Georgia’s recent instability has dealt a blow to its international reputation as a new democracy, and poses a challenge to the European Union as well. Faced with street protests in November, President Mikheil Saakashvili claimed that Russian-Georgian tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili was conspiring to bring down the government. So he closed the opposition-leaning private Imedi TV station (owned by Patarkatsishvili) and introduced a state of emergency for nine days, before calling an early presidential election for January 5.
Ever since Saakashvili’s inauguration in January 2004, following the 2003 “Rose Revolution,” Georgia’s government has displayed EU flags on official occasions. Georgians share that enthusiasm. A poll conducted by the International Republican Institute in September 2007 indicated that 81% of Georgians support joining the EU.
But, regardless of the election’s outcome, the recent crisis exposes a lack of commitment by the EU to security and democracy in Georgia. Despite Georgia’s strategic location on the Black Sea, bordering Russia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey – and on a key trade route linking the EU, Iran, Russia, and Central Asia – Europe has dragged its feet on the country’s most enduring political problems.
On the Georgian side, It is well understood – at least by the political elite – that EU membership is a distant prospect at best. This weakens the political importance of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), an initiative developed in 2004 to avoid the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbors. An EU-Georgia ENP Action Plan was signed in November 2006, but it is unlikely to meet expectations.