The EU has granted Georgia candidate status, at a meeting of the European Council.
The council made up of the leaders of EU member states, announced the decision on Thursday evening. They also announced the EU would open accession negotiations with fellow Eastern Partnership members Ukraine and Moldova, keeping them one step ahead of Georgia in entering the bloc.
The European Council has decided to open accession negotiations with Ukraine & Moldova. #EUCO granted candidate status to Georgia. And the EU will open negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina once the necessary degree of compliance with the membership criteria is reached and…
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) December 14, 2023
The Georgian Government reluctantly applied for membership on 3 March 2022 in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, following similar moves from the Ukrainian and Moldovan governments and public pressure to follow suit. In June 2022, the council granted Moldova and Ukraine candidate status while denying it to Georgia, giving the government 12 ‘priorities’ to address before their candidacy could be reconsidered.
Thursday’s decision by the EU comes despite the government making little to no progress on many of the 12 recommendations.
These include creating an independent judiciary, with politically sensitive cases widely believed to be ruled on by a ‘clan’ of judges cooperating with the government. Earlier this year, the US sanctioned several such judges.
[Read on OC Media: Tbilisi court convicts protester ‘for holding blank sheet of paper’]
Other ‘priorities’ included an apparent demand to prosecute the organisers of the 2021 homophobic riots in which at least 53 media workers were injured by far-right demonstrators. Despite the leaders of the far-right Alt Info having directed the attacks publicly, none have faced prosecution.
Following the announcement on Thursday, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili congratulated people on getting the EU candidate status. He and other leading members of the ruling Georgian Dream party have for weeks insisted that they had fulfilled the necessary requirements.
Thursday’s decision also comes despite a drastic shift in the Georgian Government’s rhetoric towards the EU and the US. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the ruling party and their allies, as well as pro-government media, have grown increasingly hostile towards the West, accusing them of attempting to drag Georgia into war, undermine the country’s sovereignty, and even attempting a coup.
[Read on OC Media: Irakli Kobakhidze: The face of Georgia’s turn from the West]
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, who has found herself increasingly at odds with the ruling party over their attitude towards the West, also hailed the EU’s decision on Thursday as ‘a monumental milestone for Georgia and our European family!’
The ruling party recently attempted to impeach Zurabishvili for conducting official visits to Europe to lobby for the country’s candidate status unsanctioned by the government.
Polling in Georgia has found consistent and overwhelming public support for the country’s entry into the EU.