Indeed “The Balcony of Europe”: Georgia and the EU in:

Anna Steiner

Enhanced Relations - Protracted Conflict(s)?, page 64 - 69

The EU's Non-Recognition and Engagement Policy (NREP) towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia

1. Edition 2019, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4304-2, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-7236-3,

Series: Wissenschaftliche Beiträge aus dem Tectum Verlag: Politikwissenschaften, vol. 82

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
64 Indeed “The Balcony of Europe”: Georgia and the EU Referring to itself as “the balcony of Europe”, Georgia has tightened its relations with the European house in recent years. The entering into force of the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area has brought the relations between the EU and Georgia to a new level. Since March 2017, Georgian citizens have benefitted from visa-free travel to the Schengen area (cf. EEAS 2017a: 1). The 2015 ENP review acknowledged the EU's commitment to engage with partner countries on a long-term basis, especially with those who wish to deepen the relationship. As differentiation and mutual ownership are central to the new ENP (cf. European Commission/EU HRVP 2015: 2), countries such as Georgia are encouraged to further adopt European legislation and standards (cf. ibidem: 8). The 2016 EU Global Strategy presents Georgia as a role model for state and societal resilience in the Eastern Neighbourhood: “[Georgia’s] success as prosperous, peaceful and stable democracies would reverberate across [its region]” (EU HRVP 2016: 25). Furthermore, the Global Strategy reaffirms the Union’s will to support Georgia via the DCFTA as well as through establishing a deepened tailormade partnership that should strengthen Trans-European Networks and the Energy Community as well as physical and digital connections through full participation in EU programmes and agencies (cf. ibidem). Also, the EUGS suggests the further involvement of Georgia in the CSDP (cf. ibidem). Currently, Georgia’s participation in the EU’s CSDP operations is regulated by a Framework Participation Agreement (FPA) that came into force in March 201444. Since then, Georgia has made notable contributions to several operations (cf. EEAS 2017b: 2). The biggest contribution so far was the deployment of over 150 staff to the EUFOR RCA operation in the Central African Republic (cf. ibidem). At present, Georgia takes part in the EU Military Training Mission in the Central African Republic and the EU Training Mission in Mali (cf. ibidem). The EUMM in Georgia currently comprises of 204 monitors from 25 different EU Member States45. Financial and technical cooperation materialises in 100 projects that are being carried out in Georgia currently funded by EU funds, grants and budget support. For the period of 2017-2020, an incentive financial allocation between €371-453 million has been set (cf. EEAS 2017b: 3). The incentive-based approach (“more for more”) provides that further funds could be made available (cf. ibidem). The 44 See: Agreement between the European Union and Georgia establishing a framework for the participation of Georgia in European Union crisis management operations, EUR-Lex - 22014A0118(01). 45 See: [updated 2018-04-10]. 65 cooperation in the current period 2017-2020 focuses on a wide range of priorities, from economic and market development to institution building, good governance, connectivity, energy efficiency, environment and climate change as well as mobility and people-to-people contacts (cf. ibidem). In the period 2014-2017, the focus of ENI cooperation, as set out in the Single Support Framework, was public administration and justice sector reforms as well as agriculture and rural development (cf. EEAS/EC 2014: 5). Complementary support was dedicated to capacity development, institution building and other agreement-related support46 and to civil society organisations (cf. ibidem: 9). These priorities are identified in the Association Agenda that provides a list of priorities to work on in a specific period (2014-2016; 2017-2020), based on the Association Agreement. EU-Georgia Association Agreement and DCFTA The ENP is underpinned by the desire of the European Union to be surrounded by friends. Turning the neighbourhood into friends urges for enhanced political, economic and institutional cooperation and finally integration. This idea is the basis of the EU’s Association Agreements with third countries that build the framework for political relations. In June 2014, the Association Agreement (AA) with Georgia was signed and entered into force in July 2016. A Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Area (DCFTA) is an integral part of the AA and constitutes its economic core, regulating the implementation of all trade-related matters. Its provisional application started in September 2014 and it eventually entered into force together with the AA. Trade-related reforms do not only tackle the liberalization of trade in goods and services, but also include the adoption of EU standards in a wide range of fields such as technical regulations, food safety, public procurement, competition policy, intellectual and property rights and the energy market – the “deep and comprehensive aspects” (Adarov/Havlik 2017:2), as well as the convergence with the acquis communautaire in areas related to economic development (cf. ibidem). With a 31% share of Georgia’s total trade in 2016, the EU is Georgia’s key trading partner, while 0,1% of the EU’s total trade is with Georgia (cf. EEAS 2017b: 2-3). The main importers of Georgian goods among the Member States are Bulgaria, Italy and Germany (cf. ibidem: 3). Within the DCFTA, tariffs and duties are regulated and import duties wholly removed. Additionally, the biggest advantage of the DCFTA over a conventional free trade agreement is that it offers a legal framework for dealing with non-tariff barriers (cf. Adarov/Havlik 2017: 4). 46 Which means support for the implementation of the EU-Georgia Agreements that will be described below: the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area and the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan. 66 Harmonisation of rules means that Georgia has been implementing rules and standards that will improve consumer safety and facilitate exports (not only to the EU). As a result of the DCFTA, the EEAS expects a 12% increase in trade between Georgia and the EU and a 7,5% increase in imports from the EU (cf. EEAS 2014: 4). The harmonisation process also uncovers that the AA/DCFTA is an asymmetric agreement: Georgia agreed to accept the rules (even those that might harm inefficient sectors and thus be painful for a less developed country) while it does not have a say in the evolution of EU laws (cf. ibidem). In total, 80-90% of EU law will be implemented within an extensive process that will fundamentally change Georgia’s legal and economic landscape. However, not the whole territory of Georgia is covered by the AA/DCFTA. While the contracting parties are the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community and their Member States, on the one side, and Georgia, of the other, the application of the AA and of Title IV (Trade and Traderelated Matters) is territorially limited by Art. 429 of the agreement. The so-called “territorial clause” states that the DCFTA does not apply in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia (paragraph 2) unless the Association Council decides otherwise (paragraph 3): 2. The application of this Agreement, or of Title IV (Trade and Trade-related Matters) thereof, in relation to Georgia's regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia over which the Government of Georgia does not exercise effective control, shall commence once Georgia ensures the full implementation and enforcement of this Agreement, or of Title IV (Trade and Trade-related Matters) thereof, respectively, on its entire territory. 3. The Association Council shall adopt a decision on when the full implementation and enforcement of this Agreement, or of Title IV (Trade and Trade-related Matters) thereof, on the entire territory of Georgia, is ensured. (Art. 429 EU-Georgia Association Agreement). The Association Council is given authority to adopt the decision on full implementation of the AA and DCFTA on the entire territory of Georgia (including Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia) on condition that the implementation and enforcement on Georgia’s entire territory are safeguarded (cf. para 3). This wording leaves room for interpretation: Does “ensure” here mean Georgia needs full control over the de facto independent entities? The Transnistrian example47 shows that, on the contrary, a territorial clause can in practice be repealed 47 There is a similar clause in the DCFTA between the EU and Moldova (Art. 464). After negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, on 18 December 2015 the Association Council decided to extend the application of the DCFTA to the whole territory of Moldova, including 67 relatively quickly – provided the political will of the Association Council as well as (and here is a major difference to Transnistria) the willingness of the respective entities to cooperate are given. The Transnistrian case shall, however, not be equated to the situation in Georgia. The willingness of both Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia certainly also depends on possible economic implications of an extension. As long as even in the current DCFTA in Georgia the important sector of agricultural and food products still faces significant EU non-tariff barriers and low-skilled workers as well as the small-scale subsistence farmers and manufacturers are found vulnerable (cf. ibidem: 5-6), Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia – where small-scale subsistence farming is predominant – might not be incentivised enough to consider a dialogue about the territorial clause. The Georgian policy initiative “A Step to A Better Future” of April 2018 signals a willingness to let Abkhaz and South Ossetian people and undertakings benefit from DCFTA under certain conditions provided for by the GoG. The negative first response articulated by the de facto authorities indicate the initiative will not be an instant success. Nevertheless, once implemented it will open possibilities that can be used in future, given an improved basis for discussion between Georgia and the respective entity/entities can be reached, which might be a question of personalities; or given Russia would reduce its financial and economic support. The de facto independent regions are also referred to in the Preamble of the AA where the signatory parties recognise “the importance of the commitment of Georgia to reconciliation efforts to restore territorial integrity and full and effective control over Georgian regions of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia in pursuit of a peaceful and lasting conflict resolution [...] and the EU’s commitment to support a peaceful and lasting resolution of the conflict” (cf. Preamble EU-Georgia Association Agreement). Furthermore, the NREP is reconfirmed here by stating that the agreement has been concluded, “[r]ecognising in this context the importance of [...] pursuing mutually supportive nonrecognition and engagement policies” (cf. ibidem). The NREP is also regularly reaffirmed by the EU-Georgia Association Council, which meets roughly once a year. This Council is the highest formal body established under the AA that supervises the implementation of the agreement and discusses issues of common interest. The fourth Association Council meeting has Transnistria, as of 1 January 2016 (cf.: Decision No 1/2015 Of The EU-Republic of Moldova Association Council). 68 taken place on 5 February 2018 in Brussels and was chaired by EU HRVP Federica Mogherini. The Georgian delegation was led by Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili (cf. EEAS 2018b: 5). In a joint press release following the meeting (cf. EEAS 2018b), the Association Council welcomed the progress of the AA including the DCFTA implementation as well as justice and constitutional reforms (cf. ibidem). Around ¼ of the press release text48, consisting of both the EU’s and the Association Council’s contributions, is dedicated to strategic considerations about and comments on the protracted conflicts in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia. Thereby, “[t]he EU reiterated its firm support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders” (ibidem: 4) and the Association Council confirmed the EU’s important role in conflict resolution. The NREP is mentioned here as an instrument used by the EU within its comprehensive approach (cf. ibidem). Visa Liberalisation The enhanced relations between the EU and Georgia have also materialised in a visa-free regime between Georgia and the Schengen area. Visa Liberalisation is a powerful instrument to strengthen ties between the people of Georgia and the EU. Properly implemented, it may further boost and accelerate Georgia’s pro-European path and brings mutual benefit by enhancing people-to-people contacts and cultural exchange. Furthermore, the Georgian Government hoped it would rise the attractiveness of Georgian passports and thus be a “pull-factor” (Expert C) for the residents of the breakaway territories49. On 28 March 2017, Visa Liberalisation for Georgian citizens came into effect. This means that Georgian citizens who hold a biometric passport can travel to the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without needing a visa. The process of Visa Liberalisation started in June 2012 with the launch of the EU-Georgia Visa Liberalisation Dialogue. The main instrument within this process, presented to the Georgian authorities in February 2013, was the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP). Between 2013 and 2015, four Progress Reports on the implementation of the VLAP were published. On 9 March 2016, the European Commission made its proposal on visa-free travel to the Schengen area for Georgian citizens by amending Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 on Visa requirements for nationals of Non-EU Member countries. The decision to exempt Geor- 48 The text consists of 1802 words, whereof 437 words – the author refers to paragraphs 19-25 – deal with the resolution of the two protracted conflicts. 49 As indicated by Expert C (cf. chapter “Expert Interviews”). 69 gian nationals from visa requirements as of 28 March 2017 allows Georgian citizens to travel to all EU countries except for Ireland and the UK as well as to the four Schengen associated countries50. To celebrate the entry into commencement of the visa waiver, Georgian Prime-Minister Giorgi Kvirkashvili travelled to Athens on 28 March and continued to Brussels for a meeting with the president of the European Council and the President of the European Commission the same day (cf. EEAS 2017c). Celebrations organised by the Georgian Government were also held in Tbilisi on 27-28 March, including public advertising, a street festival and a gala concert on Europe Square (cf. ibidem). One year later, a phase of disenchantment has set in. According to statistics of the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 220 thousand Georgians have travelled to the Schengen zone (cf. Rukhadze 2018). What causes even greater concern within the Schengen area is the fast-growing number of Georgian asylum seekers that have even tripled in some countries such as Norway and Switzerland (cf. ibidem). A major objection has been the connected increase in criminal actions committed by Georgian citizens that led German, Swedish and Icelandic officials to publicly announce their worries and has induced fear in Tbilisi about a possible temporal cancellation of the visa-free regime (cf. ibidem). The debate started to flare up again after the European Commission’s first report on the visa suspension mechanism released on 20 December 2017. From then on, discussions occurred in Western and Georgian media until February/March 2018. At the Association Council meeting in February 2018, Federica Mogherini indirectly reacted to the concerns and stated that “[t]he implementation of all commitments [...] is also proceeding well, as reported in December by the European Commission” (EU HRVP 2018). Thereby she relativised the reservations caused by migration numbers published in the report. The EU HRVP also reiterated the commitment of the Georgian Government to make the visa liberalisation “work in the best possible way” (ibidem) as well as the commitment to jointly work on challenges that might lie ahead. 50 The associated Schengen states are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

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Protracted conflicts with and over de facto independent entities such as the Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region in Georgia endanger the region’s sustainable and peaceful development. Anna Steiner examines Georgia’s breakaway regions in the context of EU policies – a highly topical, yet unresolved matter.

Relations between Georgia and the EU have significantly deepened within the last ten years (Association Agreement, DCFTA, Visa Liberalisation). The present book closes a scientific gap by reviewing the NREP in the light of these developments. Using a profound literature basis and expert interviews, the authorsheds light on EU-Russian relations, the politico-normative framework of EU-Georgian relations, neighbourhood relations and applicable governance concepts. Realistic proposals for a future EU approach make this book a guideline for diplomatic engage­ment.