Europe Tomorrow Depends on Vilnius Today: A View From Tbilisi

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It appears that the Vilnius Summit will not be delivering what was envisaged. On the countdown to November 28, some people talked optimistically of the “Vilnius Troika.” Now, there is an uneasy duel: uneasy, precisely because it is a duel; because we know that Brussels will count significant absentees in the historic appointment. But, we hope, some of the focus will be retained for those who did make the appointment.

Make no mistake. Georgia has been ready for Vilnius and is ready for Riga, as well as any and every subsequent step that paves the way toward anchorage with the project of European Integration. In an ideal word, at some point in the following decade, we would be invited to sign an EU Accession Treaty in Ankara, in a very different Europe and in a very different neighborhood. Perhaps, that is not likely. But, it is the absence of vision that we should fear more than the absence of conditionality alignment. Georgia is here, perhaps “not ready,” but here and committed.

There is little doubt that the perceived failure of this summit is not on the delivery but on the receiving end. At which point, patience is advisable. Bridges must not be burned. Civic reactions point to open possibilities. What people want will always count for something. But, we should also take a step back and reevaluate our engagement instruments; at times, in cases such as Georgia, Europe can be transformational; but, there are moments where “we,” as Europeans, should go from transactional to transformational. As the world changes, this is inevitable. Still, Georgia is here, in terms ambitiously framed.

For those who open-eyed stepped into a transformational engagement, knowing that this was not in vein is crucial. “I told you so” should not be the aftertaste message of Vilnius. The more difference Vilnius does make for those who came to sign onto an agreement, the more potent the argument for reflection for those that did not make the appointment. And “making a difference” should come with tangible benefits for citizens, those who still march without their government toward Vilnius.

The Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP) has a particular importance. The inclusion of Georgia in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) policy framework must be concluded, as well as in the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). In this context, we are ready to contribute to common security through participation in the EU-led crisis management operations. Belonging to a European security community has tangible resonance in Tbilisi, even if this is mostly of the “human security” rather than territorial security kind. We look forward to signing the relevant Framework Participation Agreement. Finally, we note that the Association Agreement and, particularly, the DCFTA imply the legislative harmonization and introduction of the EU norms and standards, which requires substantial financial resources and professional expertise, as well as development of new institutions and modernization of the existing ones. In this context, we hope that the EU will ensure that the principle of “more-for-more” is adequately applied. All this, now, will make a difference, not only for Georgia.

Overall, it is crucial that we take something tangible home, to let public opinion know that Europeanization is also a matter of sovereign will, not merely geographical destiny. At this point in time, Georgia has not territorial connection to the EU, with its anchor and bridge to Brussels being mainly Turkey. This is one more reason why our citizens must feel that the engagement is real and of a tangible kind. At this point in time, we are the only country in the South Caucasus where the prospect of an Association Agreement meets political and the public’s consensus (90 percent). The fact that we find ourselves in a neighborhood of timid European ambition is one more reason that we should be treated as an oasis rather than an island.

Everyone knows that the bottom-line discussion is not about trade. It is all about identity. The EU has signed Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreements with Korea, Chile, Indonesia, and Canada. That is not what we are after. We are after anchorage, of the type than an Association Agreement entails, which is economic, political, normative, infrastructural and, not least, identity-driven. This is the consensus in Tbilisi. And it is a consensus that should be validated and honed into policy, prior to becoming a debate. For this very reason, we hope and expect to sign this Association Agreement before the expiration of the term of the current European Commission in order to kick off with the provisional application, which will enable us to draw anticipated benefits, as well as to open new trade and investment opportunities. One thing is clear, both in Brussels and in Tbilisi: in our commitment, we are unique, also because there is little that can happen to Georgia that has not happened yet. There is still something of the “model Georgia” we have doubted but we want to animate; if this dream proves an illusion, the change will be the defeat not only of a whole generation, but also of the generations to come.

We are not beyond pressure. Despite some positive dynamic in the dialogue with Russia on trade and humanitarian issues, regrettably, Moscow has further intensified its provocative policies and illegitimate actions across the occupation area in the Tskhinvali region, which entails dire humanitarian and human rights consequences for both Georgian and Ossetian population. In this context, we appreciate the EU’s readiness to intensify dialogue with Moscow, explaining that Eastern Partnership is not a policy directed against Russia. More engagement of this kind with Moscow will be necessary in the near future.

We have made our choice. We take a brave step, one that others cleared away from. Armenia and Ukraine chose otherwise. Like us, they also signed a DCFTA this summer. Like us, Armenia and Ukraine, I am convinced, also looked for anchorage. One reason why Armenia and Ukraine will not make the appointment in Vilnius is that there were overarching “strategic considerations.” This is a problem we can empathize with. Economic prosperity, political stability, security, and sovereignty are interconnected and often indivisible themes. One can fall victim of this interconnection, or worse yet test whether this linkage applies. And when one does succumb to such a mistake, as Georgians very well know, they find the linkage does apply. Yes, we empathize. But, for Tbilisi, the ships have been burned and there is no return.

We realize that Europe will for some time focus on a more inward-looking agenda. However, given the choice, as we have in Vilnius, we will remain on the agenda. Thankfully, Europe is multi-centric. And we still hope that post-Soviet means something, in terms of commitment from our friends in New Europe. And we hope this anchorage takes the form of an institutional bond. Let us be specific: we ask that we reflect on the idea of building upon the precedent of a Visegrad plus framing, so as to include Georgia, in recognition that Warsaw and other capitals in former Eastern Europe are emerging as new centers of European leadership. We want to be anchored on the European agenda. And we hope we can.

This year is coming to an end and its historic significance is not clear. This is not the season to be jolly, but the time to remember where we all started from and where we are heading. To us, it is no accident that this emblematic Eastern Partnership Conference takes place in Vilnius. I am hopeful that in the future we will be conducting our discussion in terms of a Vilnius foreign policy trajectory for Georgia, but only if we work toward this end. Not acting, when one can act, means that options may become fewer. The time when we could delay decisions we can make today for another day have come and gone. In Vilnius, Europe has got less than expected; but those who did deliver, should be acknowledged and sustainably engaged.

Meanwhile, we hope that a vision of “a Europe with Russia” is not dead and buried. This encounter between negative and positive conditionality—“more for more” in the Eastern Partnership versus “more or else” in the Custom’s Union counterproposal—is detrimental for Georgia. And not only for Georgia.

Let me bring this all together and be clear. The consensus in Tbilisi is that a good opening step for a less timid anchorage in Europe, after Vilnius, would be for us to join the Polish-gestated Visegrad+ grouping. In Georgia's case, this proposal signals our yearning for Europeanization, coupled with a hope for mentorship and inter-institutional cooperation, a trajectory that was made clear on the October 27 elections: a strong push in the direction of the extant European institutional frameworks, new as well as old ones. Above all, we want as much as possible to add a regional and multilateral dimension of engagement to the largely bilateral framing of the Eastern Partnership.

While Brussels may not be able to focus on the region, which is understandable, we know that Warsaw, Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn, and other capitals can and will do so. This multi-centrality is an asset we want to recognize, validate, celebrate, and build upon. Let us be clear, wanting to be in Europe is not an anti-Russian statement, but more of a statement about Georgia: competitiveness, rule of law, respect for cultural diversity, solid multilateralism, consensus driven policy, a reliable social safety net, a social partnership culture, respectable institutions, and a commitment to human rights. This makes sense for us, in terms of what we want to be. The point of what we do not want to be comes by defect, not in principle. European values, for Georgia. That is what we want. We walk the talk. We take the risk. We hope it is not in vein.

All views expressed in the material are the author’s own and some of them may not coincide with the official position of the Georgian authorities.

Tedo Japaridze is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in Parliament of Georgia.

 

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