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Hungary’s government is insisting that the European Union must grant Georgia candidate status this fall as the EU already granted this status to Moldova and Ukraine last year. Georgia instead had its European perspective recognized by the European Union and was declared to be unready for candidate status. Hungary argues that Ukraine and Moldova are no better than Georgia and that the European Union did not decide the status of the three member states based on merit but instead on politics. Hungary argues that the European Union will be weakened internationally if it refuses to expand.
The European Union is unlikely to heed this advice from Hungary. Josep Borrell, the EU’s Chief Diplomat visited Georgia September 8th and made it clear that Georgia only fulfilled 3 out of 12 recommendations the EU gave Georgia as preconditions to be granted candidate status. In particular, Georgia still needs ot make progress on judicial reforms, depolarizing national politics, and fighting corruption and the influence of oligarchs. The bloc has also consistently been told it is in decline yet the European Union has not disappeared. To date only one member state has left (United Kingdom) meanwhile others line up to join. It was predicted that the European Union would be heavily damaged by the United Kingdom leaving the bloc yet it appears that the United Kingdom suffered most of the damage. Its economy has been in shambles which experts argue is directly related to Brexit. Its citizens also lost the right to freely work and travel throughout the European Union and it saw capital flee London for cities within the European Union.
Hungary’s support for Georgia was also voiced in 2019, when Hungarian President Áder became the first Hungarian President to visit Georgia since 1990. President Áder made it clear four years ago that Hungary supports Georgia’s objectives of joining the European Union and NATO. Before this in 2015, Hungary advocated for Georgians to be allowed to travel visa-free to the European Union. This would become a reality for Georgians starting on March 28th, 2017.
Georgia’s Imperfect Government
No nation is perfect and Georgia is no exemption. Just recently earlier this year, the national government faced massive protests due to proposed legislation. Protestors were concerned that the proposed legislation was a signal that Georgia was still headed on a political path more similar to Russia rather than the West. The Kremlin responded to the situation with claims that the legislation is more similar to American laws rather than Russian. There are continued concerns about democratic backsliding in Georgia, which will continue to impact its progress towards EU candidate status. Roughly 80 percent of Georgians support the nation becoming a member of the EU and NATO which explains why the protests were so large. This is not a situation with a very vocal minority but objectives that the majority of Georgians believe in.
Fortunately in the end the legislation was voted down but protests persisted after the fact as citizens wanted to send the message that they want to move closer to the West. Citizens have the right to be concerned about the government’s actions. This month, the Georgian Dream party which currently has a majority in parliament made its intentions clear to impeach President Zourabichvili. Her crime is visiting the European Union whose visits were considered to be against the will of the government. This may partially be an attempt by the Georgian Dream party to punish President Zourabichvili for abandoning the party which she was a member of when she was first elected in 2018. She also went against the party earlier this year when she made it clear she would veto the legislation regarding foreign agents.
Not All Bad News For Georgia
While Georgia’s process to join the European Union has been delayed, its economic reforms prove to be working. After years of stagnation the economy and GDP per Capita are growing strongly. From a GDP per Capita of $4,995 in 2021, Georgia is expected to reach a GDP per Capita of $11,289 in 2028. Part of this is because of economic reforms Georgia has carried out including stabilizing its fiscal deficit, subduing inflation, and ensuring banks have enough capital. As long as Georgia works on increasing exportation, increasing productivity, and connecting itself to Europe and Asia, it will be able to continue economic growth. One way to ensure Georgia’s economy continues economic growth is to combat dollarization which leaves the nation vulnerable due to fluctuations in the exchange rate.
The economy also has grown thanks to Russians migrating to Georgia as a result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Not all Georgians are happy about their arrival however and blame the recent arrivals from Russia for the high inflation that the nation has been experiencing. There is not yet consensus over whether or not the majority of these Russian migrants will stay only temporarily or for the long haul. For ones who do stay long term however, Otar Nadaraia who is a chief economist of Georgia’s TBC bank hopes Russians will spread out in Georgia rather than remain concentrated in Tbilisi and Batumi. This is because these two cities are experiencing higher economic growth as a consequence of Russian migration while the rest of the nation is lagging behind.
The European Union is known for not rushing decisions and granting Georgia official candidate status rather than recognizing its European perspective will take some time. In reality it may not be beneficial for Georgia to have Hungary advocating for it before the European Union due to Hungary’s own problems with the EU. Hungary has become known for democratic backsliding and Georgia’s association with Hungary may raise doubts about Georgia’s commitment to democracy, a requirement to join the European Union. Continuing to work towards constructing a strong democracy will not only help Georgia become a candidate country and eventually a member state of the EU yet also benefit its own citizens which is most important. Georgia has already made tremendous progress towards reforming its government since independence and will benefit from additional reforms. Hungary on the other hand would benefit from securing its democracy as well rather than attempting to antagonize the European Union.
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