU membership does not guarantee free expression or lasting democratic progress. But Georgia's current suppression of free speech and cultural independence extends well beyond the culture ministry.'

Opinion

The macabre saga of Navalny's corpse

With Alexei Navalny's funeral in Moscow on Friday, Vladimir Putin's regime haven't just insulted his mother and widow with their treatment of his corpse — they've breached international treaties and conventions.

Latest News

  1. Deepfake dystopia — Russia's disinformation in Spain and Italy
  2. Putin's nuclear riposte to Macron fails to impress EU diplomats
  3. EU won't yet commit funding UN agency in Gaza amid hunger
  4. EU Commission clears Poland's access to up to €137bn EU funds
  5. Right of Reply: The EU-ACP Samoa agreement
  6. The macabre saga of Navalny's corpse
  7. Belgium braces for Flemish far-right gains, deadlock looms
  8. Podcast: Hyperlocal meets supranational

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us