Op-ed: From poster child to problem child: Georgia’s democratic crisis threatens its European future

Kornely Kakachia & Bidzina Lebanidze

The recent decision of the Georgian government to refuse the second tranche of the EU’s Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA) marks a new low in EU-Georgia relations amid Georgia’s declining democracy.

It was preceded by another disappointing decision of the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party to withdraw from the EU-mediated agreement between the government and the opposition signed in April amid government fears of having to hold snap parliamentary elections if the GD did not receive 43% of the vote in the upcoming municipal elections slated for October 2, stipulated by the same agreement.

The MFA was at the time linked to the implementation of the EU-mediated agreement. Following the Georgian government’s announcement that it would not be taking the second tranche – ostensibly because the country is ‘in a period of decreasing state debt’, as PM Garibashvili put it – the EU swiftly followed with a statement that Georgia would anyway not have qualified to receive the funds due to failed commitments in reforming the judiciary.

While Georgia is not on the top of the EU’s geopolitical agenda, Tbilisi’s democratic success still has a significant symbolic meaning for the Union. Georgia used to be the poster child of the European Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership, and proof that the EU indeed wields transformative power beyond its borders. From this perspective, the democratic backsliding in Tbilisi will deal another blow to the already struggling credibility of the EU as a good crisis manager and a source of inspiration for its neighbourhood countries. This is also why the Union has been heavily involved in Georgia’s reform process but has found it very hard to lure Georgia’s stubborn political parties into the inclusive democratic process.

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