Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Georgia in the European Union?

Three striking aspects of the Georgia-EU relationship are: 1) Georgian’s overwhelming desire for EU membership, 2) large differences in attitudes on social values between Georgia and the EU, and 3) lack of consensus as to whether or not Georgia belongs to Europe, Asia or “Eurasia”. Data from CRRC’s 2009 survey entitled, “Knowledge and Attitudes Towards the EU” in Georgia shows that Georgians are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about EU membership. In fact, Georgians are more keen on EU membership than the Western Balkan states and Turkey, even though the latter two are more serious candidates for the next wave of enlargement.

Data from a poll conducted by the Italian Foundation, Compagnia di San Paolo and the German Marshal Fund show that Turkish public support for joining the EU dropped from 73% in 2004 to 38% in 2010. Support for EU membership in Croatia is 56% and 53% in Serbia. In contrast, 79% of Georgians in 2009 would vote for EU membership and 61% think it is very important for the Georgian government to strengthen ties with the EU. In addition, about a third of the population believe that Georgia will be prepared to join the EU in less than 5 years, while one fifth answered in 5-10 years. The opinions on if Georgia will actually join the European Union in less than 5 years or in 5-10 years period are almost the same.

However, data from the 2008 World Values Survey in Georgia shows that the country is divided by this EU aspiration and opinions on social values—many of which are at odds with social values in EU societies. For example, trust in religious institutions is much higher in Georgia (95%) relative to EU member states (19% EU average). A higher percentage of Georgians specifically would not want a neighbor who is HIV+ (40%) or a homosexual (87%) compared to the EU average of 17% and 20% who say the same on each question, respectively. Also, 50% of Georgians think that their way of life needs protection against European influences (CB 2009).

Another important question is whether Georgia can be defined as a European country. 54% of Georgians agree with the statement that “I am Georgian and therefore I am European” (CRRC’s 2009 EU survey) However, there is still tension around defining Georgia as a European country, not least because of its location east of Turkey. Vallery Giscard d’Estaing mentioned that Turkey is a non European state because its capital lies in Asia and 95% of its population lives outside of Europe. If Ankara is in Asia, then how is possible to recognize Tbilisi as a European capital when it lies further to the East? It is difficult to speak about the prospect of EU integration in the South Caucasus without the integration of Turkey. It might be unrealistic to expect a map of the EU in which there is a huge gap for Turkey and the inclusion of a small Caucasian country. This may be one reason why 52% of Georgians think Turkey should become a member of the EU (CRRC’s 2009 EU survey).

Europe or Asia?

Besides EU aspirations, differences on social values and geographic and cultural identity, the current economic and financial crisis might impact Georgian attitudes towards the EU. The EU has been a symbol of wealth, liberal policies and open society for many years. However, the bailouts in Greece, Portugual and Ireland, as well as severe financial crises in Spain and Italy make the EU seem less attractive. In any case, despite the government’s membership ambitions and further reforms, accession does not seem to be realistic at the moment. The EU also may not be ready for enlargement as it has to adopt new institutional reforms in order to absorb additional members.

A second wave of the “Knowledge and Attitudes Towards the EU” survey in Georgia will be available this August. It will be interesting to compare the 2009 and 2011 results. What do you think? Do you think that Georgia should be a member of the EU? Does the country have a serious chance of becoming an EU member?


marikuna said...

Neither Georgian society neither government is ready for EU membership. Their values are traditional, not fully aware of democracy, tolerance and liberalism and government not transparent and democratic enough! hopefully in 20 years situation will change.

Diana said...

Interesting judgement, but we have to remember; what Georgia seeks in European umbrella is security. It is another question if it can find or not, but still.
I want to recall the words of EU issues specialist who told me on the interview "Europe- is not only peace land, but bunch of ideas and values ", maybe it is worth thinking, how Georgia is getting close to European values.

Igor Okunev said...

Good analysis, I would like to know the results of the August survey. It is also could be interesting to research Russia factor in the problem. European values of Georgian society have roots (at least, partly) in the time when Georgia was part of Russia. Also in any case relations with Russia will stay the priority for Georgia just because the geographic position and will be important issue in negotiation on membership in the EU.

Diana said...

i would like to know where is "enough" for governments to be democratic and transparent? Are all the governments in European Union transparent enough? i am not sure, dont think this is the major problem here.

SonaGM said...

One thing I have to mention is that I really like your analysis and comparisons.
Actually I need to make a small addendum. It's not only Georgia desperately seeking EU accession. EU intrinsically is interested in the security of its borders. From this point the whole Caucasus appears in the agenda of the EU. Though the general perception among the population of Georgia that the country is ready for EU accession is attributable to internal as well as external politics. After the Rose Revolution in 2003, when the country had to still overcome waves of reform and crisis, Mikheil Saakashvili declared that Georgia will be able to satisfy the EU accession criteria in 3 years period, without considering that economic stability has to be reached to fulfill the Maastricht criteria.

Unknown said...

Georgia's EU membership prospect is not directly linked to the Turkish accession. Though it could definitely make the process easier. Strongly disagree your position on Geographical and cultural remoteness as well. I'd recommend you to take a glance on Geographical map of Europe, being further to the East doesn't necessarily mean that country is located in Asia. Also look at the map of the EU and especially the location of Cyprus.

Nikola said...

Firstly, thank you for your comments. I appreciate them very much, Marikuna, I think Diana answered on your point and I have nothing to add.

Igor, if you mean results of survey in August 2011 they will be published and I will write an article about Georgian attitudes towards the EU.

SonaGM, the truth is EU is interested in South Caucasus, however, not in terms of possible membership but in geopolitical terms. Any serious power cannot ignore Caucasus and Central Asia in its geopolitical agenda.

Giorgi, I agree that Georgia's EU membership prospect is not directly linked to Turkey but it is indirectly. Speaking about Georgia's membership and ignoring Turkey would just label EU as a "Christian club", moreover, it is not realistic to expect any enlargement on Caucasus before Turkey and Western Balkans. You made good point with Cyprus. In fact, Greece threatened to block Eastern Enlargement if EU does not include Cyprus, to this point EU was somehow forced to absorb it as well. However, it is necessary to mention that Cyprus along with Malta and Slovenia had the highest living standard among new member states. On the other hand, with Cypriot accession unsolved issues between Cypriot Greeks and Turks became European problem.
When it comes to the European borders, it does not mean if some country lies on East that it is Asian but it does not mean it will be perceived as European. For example, it is known that territories under the Ottoman Empire were not considered as European but we cannot say that Athens, Sofia and Belgrade lied in Asia. Borders of Europe have always been perceived differently, if you are interested in these issues I'd suggest you a book from Iver Neumann: Uses of the Other:The East in European Identity Formation.