With Russia on its mind, Georgia looks to EU

The former Soviet country has undertaken a series of reforms and its fight against corruption is viewed as a success story.

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With Russia on its mind, Georgia looks to EU

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Georgia is waiting at the EU’s doorstep. The country, in the South Caucasus, has been working hard for more than 13 years to move as close as possible to the EU.

Tbilisi and Brussels have even signed and implemented an association agreement in the framework of the EU’s Eastern partnership.

For this relatively small country, it’s not just a matter of security. It’s also a political and economic necessity to move closer to the Central European members of the EU.

This became particularly urgent after the 2008 war with Russia.

Through that conflict, the former Soviet country realised how much its economy still depended on Moscow. And to what extent its sovereignty was limited as a result. The Russian army crushed the small Georgian army and Moscow seized South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Georgia has since undertaken a series of reforms and its fight against corruption is viewed as a success story. That’s why the country is now knocking on the EU’s door.

But it’s not the best time. The EU is struggling with its own problems, from Brexit to migration policy.

Euronews asked the president of Georgia, Giorgi Margvelashvili, how his country views these obstacles.

Sergio Cantone, Euronews: Mr President, aren’t you afraid that the problems within the EU, among members of the EU, could affect the relationship between the EU and, for instance, Georgia or even Ukraine – the former Soviet countries?

Giorgi Margvelachvili, Georgian President: I think that those problems, those challenges that are in the EU are slowing down Georgia’s integration. I wouldn’t say that eventually they will affect the European process or eventually they will stop Georgia’s integration, but they are definitely slowing down…

Euronews: Why?

Giorgi Margvelachvili: Well, it’s obvious that the Union is built on an attempt to have an inclusive democratic decision among the member states, and when you have ambiguity on some of issues, like Brexit, then the decision making is slowed down, and of course the Russian factor is one of the factors in this process.

Euronews: What is the Russian factor? What is the connection between the Russian factor and these divisions within the EU?

Giorgi Margvelachvili: Well, I would say the Russian factor not in the context of divisions in the EU, but the Russian factor with respect to a more active engagement of Ukraine, Georgia and other neighbours of Russia in the European process, because we’ve seen that Russia has reacted very aggressively…

Euronews: But Russia, at the same time, seems to have excellent relationships with some of the members of the EU…

Giorgi Margvelachvili: Unfortunately, we see that the expense of good relationships is sometimes increasing tension in the region and it all comes back eventually to any of those countries: I know that if you build one-on-one relationships with Moscow and forget about the principles, and forget about the basics and forget about international law, eventually those problems will come back at you. That is the law of history.

Euronews: As a head of state of a post-Soviet country, what do you think about Brexit, about, say, conflicts, small conflicts, within the EU?

Giorgi Margvelachvili: When we look at Brexit what I hope is that Brexit will be well analysed and that conclusions will be drawn out of Brexit. The conclusions that have to improve the EU, improve its operation and prevent the disintegration process. So, I know that from time to time there is an active rhetoric about Brexit, but I believe in a European commonsensical approach to politics.

Euronews: But, with a two-speed Europe, maybe, there could be more opportunities for countries like yours, like Ukraine, like Moldova to join the second circle…

Giorgi Margvelachvili: We still don’t know what exactly this will be. This circle is not the EU, as a formal structure. This circle and these steps are possibilities to be closer to Europe in one or another form: so I think that for Georgia, from the perspective of Georgia, having some other integration steps is very interesting. And that’s what we are looking for: to have more steps to go to the final benchmark of being a member of the EU.