On the way to European Integration

14 Jun, 2013


by  Vano Chkhikvadze, Civil Society Support Program Coordinator, OSGF

Seven years ago, about 40 students of the College of Europe went to Brussels on a study visit. The capital of Belgium welcomed us with its usual rain and mist. At the airport, the line was split in two. The students from the European Union countries crossed the border without any procedures. The Macedonian, the Russian, the Ukrainian, the Montenegrin, the Moldovan and I were herded into a separate queue. This was the first occasion when I encountered what I had read about, one of the four principles of the European Union: free mobility of people.

 So, whenever I am asked about Euro integration, I recall this story.

Today, Georgian citizens entering the Schengen zone are still separated from EU citizens to join a different line like I did on that rainy spring morning in 2006. The ice has been broken though and from 2012 Georgia has started a dialogue on a visa regime with the EU, which sooner or later, will lead us towards the non-visa regime with the European Union.

However, nobody should have the illusion that this will happen overnight.

We need to carry out a lot of reforms to achieve this, such as passing laws against discrimination and to protect personal data, to say nothing of the people who left Georgia for Europe as asylum seekers. This is not something that can be done solely either by me or you, or the government, or civil society.

All of it must be done by all of us.

The Foundation has been involved in this process as well. Last year OSGF funded the “European Initiative – Liberal Academy Tbilisi” research which dealt with visa facilitation between Georgia and the European Union.

In 2013, plans include monitoring the implementation of the Visa Regime Liberalization Action Plan, as well as a debate for youth on the topic of Euro integration and modeling the work of the European Union institutions. This will give them an opportunity to get better acquainted with Europe and realize that Euro integration, while it offers many opportunities, is a big responsibility as well and that in order to join the European family we will have to implement many sensitive reforms.

It is also important to work out a strategy on Euro integration communication and information. The Foundation, together with the National Platform of Eastern Partnership and Media Coalition, is working on that plan and, it is hoped, in a couple of months it will be adopted by the government. This will help us explain to the population what Euro integration means, what opportunities it offers, and which reforms must be carried out to achieve this goal.

The OSGF has been working on Euro integration related issues for some time. After the European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan was signed between the EU and Georgia on 14 November 2006, it began monitoring implementation. The aim of monitoring is to increase the responsibility of the government towards its own population and to advocate for those issues which require more attention from the government.

Moreover, in 2012 with the help of our Ukrainian, Moldovan, Armenian, Azerbaijani and Belorussian colleagues, a project on measuring the European integration in Eastern Partner countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine is being implemented. The project measures how close these countries come to the European Union in the areas of deep and sustainable democracy, market economy and trade relations, management of EU assistance and so on. Its objective is to increase the process of Euro integration on the basis of a kind of competition principle between the “Eastern Partners”.

No one expects that today or tomorrow Georgia will become a member state of the European Union. The main thing is to keep going in the right direction and not lose stamina.

I remember a story connected to stamina which the former Ambassador of Poland to France told us during one of the lectures: after the overthrow of Communism, while meeting with François Mitterrand, the President of France asked the Ambassador what the priorities of the foreign policy of Poland were. The Ambassador’s answer was very short: “Poland does not have any priorities in the foreign policy, it has only one priority and that is becoming a member state of the European Union.” President Mitterrand smiled at his reply.

 Fifteen years later, on 1 May 2004, Poland joined the EU.

Euro integration is a process which, sooner or later, should end with a concrete result. The main thing is that we do not turn away from this process, and we all make an effort to move towards this goal. And when that day comes, as it did for Poland, we shall listen to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” as, arriving at the Brussels airport, we bypass the queue for passport control.