Who is the EU? Georgian Dream vs the European Union

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28 September, 2021

In recent months Georgian Dream officials have frequently contradicted, attacked, and demonized the European Union, EU officials, and leading politicians from the EU countries.

Every time there is a political crisis or GD is legitimately criticized for not living up to the democratic standards, including the EU Association Agreement commitments, GD leaders snap back at the EU without hesitation. The menu of critical remarks often includes such keywords as “uninformed”, “lobbyists and stooges of the opposition”, “corrupt”, or even “crazy”. On September 27, the Minister of Defense, when asked about the increasing criticism from the EU, promptly dismissed the journalist with a counter-question - “Who is the EU?”

The recent feud comes over the leaked State Security Service files, which show that the security agents also listened to the diplomats. EU Ambassador Carl Hartzell assessed this practice on September 22 as “questionable from the point of view of the Vienna Convention”.

This mild statement was heavily criticized by the Georgian Dream (GD) leaders. GD Chairman Irakli Kobakhidze remarked that the EU Ambassador “went slightly beyond diplomatic standards”. Vice Speaker Gia Volski called the statement “baffling”. Longest-serving cabinet member, Deputy PM, and Minister of Culture Tea Tsulukiani attacked the Rustavi 2 journalist, over a question on alleged surveillance files, that the journalist “was speaking like Carl Hartzell as if it [the authenticity of the files] was confirmed”. On September 27, one of the parliamentary leaders of GD, Mamuka Mdinaradze stated that GD will never shy away from criticizing the EU if there is a necessity.

The necessity, seemingly, only arises, when GD steps back on its commitments and EU calls on them to straighten their behaviour. In July Georgian Dream withdrew from the political agreement negotiated by the European Council President Charles Michel, which temporarily ended the post-2020 Parliamentary elections political crisis. The agreement, though controversial, paved the way for most opposition political parties to suspend parliamentary boycott and compelled GD to sign under the judiciary, prosecutorial, electoral and power-sharing reforms.

GD’s withdrawal happened for two main reasons; first, the agreement provided that if in the October 2 local elections no party gets at least 43%, new Parliamentary elections are to be called. GD obviously hates this provision, as according to the various polls they fall short of 43%. Second, Michel agreement provided for suspending the appointment of the Supreme Court judges. Courts seem to be an important factor in the equation of maintaining power for Mr Ivanishvili. PM Gharibashvili, trying to fend off the criticism from the EU awkwardly stated on September 1 that Georgia’s judicial system was well advanced compared to EU states’ judiciaries.

Incidentally, the United National Movement, the largest opposition party, did not initially sign the agreement, however, suspended the Parliamentary boycott. After GD’s signature withdrawal though, Nika Melia, UNM’s leader, signed the agreement. GD leaders called this an act of political necrophilia (the dead one obviously being the Michel agreement).

The EU’s reaction to GD’s withdrawal from the Michel agreement was quite strong - withholding the 75 million euros to Georgia, the second tranche of a 150 million loan designed to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. This loan was linked, among other conditions, to the judicial reforms and GD’s withdrawal from the Charles Michel agreement was a clear indication that the reforms were not planned. The acting head of the EU Delegation to Georgia, Julien Cramp, made it clear that Georgia will no longer receive money that "should have been used for the welfare of Georgian citizens".

This reaction from the EU was surprisingly countered by the Georgian Government with an official refusal of the EU loan. The justification was funny - Georgia all of a sudden decided to start reducing its foreign debt. For a country whose debts are close to 60% of the GDP (up from just over 30% in 2012), and which has recently received another loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), such an excuse was quite a stretch.

EU officials caught this discrepancy quite easily. MEP Viola von Cramon tweeted - “You can’t decline what you were not eligible for” and that “EU will need to reconsider its relations with the Georgian Government”.

This led to another confrontation with the EU. The Prime Minister made it clear that he couldn't care less about the criticism. “MEPs are not my bosses” - snapped Gharibashvili when asked. Who the real boss is, though, is quite clear. To quote former US Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer Mr Ivanishvili, “no longer an elected official, no longer a party official… seems to be pulling all the strings behind the scene.”