EU puts Georgia’s accession process on hold

EU Delegation Georgia 🇪🇺 @EUinGeorgia
Ambassador Pawel Herczynski announcing the EU decision to halt the accession process.

Georgia’s European Union accession bid has been put on hold and some 30 million euros of EU financial support for the country’s Defence Ministry has been frozen in response to Tbilisi’s adoption of a new law that critics contend could restrict democratic freedoms, Pawel Herczynski, the EU Ambassador to Georgia, announced on Tuesday.

Herczynski said the decision to halt the accession process had been reached at the most recent European Council summit, in reaction to Georgia’s newly adopted law on “foreign influence”, a measure the government had pushed through parliament despite weeks of public protests.

Some 30 million euros of EU funds designated for Georgia’s Defence Ministry this year were also frozen, Herczynski told a news conference in Tbilisi, warning that other steps would follow.

“Our direct support to the government of Georgia will be limited, and we will seek to redirect support from the government of Georgia to civil society and the media,” he declared, noting how sad it was “to see EU-Georgia relations at such a low point”.

The new law, which took effect last month despite widespread demonstrations and a veto by Georgia’s president, requires media, NGOs and other nonprofit groups in Georgia to register themselves as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if more than 20% of their funding comes from abroad. Those opposing it dubbed the measure “the Russian law”, aware that Moscow had similarly legislated to curtail independent news media, organizations and individuals critical of the Kremlin. Opponents denounced passage of the bill as a clear sign of Russia’s hold over Georgia.

EU officials have insistently proclaimed the law as undemocratic and had warned it would hold up Georgia’s progress towards EU membership. In December, the EU agreed to grant membership candidate status to Georgia provided it fought disinformation, including against the EU, and that it aligned its foreign and security policies with those of the bloc, while also introducing judicial reforms.

Membership talks did not get underway. In order to start talks, all 27 EU nations and the candidate country must agree on a negotiating mandate. EU experts must also conduct a screening procedure, to analyze how much work needs to be done to bring Georgia’s laws and standards into line with those of the bloc. Once those preconditions have been met, an intergovernmental conference would be called with Georgia to officially launch the start of talks. Each step requires unanimous agreement from the EU member nations and can be blocked at any point.

At their 27 June summit, EU leaders warned Georgia that its path toward membership would be blocked unless the “foreign influence” law was repealed. Days before the summit, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was considering “putting a hold on our financial assistance to the government” in Tbilisi and downgrading political contacts.

Earlier this month, the U.S. “indefinitely postponed” military drills in Georgia — a move the U.S. Department of Defence said was part of a “comprehensive review” of relations between Washington and Tbilisi.

On Tuesday, Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili, long at odds with the government, described the moves by the EU and the U.S. as difficult messages “from two of our closest friends” worth listening to.” In essence a warning, “our partners tell us that ‘the choice is yours’ between Georgia with a secure European future and Georgia moving toward the Russian orbit,” Zourabichvili said.

“In Georgia, we see negative developments, including intimidation of CSOs and disinformation against the EU and its values. I sincerely hope that the current course of action putting the accession process on hold will be reversed, though time is of the essence,” Ambassador Herczynski said today at the international conference on the EU enlargement, organised by the Civil Society Foundation in Tbilisi.

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