Following the Eastern Partnership Ministerial Meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, Federica Mogherini hinted that the forthcoming Eastern Partnership conference may indeed take place in Batumi, Georgia, on the beautiful seashore of the Black Sea. That would be fitting. Georgia has been working tirelessly to make its own policy mark in the region and is hailed as a reform champion. And that is with good reason.
To the Brussels’ motto that very much framed the road to the Vilnius Summit in November 2013, namely ‘more-for-more’, Moscow keeps responding with the motto ‘more-or-else’. This negative conditionality points to security, energy and trade in what Russia regards the so-called “Near Abroad” region. Georgia resists the notion of being captured in a visionless buffer zone, insisting that we are just an ordinary Eastern European country. Moscow’s sterile encounter with Brussels is devastating to Russia and Europe. But, Georgia is not interested in a Cold War sequel; for us, the Eastern Partnership is a positive vision.
I am well aware that this vision is not founded on unshakable confidence. There is less confidence in our Euro-Atlantic unity and common vision, throughout Europe. However, ‘from the Atlantic to the Urals,’ the stakes are high not only for the management of the present crisis or even the future of Europe, but the reevaluation of the past.
Born in 1946 and raised in the USSR I feel very strongly about the past. As part of a generation of European diplomats and politicians committed to the idea of a “Common European Home” – when that was still a utopia – I feel the need to engage in this discussion, addressing Germany in particular. Georgia’s message is clear: the future of Europe should be inclusive of Georgia. And a decade since the launch of the Eastern Partnership, an event in Batumi of this significance would drive this message home.
A crisis of vision
I am saddened that an increasing share of public opinion in most EU member states views the project of European Integration as a dystopia and the Euro-Atlantic community as a transaction. The transformational drive to create a multilateral space of security, trade, and historically unprecedented human rights standards is decelerating. There is apparent “fatigue,” and we seem to be spending too much diplomatic and political capital on crisis management, making relations between Europeans feel less “communal” and more transactional.
I am heartened by the commitment of Chancellor Angela Merkel to Georgian territorial integrity during her last visit to Tbilisi, which is ritually reiterated but always substantive and significant. If, like Georgia, you are seating amid the shifting tectonic plates of geopolitics, between Iran, Turkey, Russia, and the EU, the discussion about commitment to European and Euro-Atlantic integration is not for the faint at heart. Stating the obvious is necessary and soothingly reassuring.
On this subject, there is one point made by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a recent Handelsblatt article that it is worth exploring, namely “looking back does not take us forward.”
Germany can only be a European power
In his article, the German Foreign Minister is asking the question of whether an international cohort – Japan, S. Korea, Germany – can defend a multilateral trade regime while maintaining a two-pillar Euro-Atlantic security partnership. Foreign Minister Maas is understandably focusing on the urgency of filling the vacuum in multilateral economic leadership. My primary concern is the vacuum of vision, left by the retreat of a shared Euro-Atlantic identity.
Even before the current crisis, it was clear that NATO was no longer united by a common enemy – in the form of the USSR – but a common worldview. And it is clear that the unification of Europe is no longer the precondition for the reunification of Germany. Germany is united, with near full employment, and the biggest trade surplus in the world for the third year in a row. With integrated value chains, deep capital markets, and a common currency that makes trade a seamless operation, Germany is steaming ahead on a European track. This success story – from the ruins of WWII to today’s triumph – is exemplary of the project of European Integration.
But, the past still weighs on the present.
Sometimes we, in Georgia, feel – I hope wrongly – that Germany remains fearful of its past of the 1930s and 1940s while being at the same time a driving force at the heart of European Integration, that is, an unprecedented historical experiment. As Europeans, we are attempting to transcend the nation-state and grow in power together, without hegemonic ambitions. We cannot fail.
My parents’ generation witnessed the building of our first Georgian Parliament by German POWs, who also went on to build the Enguri river bridge connecting Georgia and with an currently occupied Abkhazia. Just to remind that half a century later, a Georgian was at the helm of negotiating Germany’s reunification. We still carry historical luggage. We cannot and will not demolish our past, but we must reevaluate its meaning to build a different future. We need a future without victors and vanquished, and without a hegemon.
Georgia looks to Europe
Right now, Berlin is viewed as Europe’s inescapable if somewhat reluctant leader; via Brussels, Germany substantially transcended its past. The vision of Georgia’s reunification, the hope that one day we will cross the Enguri bridge without meeting a Russian checkpoint at the end of the road owes much to the German experience. It will take time, but it can happen. But, like Germany, we must earn it.
With modest ambition, Georgia seeks to make itself a nodal point for a multilateral regime that links Europe to Central Asia and China. In this context, the development of the Anaklia port is of pivotal geopolitical significance. Anaklia is the only Deep Sea Port east of Bosporus able to host Panamax and Post Panamax vessels. This opens up shipping to our part of the world and provides Europe with direct and low cost access to Central Asia and Europe.
We cannot be Europe’s locomotive but we can open new horizons.
And that is not only a fascinating infrastructural development on the Black Sea shores but a strategic vision of Georgia – be open, be a hub, be a regional bridge connecting different and diverse regional segments and even conflicting strategic vectors. For all this to happen, Europe must hold together and keep its doors open. Georgia counts on Europe’s open horizons, partly because we don’t treat “Europe” as a cost-benefit analysis but as a community of values.
For Georgia, Europe is not a location; it is primarily an idea.
The big idea is that we can create a community that is more than a sum of its nation-states. Abandoning this vision would be a triumph for Putin’s regime. It is no accident that most sovereigntist and nationalist movements in Europe are enamored with the Russian strongman. Such movements view Europe as a cost-benefit analysis, that is, a temporary, limited in scope, inherently unstable, and always volatile transactions.
Such deals make for a very shaky foundation for our common European home. Great power alignments breed asymmetry that crushes states like Georgia. In a Europe with spheres of influence, we would once again be divided between “winners” and “losers” at the cost of millions of lives.
For our part, we are determined to live with Russia, just as we are determined not to live in Russia. The current authorities of Georgia that came to power in 2012 are rational, pragmatic and realistic actors and understand why the West needs a so-called ”cooperatıve Russia”: to tackle different global threats and challenges in arms control, international terrorism, energy security, other lingering and asymmetric threats and risks. However, we have no time for hegemons.
In that context, it is also worth recalling that US leadership has often saved Europe from itself, that is, the thirst of nation-states to “win” and dominate the political agenda and prevail, economically, politically, and militarily. For this very reason, Washington sustained commitment remains invaluable. It was Marshall Plan “conditionality” that placed the train of European Integration on track. Unfailingly, we need a European security “pillar” and indeed a guarantor of multilateralism. But, Europe historically relies on its Atlantic pillar for balance.
We cannot stand alone.
Europe is an idea, not a location
And we cannot afford to be static.
Europe’s missions shape its meaning, always. In the 1950s “Europe” consolidated a world of peace, harnessing solidarity among foes. In the 1980s, “Europe” consolidated democracy in the Mediterranean. In the 1990s, “Europe” allowed states to lift the last vestiges of totalitarianism and built open and democratic societies that were gradually incorporated into a new Euro-Atlantic order. In the 2010s, it became clear that markets outgrew the state’s political agency and leaders were playing catch up. We need to find our way.
Close Europe’s doors today, and Georgia’s sovereignty evaporates in a Russian sphere of influence; we will no longer hope to cross Enguri bridge. And in stripping us of our vision, Europe will be gambling its future on the time-tested question of whether a project of hegemonic domination can prevail. It can’t.
We must transcend the past, substantially.
Georgia takes on this challenge with gusto. We have created an institutional regime with transparency and the rule of law that meets European standards; we have signed free trade agreements with most of the world; we welcomed a number of Middle Eastern migrants; we send our troops to defend our way of life in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, the Mediterranean and the Congo; we are building a democracy that is imperfect and aware of its imperfections. As Chancellor Angela Merkel noted in her recent visit to Tbilisi, Georgia is in a league of its own when it comes to relations with the EU in the region. Yes, we, indeed, seek EU and NATO membership as we also understand that it would be a long-term ride but carry our weight and understand that the journey itself is a fascinating as it is about reforming and modernizing Georgia, but only based on democratic values and principles.
With a bottom-line focus, we keep our heads up committed to the big picture. Throughout this process, we feel a sense of achievement as we take steps closer to Europe. We are a realistic and pragmatic actor. However, we have also developed a sense of entitlement. Georgia is owed a place on the table where Europe’s future economy and security is negotiated.
Helmut Schmidt once said, “Whoever has visions should go to the doctor.” We, in Georgia, are not delusional but we have the vision and determination to be normal, functioning democratic state in our part of the world, to be a reliable predictable and trustworthy partner to our allies and neighbors. So that is why Georgia is unwilling to stand by and see Europe being carved down to spheres of influence. Our future is European.
And Batumi is a European city that looks and feels like the future of Europe, just a stone’s throw away from Anaklia port. Look to the sea and you will see Europe. Look behind you and you will see the landmass of Asia with youthful, emerging, and thirsty markets. That is the future. If our partnership aims to open new horizons for Europe, that would be a good place to start.
The views expressed in this article reflect the view are the author’s alone .
Tedo Japaridze has served as a foreign minister, Ambassador of the Republic of Georgia in Washington, member of parliament, and national security advisor to successive Georgian prime ministers. He is currently the Vice-Chairman of the Anaklia Development Consortium.