19/03/2024 GIP

How Diverged the Government and People Are over the EU CFSP in Georgia?

In recent times, EU officials have expressed concerns over Georgia’s decreased alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), representing a notable challenge to the EU-Georgia relations and integration process. Despite strong public support of the EU integration, the Georgian government performs poorly, aligning with only 43% of the CFSP decisions as of November 2023.

Given tendency exhibits a widening gap between the Georgian government and public opinion in the realm of foreign policy, which is a problem in a sense that growing discrepancies undermine the public trust in government and contribute to the deepened political crisis.

Moreover, the EU, upholding the principle of representative government, expects candidate states like Georgia to adhere to this principle. The government’s greater representation of public opinion can bridge the reliability in Brussels, viewing Georgia positively within the enlargement package. However, the government’s lack of alignment with CFSP leads to its detachment from its electorate, as evidenced by its divergent approach across three main domains: support for Ukraine, the relations with Russia, and the European integration path.

Ukraine – Old Friend and Strained Partnership

The divergence on the issue of Ukraine is notable between the demand existing among the majority of Georgian society and the Georgian government’s foreign policy strategy. Despite traditionally amicable relations between Georgia and Ukraine, the strategic partnership is gradually deteriorating amidst the war in Ukraine. The Georgian government decided to abstain from 23 EU’s CFSP declarations about sanctions on Russia and joined only three in 2022.

In contrast, Georgian people have successfully expressed their strong solidarity also demonstrated by numerous Georgian volunteers fighting in Ukraine, reciprocating for Ukraine’s support in Abkhazia. A notable part of the Georgian population (61%) advocated for the government’s stronger support for Ukraine, and more than 60% in total considered that Georgia should be part of all or some of the established sanctions as of March 2022. While the values of the Georgian people and the EU intersect regarding Ukraine, the value-based difference between the electorate and those in power exacerbates their alienation from each other.

Furthermore, the EU places greater importance on states aiding in the enforcement of sanctions rather than solely focusing on formal accession. However, Georgia’s actions, namely increasing economic ties with Russia after the war may be perceived as contradictory. Although the official alignment with sanctions is not required for Tbilisi, it should not come as a surprise that the union, closely observing developments in Georgia, would anticipate Tbilisi to align closer with public opinion and demonstrate greater solidarity towards Ukraine, which fights for common liberal principles. Bridging the public-elite gap would bring Georgia closer to the region and reinforce European values.

Russia – Flirting and Hurting

The Georgian government’s flirting strategy with Russia harms its relations with Georgian society and the West, representing another area of divergence between the public and the government. While the majority of Georgian people perceive Russia as the enemy (84%) and prefer Euro-Atlantic integration (69%) over relations with Russia (7%), similarly seen as a “long-term and direct threat” by Brussels, the Georgian government’s softened policies with the Kremlin depart from CFSP and the population’s stance.

Decisions by the government such as initiating the Russian-style “foreign agents” legislation, not joining the EU sanctions against Russia, resumption of flights with Russia and permitting an influx of Russian migrants have widened the gap between the ruling party and the EU.

Meanwhile, Russia has taken a more proactive role, using the momentum to strengthen its hard and soft power in Georgia. Deploying a naval base in Ochamchire, allowing Georgians to study at Russian Universities for free, increasing Georgia’s economic dependency on the Russian market and restoring direct flights with Moscow may serve as some examples. These developments further endanger security concerns in Georgian society, with 43% reporting feeling “insecure” or “rather insecure than secure” given Georgia’s current relationship with Russia. Georgia’s balancing act toward Russia also raises concerns among European partners about the leadership’s credibility and commitment to the European integration process. This damages Georgia’s international image, while the society-leadership divide leaves the EU puzzled about the following integration steps.

EU Membership – Government Hesitancy and Public Eagerness

Another significant disparity can be noticed between the visions of the Georgian government and the people regarding the submission of the EU membership application. While Georgian people urged for immediate action, the government displayed hesitancy. Former Chairman of the Georgian Dream Party, Irakli Kobakhidze justified the party’s plan of submitting a strong EU membership application in 2024 based on rationality and a sense of responsibility, prioritizing over a hasty application – suitable for Ukraine but irrelevant for Georgia.

In contrast, Georgian society preferred to act in the moment, requiring the government to submit an EU membership application at the rally on March 1st, 2022. Increased pro-EU sentiments are also revealed by a significant shift in societal attitudes on security matters. If in 2019 Georgian people considered NATO membership to help the most to ensure national security (28%), by 2023, the views changed in favor of the EU (29%). Such strong pro-EU sentiments and civic engagement gave incentives to European partners to praise vibrant Georgian civil society – whose involvement in policymaking is considered vital for advancing toward future EU membership.

However, leadership’s initial hesitancy indicates a deficiency in the government’s representativeness. Their decision to submit the EU membership application on March 3, 2022, was driven by public pressure and narrow interests rather than representing people’s genuine will. Even though civil society’s active involvement has leverage over foreign policy decisions, it comes with disappointment and erosion of trust in leadership, undermining democratic accountability and legitimacy, which are part of the basic pillars of accession criteria.

Aligning with CFSP and Public Opinion for Enhanced European Integration

The Georgian government’s decreased alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) reveals the gap between public opinion and government actions, deepening value-based differences, leading to detachment from the electorate, undermining public trust, and impeding the Euro-integration process.

Discrepancies exist, on the one hand, between people’s active advocacy for the European path, strong support for Ukraine, and more distanced ties with Russia and, on the other hand, the government’s lukewarm and often critical position towards the EU, closer ties with Russia, and lack of solidarity with Ukraine. Therefore, strong alignment with the CFSP would serve to narrow the value-based gap and alienation between the electorate and the ruling elites and foster greater convergence in terms of foreign policy perspectives, and aspirations for a European future.

Finally, amid Georgia’s damaged international reputation, security challenges, and detachment from the region, Brussels primarily relies on the strongly pro-integration public to regard Georgia favorably in the enlargement package, while the government’s actions mostly increase concerns among them. Consequently, the government’s alignment with public opinion would convey a positive message to the European partners and advance Georgia’s progress towards European integration.

Blog was produced in cooperation with the Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF). The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the author and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP) and the Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF).


Tamuna Manvelishvili, MA student at the Central European University, International Relations

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