By Eka Janashia (05/27/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The EU refused to grant Georgia a visa-free regime at the May 21 Eastern Partnership summit in Riga. The summit’s declaration heralds that Georgian citizens will be granted visa-free access to the Schengen zone as soon as all necessary reforms are in place. Although the Georgian government met only 7 of 15 compulsory requirements – conditional for obtaining an EU visa-waiver – it optimistically hoped to extract a concession. The country’s eligibility will be assessed gain at the end of 2015.
The EU-Georgia visa liberalization (VL) dialogue started in June 2012 and was embodied in a visa liberalization action plan (VLAP) one year later. VLAP demands that certain criteria are fulfilled to grant Georgian citizens a short stay in the Schengen zone without a visa.
In the fall of 2014, the European Commission (EC) reported on Georgia’s successful accomplishment of VLAP first-phase benchmarks, enabling it to move to the realization of the next phase.
The EC’s report from May 8, 2015, report categorized Georgia’s progress on VLAP criteria as “almost,” “partially” or “completely” achieved. The benchmarks regarding document security; integrated border management; fighting organized crime; protection of personal data; freedom of movement; issuance of travel and identity documents; and international legal cooperation in criminal matters were assessed as completely achieved. In the almost achieved category, the report mentioned migration management; money laundering; cooperation between various law enforcement agencies; and citizens’ rights, including protection of minorities. Among partially achieved benchmarks are asylum policy; trafficking of human beings; anti-corruption; and drug policy.
With regard to anti-corruption policy, the report urged Georgia to reform the civil service, drawing on international practice, and modify the civil service law in compliance with the scope and standards of a professional and de-politicized civil service. It also suggests revising the drug policy to confer it more “restorative” than “retribution” connotations.
The report included a comprehensive document elaborated by the Commission’s staff, based on factual analysis and statistics, on the anticipated migration and security implications of Georgia’s VL for the EU.
The document concludes that the EU is an attractive destination for Georgian migrants as well as Organized Criminal Groups (OCGs), triggering a range of potential security challenges. The paper admits that migrant flows would remain limited due to Georgia’s small population, but in case of a new armed conflict the number of Georgian citizens aspiring to settle in EU would increase considerably. In this regard, the VL could become instrumental for Georgian nationals to apply for asylum in EU member states and legalize their protected stay there.
In this perspective, the VL is not merely a technical question for Brussels but also a political one with clear security implications. In contrast, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili stated that the “political decision” to grant Georgia a visa-free regime has already been take and only “technical procedures” remain.
Georgia’s political opposition slammed the government for failing to do its “homework,” depriving the country of free traveling advantages to EU.
Before the Riga summit, the government reportedly highlighted the benefits that Georgia could gain from the VL. In a joint letter, Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili, PM Gharibashvili, and speaker of parliament Davit Usupashvili asked the EU to make an “unambiguous endorsement of the visa-free regime … For Georgians, visa liberalization will provide a long-awaited tangible reward for reforms and encourage renewed efforts.” The letter said visa liberalization will promote tourism, cultural proximity, student exchange programs and civil society partnerships. More importantly, the EU visa-waiver will demonstrate to the inhabitants of the occupied territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions the practical advantages they could gain from reintegration with the Georgian state.
However, in the run-up to the Riga summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Georgia, along with Ukraine, has not made enough efforts to get the VL and “a lot still needs to be done,” meaning that Brussels will overhaul the process of reforming and cogently appraise Georgia’s eligibility, and detach the issue from the sensitivity of Georgia’s territorial integrity or public opinion.
While the benefits that Georgia may gain from the VL is clear, the EU’s continuous refusal to grant the country such an agreement also exposes Georgia to certain risks. According to the last polls commissioned by the U.S. National Democratic Institute (NDI), a majority of the respondents still approved of Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Yet the number in support of joining the Russia-led Eurasian Union has steadily increased in recent years. From 11 percent in 2013, it soared to 20 percent in 2014 and to 31 percent in 2015.
This trend simultaneously demonstrates the growing EU skepticism in the country caused by Georgia’s opaque perspective of obtaining EU membership or extracting “tangible” benefits from “political rapprochement and economic integration” with it.
As put by European Council President Donald Tusk, Kyiv, Tbilisi, and Chisinau “have their rights to have a dream, also the European dream.” Yet the slow progress in Georgia’s EU integration risks deepening the sense of alienation among Georgians and could contribute to diverting the country from the Euro-Atlantic path on which it has set out. Georgia’s government needs to work diligently to avoid such an outcome.
By Erik Davtyan (04/15/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The second half of March saw several high level meetings and agreements signed between EU representatives and Armenian authorities. On March 16, the Vice-President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) Wilhelm Molterer and Armenia’s Minister of Finances Gagik Khachatryan signed an agreement, according to which the EIB will lend EUR 10 million to finance the construction of an electricity transmission line and a high voltage direct current station to develop a link between Armenia and Georgia. Georgia plays a crucial role in Armenia’s energy security system; a fact emphasized both by Khachatryan and Molterer. Commenting on new cooperation in the energy sphere, EU Ambassador Traian Hristea said the EU confirms its “willingness … to support the basic needs of Armenian citizens and in particular their access to sustainable energy through efficient electrical networks.” In turn, Armenia’s Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian also welcomed the signing of the agreement.
The next important event in EU-Armenia relations was the 4th session of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly (EPA) that took place in Yerevan. On March 18, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Though the representatives of Belarus and Azerbaijan were missing, the EPA “called on Turkey to reconcile with its past.” The Co-Chairperson of the EPA, Heidi Hautala, described the resolution as “a very important decision.” This resolution followed the European Parliament’s March 12 call on the EU states to recognize the Armenian Genocide. Regarding the future of Armenia-EU relations, Hautala stated that the parties are discussing a new bilateral agreement.
The fact that the EPA held its first session in Yerevan was of great importance for Armenia. At the opening ceremony of the EPA session, Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan personally welcomed the parliamentary delegation and called that week a European one, reiterating that while being a part of the Eurasian Economic Union, Armenia will “accommodate the EU’s deep and comprehensive agenda.” The EPA session was attended by the EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn. In his meetings with President Sargsyan, Prime Minister Abrahamian and Foreign Minister Nalbandian, Hahn welcomed the progress in Armenia-EU relations, especially in the context of the Mobility Partnership.
On March 18, President Sargsyan paid a working visit to Belgium, attending the summit of the European People’s Party (EPP). On March 3, the EPP had adopted a resolution condemning the Armenian Genocide. During the visit, Sargsyan held several meetings with EU high officials, including the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The third important event in EU-Armenia relations was the 15th session of the Commission for Armenia-European Union Parliamentary Cooperation, held on March 19-20 in Yerevan. On March 20, the Commission adopted a Final Statement, concerning the condemnation of the Armenian Genocide, the future of EU-Armenia relations, as well as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Commission expressed its strong support for the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs in the peace regulation process between Armenia and Azerbaijan. During the session, a deputy of Armenia’s National Assembly, Stepan Margaryan said that there is no common position in the South Caucasus regarding international organizations, and that Armenia therefore needs a new agenda for its future relations with the EU. As to the economic aspect of relations, Armenia’s Minister of Economy Karen Chshmaritian emphasized the EU’s role in supporting Armenia’s budgetary and economic policy.
The fact that the Armenian Genocide was on the eve of its 100th anniversary recognized by various European institutions was highly appreciated by all political parties and scientific circles of Armenia. However, politicians and experts have different views regarding the future of Armenia-EU relations. According to the head of the European Integration NGO, Karen Bekaryan, “the stage of uncertainty in Armenia-EU relations is overcome.” He believes that a new agreement will be prepared at the threshold of the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga.
Summarizing the March negotiations, the director of the Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan believes that there is a great possibility that the parties will sign a new document at the Riga summit. According to Iskandaryan, the EU is Armenia’s biggest economic partner and, in any case, bilateral relations will continue. On the other hand, the head of the Modus Vivendi Center, Ara Papian, thinks that considering Armenia’s membership in the EEU, its recent activities towards the EU will not appear as credible to the EU.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.