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Russia will “be happy” if Georgia does not join the EU, warns Borrell – EURACTIV.com

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Russia will “be happy” if Georgia does not join the EU, warns Borrell – EURACTIV.com

Georgia’s failure to integrate into the EU would play into Russia’s hands, EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell warned on Friday (September 8), calling on Tbilisi to refrain from “counterproductive” polarization.

Speaking in Tbilisi alongside Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, Borrell said there was no doubt that the country “belongs to the European family” but stressed that Tbilisi had so far only fulfilled three of 12 priorities that the bloc identified as A prerequisite for granting the agreement was candidacy status for the country.

“Russia will be very happy if we fail” to integrate Georgia into the EU, Borrell told reporters in Tbilisi, adding that “the EU will not abandon Georgia.”

A day earlier, upon arriving in Tbilisi, he warned that Brussels needed to see further signs of progress on key reforms to give the green light to the country’s next steps under the EU enlargement update expected in mid-October.

Given increasing concerns in the West about Georgia’s backsliding on its commitments to democracy and its Euro-Atlantic orientation, as well as the political crisis that has gripped the country in recent years, the European Commission’s oral assessment of Georgia in May was less than positive for the other two Eastern EU candidates, Ukraine and Moldova.

The EU executive then stressed that Tbilisi still needs to make progress on judicial reform, particularly the Supreme Court, step up the fight against corruption and powerful oligarchs and regulate public finances.

Garibashvili, in turn, emphasized that his government was “completely on the same page with the EU when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, democracy and human rights.”

“The only correct political decision would be to grant Georgia EU candidacy by the end of the year,” Garibashvili said, adding that the EU would “send a wrong message to Russia if it does not accept Georgia.”

Borrell’s visit to the country comes at an extremely sensitive time as observers have pointed to increasing Russian influence in the country.

The EU’s chief diplomat criticized Georgia’s recent decision to resume direct flights with Russia. Brussels condemned the move and called on Tbilisi to align itself with the EU’s Russia policy or risk serious damage to its relations with the EU.

Protests broke out in Georgia in early March after the government introduced a Russian-style “foreign agent” law.

“Counterproductive” polarization

Of the twelve recommendations made by the European Commission in June 2022, the first – “political depolarization” – has proven to be the biggest challenge for Georgia.

The EU visit was overshadowed by the impeachment proceedings announced this week by the ruling Georgian Dream party against the country’s president, Salome Zurabishvili, over “unauthorized” visits abroad.

Zurabishvili recently completed a series of visits to Europe – to Berlin, Brussels and Paris – to promote Georgia’s EU candidacy.

According to Georgia’s constitution, the president – whose office is largely symbolic – needs the government’s permission before conducting any foreign policy activities. In Zourabishvili’s case, this was denied, but she did it anyway.

Borrell addressed the issue, saying that the situation “risks further reinforcing counterproductive polarization.”

“All institutions in the country must work together and strongly support the European path together,” Borrell said, adding that the integration process is a “joint effort” and that the government and the ruling party have the “main responsibility” to create opportunities for cooperation.

On Friday, Borrell was also scheduled to meet Zurabishvili, civil society organizations and opposition representatives.

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