Europe’s recommendation to grant Georgia candidate status for EU membership is “a very major step” that is goading the country’s political leaders to coalesce around a “new consensus” in favour of a European future, Georgian President Salomé Zourabichvili told FRANCE 24.
“Georgian political leaders have started again to talk a very pro-European language, which for some time they had subdued in some ways,” said the French-born Zourabichvili, who was elected to Georgia’s largely ceremonial presidency in 2018 with the backing of the now-ruling Georgian Dream party. Last month, Georgian Dream led an unsuccessful effort in Georgia’s parliament to oust Zourabichvili in the country’s first-ever impeachment vote. The party’s leader accused her of violating the constitution by visiting Europe to lobby support for EU membership without first seeking the government’s consent.
A pro-Russia prime minister?
In a speech to parliament, more than a year and a half after Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, Zourabichvili criticised what she saw as her government’s pro-Russian leanings. She suggested that Georgian Dream was sabotaging the country’s EU aspirations, even as it paid lip service to Europe. Georgia’s prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, has refused to impose national sanctions on Russia. He suggested that NATO is to blame for the war in Ukraine. Zourabichvili said she has noticed a shift in tone since the European Commission, on November 8, decided to recommend Georgia for candidate status, a key stepping stone on the way to possible membership. Recent polls show strong support for EU and NATO membership among ordinary Georgians. In the wake of the Commission’s announcement, large crowds celebrated on the streets of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
“Since the decision … they are very clearly saying that they salute this decision and they are going in this direction,” Zourabichvili said. “So if that is the new consensus in Georgia, I can only be very glad about that.”
Russia’s ‘lost prestige’
Russia invaded parts of Georgia in 2008, provoking a short war, and its troops continue to occupy two Georgian provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, representing about 20 percent of Georgia’s territory. Zourabichvili said the world’s failure to react at the time, emboldened Vladimir Putin and paved the way for what is happening in Ukraine. She said Putin’s hopes have been defeated “by the resilience that the president of Ukraine, the population of Ukraine, has shown in front of this immense attack, this tragedy and aggression”.
“But Russia is losing, it has already lost prestige, the prestige of the Russian army,” Zourabichvili added. “Whether it’s going to be tempted to do something in Georgia, it’s always something that we have in the back of our minds. That is why we need European support. We need to be aligned with our partners.”
Produced by Isabelle Romero, Perrine Desplats and Sophie Samaille
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