For Georgia and Moldova European integration means return to their native space

IPN Interview: Moldova and Georgia together initialed their association agreements with the EU. In an interview offered to IPN, the Chairman of the Georgian Parliament David Usupashvili discusses the similarities of the both nations' European integration paths and the common challenges faced by Georgia and Moldova.

- In November 2013 Moldova and Georgia initialed their association agreements with the EU. In 2014 both nations plan to sign and ratify them. Which of these portions of the path the Georgians have felt to be more difficult or more significant? How do you think Georgia's and Moldova's European integration courses are similar and how are they different?

- The whole process of European integration for Moldova and Georgia seems challenging, as well as highly important. It is difficult to pick and choose individual segments. Getting closer to EU certainly demands higher standards of democracy, human rights and civil liberties from our countries; it requires a higher level of economic development. In addition, we have to emphasize the fact that the aspirations of Moldova and Georgia towards European Union are perceived rather painfully by our neighboring Russia. Both for Moldova and Georgia, the main challenge for the integration into the European Union seems to be the political ambitions of Russia to try and subordinate post-Soviet space under its exclusive influence. A striking example of this is the support and encouragement of separatist forces in Moldova and Georgia. Recent events in Ukraine, annexation of Crimea and aggressive actions against the Ukrainian state serve as an additional example.

Based on the abovementioned, concerns of Georgia and Moldova are more similar than different, despite the fact that Moldova declares neutrality, while Georgia strives to become a member of NATO. Of course, between our countries there are specific differences. In particular, Moldova has strategic and intensive relations with a EU Member State, Romania, which serves as a supporting factor; in general, however, similarities in our difficulties are more prevalent.

- Why does Georgia needs this association with the EU at all, can't your nation do without it? To what extent do Georgia's and Moldova's interests concur in this respect?

- Georgia’s objective is not only the signing of the Association Agreement,

but the full membership of the European Union. Integration into the European Union is the strategic choice of our country and is not only caused by our determination that EU membership provides safety and well being of our country, but also by the fact that whole of our history and culture points in that direction. I think that for Moldova, which is a part of Europe in all respects – both geographical, as well as historical and cultural – European integration also means return to its native space.

- How irreversible is Georgia's pro-European orientation from the point of view of your domestic situation? To compare with Moldova, many local experts as well as some European officials suggest that the Moldovan authorities haven't adequately informed the general public of the benefits of the association with the EU. How has Georgia performed in this respect? How big is the number of Georgians who prefer a different foreign course?

- There is not a single more or less influential political party in Georgia, which opposes the European orientation. We can say that, in this respect, there is a political consensus in our country. After Georgia gained independence, there have been several changes in power, but no authority has ever questioned the pro-European orientation of the country as its strategic choice. This is one of the continuous inheritances of Georgian statehood; all sorts of public opinion polls confirm this. No alternative to European integration in Georgian reality exists. While in the area of public awareness, I must admit, we have a lot of work to do. Typically, the opponents of pro-European orientation in all countries are armed with the same " arguments" - as if getting closer to Europe brings corruption, loss of traditional morality and national identity. All this, of course, has nothing to do with reality. But, I think, we still need to inform the public better.

- Both experts and politicians in Moldova have voiced concerns about potential provocations from outside that could thwart the signing and ratification of the Association Agreement. Do the Georgian authorities expect any such provocations? What steps does the Georgian state take to reduce the impact of potential provocations?

- uch provocations cannot be excluded. To counter these actions we need, consolidation of the political forces and the public around our strategic choice on one hand, and maximum activity in the international arena, as well as more vigorous involvement of Western countries and international organizations in the preparatory process for the signing of the Association Agreement on the other. This is most likely the best way to avoid outside interference.

- What lessons are there to learn for Georgia and Moldova from the Ukrainian crisis?

- A concise answer to this question is not easy. Russia's actions in regard to Ukraine, in particular the annexation of Crimea, questioned the world order, which stood on the foundation of the international law. Today, the whole world is facing a serious challenge. We cannot allow a precedent, where one state can attach the territory of another state in violation of all norms.

For Georgians and Moldovans, unfortunately, this situation is familiar. We are sadly aware how separatist forces are encouraged and supported; we know what it means to have a territory occupied by foreign troops. In 2008, Georgians have experienced Russian aggression on themselves. Georgian statehood then hung in the balance.

Nevertheless, what conclusions can be drawn from the Ukrainian crisis?

To some extent, I have already answered this question, but I will repeat: firstly, we need to consolidate public within the country, so that external forces - the so-called fifth column – are incapable of acting. On the other hand, we must do everything to gain efficient support of the world community..

- Both Moldova and Georgia face serious problems caused by separatism. Which are the general and specific solutions for this kind of problems? Are their chances of a successful resolution in the near future?

- The problem of separatism in our countries, in greater extent, is due to the interference from external forces. The problems of separatist regions are directly connected with the issues of Russian political ambitions.

But on the other hand, I think it would be wrong to completely ignore the population of these separatist regions and see them as just puppets. We have to always remember that we must not only regain territories, but primarily people living in these areas. We understand that this is a complex issue and it cannot be resolved all at once. No specific prescriptions and panaceas for this exist. However, the dialogue and the search for compromise on both sides need to continue. National diplomacy can play a big role in this; of course, the support of international organizations and the EU institutions is vital.

- In your opinion, can tighter relations with the EU accelerate or slow down the resolution of separatism-related problems?

- I am deeply convinced that accelerating the European integration process in Georgia and Moldova will significantly contribute to solving the problem of separatism. When the inhabitants of these regions see that our countries’ economies develop, wealth and living standards increase, human rights, including minority rights are protected and guaranteed, it will change a lot.

- What are Georgia's short- and mid-term expectations regarding the implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU, in particular in the economic and social areas?

- We are well aware that the signing of the Association Agreement will not bring instant growth. The signing of the agreement is not a magic wand that with one stroke fulfills all desires. However, it is a big step towards ensuring that Georgia exports its products to EU countries and receives significant support for domestic economic projects to attract more investments. Agreement is important for the liberalization of the visa regime, and for further development of civil society, which would be caused by an increase in aid of European institutions, etc. Talking about all the details can lead us very far.

- It's a well-known fact that Georgia's Parliament assembles in a different city than the capital. What are the reasons? Do you think such an experience can be helpful for Moldova as well?

- Transferring the parliament to a city located at a distance from the capital was the decision of the former government. Our party, which was then in opposition, expressed disagreement with this decision. Authorities explained that the transfer of parliament to another town would promote more rapid development of the city and the entire region. But if this were so, it would be enough to place different parliaments and government agencies in regions all around the world to develop them.

Of course, this is a joke. But if we're serious, solutions of this type are more typical for authoritarian regimes, where legislature takes only a secondary role. This decision to seriously disrupt communication between the parliament and the government has no justification; it also complicates communication between the parliament and the international organizations and foreign embassies. I, alongside the Members of Parliament, face this problem every day. I do not advise Moldova or any other country to repeat this experiment.

But the previous government recorded the location of Parliament in the constitution, and since the amendment of the constitutional provision is a complex and lengthy procedure, the meetings so far are held in Kutaisi.

- From what you know about Moldova, how would a 'comparative study' of our countries look like, according to the Chairman of the Georgian Parliament, for example?

- From the position of the Chairman of the Georgian Parliament it would be a bit presumptuous to conduct a “comparative study" of our countries. And it is unlikely that I will say something new. Georgia and Moldova, both former Soviet countries have a common history, and hence the common historical heritage. However, it is also important to note that both of our countries profess Christian Orthodox religion. Both nations have profound wine culture, in addition to many similar folk traditions. And of course, Georgia and Moldova see themselves in a diverse unity, called one, big European family.

Mariana Galben, IPN

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