Adopting a bipartisan resolution on foreign policy in Georgia is significant both in terms of process and in terms of substance.
In terms of process, anything bipartisan, in the first experience of a real bipolar party system, not least a cohabitation, should not be taken for granted. Moreover, this rare show of parliamentary harsh talk, harsh bargain and happy ending highlights the fact that the emerging government is not in a hurry to turn into “systemic governance” and actually cares for “bipartisan” approaches. This means that it does not intend to obliterate the opposition, but to argue its way through its term and, where appropriate, elicit cooperation by reaching to the other side. Finally, it indicates that a party that has stayed in power for some time, UNM, is gradually adapting to its new role. These observations may yet prove to be too optimistic. But, something is better than nothing, and substantial success is usually the culmination of non-triumphal small steps.
In terms of content, there seems to be a synthesis of symbolic and, at times, trumpeting Euro-Atlantic declaratory fidelity, which was hardly serving the objective of Euro-Atlantic integration, with more sober and regionally informed priorities. As long as the latter does not compromise the former, there is no reason why Georgia cannot begin to unravel a well-established tradition in the region, which entails the fusion of the domestic political agenda with the greater, glacial and – to use the favorite word of the region – “geopolitical discourse.”
Decoupling the domestic from the foreign, to the degree that that is possible in a globalized world, is quite important for the future of Georgia. Hard talk on domestic politics, addressing real cleavages that touch upon education, governance, the labour market, public investment, welfare, will push parties to concentrate their creativity in developing policy proposals that may yet give some substance in political confrontation that Georgia, as indeed the rest of the region, is clearly lacking. Democracy is about informed deliberation, “fighting” one may call it. But, for these fights to be of help to the democratic system, they must be relevant to people’s lives. And, while Georgia is an occupied state, it clearly does not help to have only one item on the agenda. By European standards, Georgia has a lot left to be desired. Nonetheless, there are some significant successes that Georgia should build upon.
There is a feeling that in Georgia, more so than in any other country in the region, policy and policy development have largely been decoupled. For instance, at least when it comes to foreign investment, licenses are issued in record time. If this spirit were to trickle down to the domestic economy, that would do marvels for cunning and enterprising Georgians who want to be left alone to make a living. There was no huge ‘lustration’ campaign to sweep out the ”infidels” from public administration as a result of the change in government. And that is significant, because good human resources are still not abundant. UNM supporters are needed. And, the whole political system as a whole can be credited with limiting petty corruption, which again is no small an achievement. Freedom of press has improved and it seems this will remain the case. Georgia now needs to count these blessings and work on them.
For all this to happen, a minimum of consensus is needed. And foreign policy is a good start. Lobbying will still continue, at home and abroad, but it would be best if it were to focus to improve the access of Georgian goods in new markets rather than defamation of one party by another, as if any change in government constitutes a threat to Western civilization. For all these reasons and more, the give and take entailed in passing this bill was time and political capital well spent.
This is a start. Observers should not and, most probably, will not be deluded. There is no doubt that foreign policy will be a field of fierce disagreement and, perhaps, with good reason. But, that real opposition can be engaged in real bargaining is the real victory here. That is a small step for European politics, but a giant step for Georgia.