Relations between Georgia and the European Union have been passing through a difficult patch recently. Whilst both sides profess eternal love and loyalty, tensions over ongoing domestic Georgian political processes have marred what was once a good example of a harmonious relationship.
Georgian prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili is currently in Brussels where he is co-chairing, with EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, a session of the EU-Georgia Council, the body that oversees the relationship. At the heart of the current state of relations is the EU's refusal to grant candidate status to Georgia, as it did recently with Ukraine and Moldova. The Georgian government is still reeling from the snub, and the Georgian opposition continues to use this as a stick to beat the government.
At a press conference yesterday both sides tried to downplay differences, and the EU made it clear that the door for Georgian EU membership, whilst not exactly wide-open, was still ajar.
Speaking to the media at a joint press conference, Borrell spelled out the state of play:
Georgia is one of our closest friends and partners. And this Council is a historic one - because it is the first one since the European leaders recognised Georgia’s European perspective, and outlined the steps needed for Georgia to get the [EU] candidate status.
This is a clear proof of the European Union’s commitment to further strengthen our relations, responding to the European ambitions of Georgia. But these ambitions, as always, come with responsibilities.
First, a responsibility to continue with important reforms, especially on the priorities – the 12 priorities - identified by the European Commission.
Second, a responsibility to try to overcome polarisation, to build bridges across the political spectrum and to focus all collective efforts of the Georgian nation to reach the proclaimed objective to join the European Union, which is not only something that the government has to do, but the whole political spectrum and the whole society.
Allow me to remind [you] that the European Union accession is a merit-based process. There are no shortcuts and no magic involved. It is not a matter of political declarations, but [of] political will that converts wills in results.
Only visible and tangible progress in reforms can drive this process forward.
The criteria and expectations are very clear when it comes to issues such as political culture based on inclusiveness, respect for the principles of democracy, the rule of law, the independence of judiciary, freedom of media, or alignment with the European Union’s standards and policies.
Georgia has decided to embark on the European Union path and also to take on these responsibilities. And now, [what] is relevant is to deliver.
Of course, prime minister Garibashvili could also outline the many achievements that Georgia has registered on the way of implementing its obligations under the Association Agreement with the EU, and the difficulties his government faces in dealing with an awkward, and it claims, destructive opposition. But the EU likes to tick boxes, and at present a number of boxes in its Georgia to do list remain unticked.
But the Brussels meeting showed neither side wants to spoil this relationship further, and a process of returning back to the "idyllic situation" of the recent past appears to have started.