Georgia’s European aspirations and lessons to be learned by Moldova, OP-ED


Moldova has a difficult mission – to come closer to a specified European perspective without losing the European course as a result of the parliamentary elections of December 2018...


Dionis Cenuşa

The political and economic transformations witnessed by Georgia favor a very positive attitude on the part of the European Union. The satisfaction with Georgia is fueled to a certain extent by the reticence or the disappointment of the European institutions with the real speed of reforms in the other two countries with Association Agreements, Moldova and Ukraine. The European sympathies have multiple motivations, but most of all these result from the authorities’ capacity to ensure functional anti-corruption policies that were instituted during the time of Mikhel Saakashvili. A diametrically opposed result in fighting corruption is typical for Moldova and Ukraine, which according to Transparency International, in 2017 were among the top 65 most corrupt states in the world. This generates a substantial proportion of the negative comments coming from Brussels.

The positive pace of reforms delivered by the Georgian authorities seems to be diverting the interference of oligarchs in the decision-making process away from the center of attention (IPN, February 26, 2018). The Georgian reality is yet determined by oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, who can influence the major political decisions in the country through the party “Georgian Dream” that was founded by him and that has been in power since 2012. Contrary to the measured tolerance of the role of oligarchs in Georgia, the EU has a distinct, much harsher attitude to the interference of oligarchs in political processes in Moldova or Ukraine. On the one hand, the difference in attitudes is determined by the excessive visibility of the Moldovan or Ukrainian oligarchs in the political sphere and the open competition for extended political control over institutions. This is determined by the inability by the groups of oligarchs in Moldova and Ukraine to build not only a controllable, but also a confortable government, with favorable and incontestable public legitimacy in relation to other political forces. On the other hand, the government ensured by the Moldovan and Ukrainian oligarchs is of a low quality and often contrasts with the commitments made to the EU.

The fourth EU-Georgia Association Council (February 2018) confirmed that Brussels treats with a lot of hope and confidence the European integration process in Georgia. Besides the fact that Georgia was defined as a strategic partner in South Caucasus (democratic regime with European aspirations, energy interconnector, etc.), the EU approved of the country’s movement towards parliamentarianism (by changing the constitution, ensuring rule of law and doing justice sector reform). At the same time, the EU promised financial assistance for regional development and agriculture (€77.5m) and for macro-financial stability (€45m). Even if the EU assistance always implies conditionality, the EU didn’t insist on specifying any condition in the case of Georgia. A distinct approach is seen in the case of Ukraine, but mainly in the case of Moldova with respect to which Brussels constantly applies the principle of conditionality, invoking the importance of the political pre-conditions (Moldova).

Even if Georgia enjoys very positive attachment on the part of the EU, the maximum objective accepted until now by the Europeans is to extend the integration and cooperation, without offering a clear European perspective. The efforts made by Georgia in 2017 (, July 6, 2017) to combine forces with Moldova and Ukraine and seek a concrete European perspective, before the Eastern Partnership Summit of November 2017, were practically ignored. The European institutions and leaders, at least the European Parliament, didn’t do more than recognize the European aspirations of the three associate states. The discussions about the advancing of their current status is impossible also because of the optimistic agenda set for the Western Balkans, with the first enlargement planned to cover Serbia and Montenegro in 2025 (IPN, February 19, 2018).

In 2018, Georgia intends to intensify its approaches for the European perspective, but by unilateral actions and by making the reform agenda more ambitious. In this regard, the Georgian authorities finalize a “Plan of Actio” for coming closer to the EU (“Road Map to Europe”), which would combine measures to adjust the legislation, in addition to the commitments assumed through the Association Agreement, and to amplify sector cooperation with the European institutions. Tbilisi aims to set an advanced dialogue with Brussels, which would take place in parallel and complementary to the discussions within the Association Agreement. This way, the Georgian authorities want to overcome the deficit of EU political commitment as to the provision of a European perspective. Thus, the Georgian authorities plan to prepare for an eventual entry and to wait (“prepare and see”) for favorable circumstances in the EU. In parallel, the European agenda in Moldova is under the imprint of reforms that are rather forced from outside by strict conditionality (IPN, March 5, 2018) than wanted inside by the government controlled by the Democrats of oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. In Ukraine, both the reforms in the political sector and those from the economic sector more often become hostage of political arrangements between the government and nationalist forces that go against the logic or spirit of the Association Agreement with the EU.

Georgia and its strategy for achieving European perspective

The Georgian political class tends to persuade the internal public opinion and the European partners that it pursues the goal of converting the country into a candidate for EU membership. Therefore, Georgia develops a “Plan of Action” for coming closer to Europe, which is a unilateral political approach that goes beyond the framework set by the Association Agreement.

The “Plan of Action” envisions the full implementation of the Association Agreement and of the deliverables set by the EU for the EaP until 2020. The Plan of Action’s pillars reside in several key aspects: (i) transposition of the EU legislation that wasn’t initially included in the Agreement; (ii) intensification of cooperation with European agencies (Europol, Eurojust etc.); (iii) participation in a number of EU programs UE; (iv) development of a strategic dialogue; (v) more active involvement in transport and energy interconnection projects; (vi) ramification of sector cooperation by instituting a format of consultations between the Georgian authorities and officials of the European Commission. Moreover, the Georgian authorities plan to conduct periodic self-assessments so as to identify the shortcomings and agree measures to eliminate the discrepancies existing in the relationship with the EU. Thus, Georgia wants to accelerate the integration into the EU and to get ready for an eventual entry without stopping at the implementation of the Association Agreement.

Such commitments could consolidate Europeans’ sympathies with Georgia’s European cause. Given that Moldova and Ukraine have (semi)problematic relations with Brussels, the Georgian approach for the unilateral integration with the EU gains more credibility and visibility. This can enable it to compare itself more with the Western Balkans than with the EaP countries. If Georgia manages to come closer or to even overcome the European integration level in the Western Balkans, this can force the EU to recognize its European perspective.

Nevertheless, the success of the unilateral pro-EU approach of Georgia depends on the political stability and quality of reforms. In this regard, there is uncertainty as to the real interests of the party associated with oligarch Ivanishvili (“Georgian Dream”). The constitutional reform initiated by this excluded the opposition, while the introduction of the proportional representation system was proposed only since 2024, not yet for the parliamentary elections of 2020. At the same time, the structural reforms generated by the “Rose Revolution” are under constant pressure, while corruption becomes more visible in such an area as public procurement. The public perception of the incidence of abuses committed by Georgian officials declined almost four times in 2016 from 2013. Moreover, the whole anticorruption system is undermined by the politicization and lack of clear mechanisms for implementing the legislation in the field (Transparency International, March 16, 2018).

Lessons for Moldova

Georgia’s ambition to unilaterally make progress in obtaining a European perspective contrasts with the Moldovan government’s inability to restore its credibility before the EU. Before it fulfills the public conditions (investigation of banking fraud etc.) and pre-conditions (fixing of problems in electoral legislation, etc.), it will be very hard for the official Chisinau to have a more sincere dialogue with Brussels.

Bering preoccupied with “arrangements” for the December 2018 legislative elections, the Moldovan authorities do not realize that they would get more popular support if they fully implemented the reforms agreed with the EU and requested by civil society. Renouncing artificial instruments for promoting the European integration in Moldova, such as the initiative to enshrine the European course in the Constitution, will be an additional proof of the serious commitment to reforms (Dalekoblisko, January 10, 2018).

Any artificiality to the European agenda distances the country from a clear European perspective. Even if Moldova could easily join the European integration processes in the Western Balkans (dimension, proximity, capacity to absorb European legislation, etc.), this is stopped by institutions “captured” by obscure interests, endemic corruption and continuous demolition of the “social contract”.

If not the government then the extraparliamentary opposition is obliged to further fuel the idea of unilaterally promoting a European perspective for Moldova, by Georgia’s example.

The EU enters fatigue over the enlargement process and financial constraints owing to the Brexit and the security priorities (illegal migration in the South). That’s why Moldova, as Georgia, should convince Brussels, with plausible evidence, that it deserves the European perspective, similar to the countries of the Western Balkans.

Instead of conclusions...

Apparently, the situation in Georgia is better than in Moldova or Ukraine, but the quality of the political system, politicization of institutions or worsening of the situation in the anticorruption system anyway cause suspicions as to the irreversible character of the Georgian reforms. If these shortcomings are not urgently and appropriately dealt with, the EU’s eventual disappointment in Georgia, similar to the disappointment in Moldova in 2014, is imminent.

Georgia’s efforts to come closer to a clear European perspective are encouraging and can be replicated in Moldova or Ukraine. Or the EU will soon enter a phase of fatigue with the enlargement outside the Western Balkans. Furthermore, the uncertainty as to the financial resources available to the countries from the EU’s neighborhood, including those with Association Agreements, will increase since 2019.

Therefore, the government of Moldova should focus on real reforms and should give up artificial initiatives (Europeanization of Constitution, substitution of reform agenda with trivial “action plans”, etc.)  The European perspective more than ever will depend on the performance of third countries, which will also determine the political support inside the EU. However, Moldova has a difficult mission – to come closer to a specified European perspective without losing the European course as a result of the parliamentary elections of December 2018.

Dionis Cenuşa


IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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