Opinion

Tbilisi enganges Europe, Europe engages an Eastern neighbor

by | Oct 18, 2013
Ilia Roubanis

Ilia Roubanis.

In the recent International Parliamentary Conference that took place under the aegis of the Parliament of Georgia and the United Nations Development programme in Tbilisi on October 7, 2013, the focus was on the Vilnius Summit.

Suitably, the Georgian delegates, including Davit Usupashvili and Alex Petriashvili, focused on Georgia’s unwavering commitment to a Euro-Atlantic trajectory and Tbilisi’s resolve to be present in Vilnius in November. The consensus was that this was an event of historic significance, a fact that resonates with its branding as Eastern Partnership’s “Delivery Summit”.

The event was interesting, both in terms of context and in terms of substance. A noteworthy contextual observation is that none of the participants referred to the forthcoming Vilnius Summit as the end of a road. All interventions begun with the assumption that Vilnius was a stop, not a destination.

This implicit consensus referred to a process of alignment with EU norms, which should lead to democratic consolidation, modernization, regionalization or, in a word, “Europeanization”. Georgian participants echoed this hope. In this respect, the origin of the delegates to the conference was telling: the Baltic States, Croatia, and Poland, one of the two pillars, along with Sweden, of the Eastern Partnership framework.

The implicit and untold message was that “if we made it, so can you.” The road is uphill, but perseverance pays off.

Another contextual variable was the Russian Federation. Perhaps inevitably, the long standing occupation of Georgia, the recent step up of the so-called “borderization policy” in the breakaway republics of Georgia, and sustained efforts to derail Tbilisi’s Euro-Atlantic trajectory, could not be ignored. And this was all relevant once again, because a number of states in the region have been under pressure to miss the Vilnius appointment.

Most interventions focused on how formidable the challenge before Georgia is. Models of parliamentary consultation that different countries have followed were presented, facilitating the adaptation, incorporation and implementation of a sizable body of legislation, whilst engaging the opposition and public opinion.

Retaining this process of Europeanization on track is a process that retrospectively, once everything is said and done, tends to be underestimated. But, for polities that underwent this process so recently, it is easier to empathize with countries like Georgia.

It was clear that often mentorship pays off in this “Europeanization” process. The Latvian Member of Parliament, Zanda Kalnina Lukasevica, specifically referred to “the Nordic Model” of consultation in the normative alignment process with the EU.

First, it was tacitly and, at times, explicitly acknowledged that this mentorship, which goes hand in hand with notions of European “regionalism”, is not as explicit in the current context of EU engagement in the Eastern Partnership region.

First, there has not been a commitment to membership for states in the Eastern Partnership region. Secondly, the emergence of a regional identity between the polities in the region is haunted by “frozen conflicts”. The closest the region comes to an acknowledged mentor, in the sense of a country that has committed resources, political and diplomatic capital, is Poland.

For Georgia, it is clear that the European trajectory is consensually accepted as the only trajectory.

It is also clear that Georgia, as well as the Eastern Neighbourhood at large, is seeking a type of multilateral and regional identity that would resonate with previous experiences of Europeanization. From former Warsaw Pact members to the Visegrad four, from the Western Balkans to South-eastern Europe, it is clear that the process of Europeanization is transformative both for the polities that aspire to “join Europe” as well as for the EU as such.

In sum, the project of Europeanization is in many ways mutually constituting. It is in New Europe that Georgia looks for support. As these “newcomers” are now becoming older, with polities that have now been completely transformed without losing the memory of being on the fringes of Europe, Georgia looks for support to entrench the idea that the “return to Europe” vision is not considered final and complete.

Dr Ilia Roubanis is a lectuerer at the National School of Publiic Administration in Athens, Greece.



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