Georgia, Moldova Seek Fast-Track EU Membership

The two countries follow Ukraine’s bid, despite their own vulnerability to Russia.

Georgia, Moldova Seek Fast-Track EU Membership

The two countries follow Ukraine’s bid, despite their own vulnerability to Russia.

Moldovan president Maia Sandu signing the application.
Moldovan president Maia Sandu signing the application. © Maia Sandu
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili visited Brussels on March 14 to discuss the country’s EU path.
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili visited Brussels on March 14 to discuss the country’s EU path. © Council of Europe

Georgia and Moldova this week submitted their applications to join the European Union, accelerating their accession ambitions in the shadow of Russia's invasion in neighbouring Ukraine.

The decision follows Ukraine’s bid as President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the country be granted EU membership “via a new special procedure”.

“Georgia is a European state and continues to make a valuable contribution to its protection and development,” Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili said after signing the application letter on March 3, adding, “History has deemed the European choice of the Georgian people as its strategic aim.”

“The time is now,” Moldovan president Maia Sandu wrote on the application signed by her, prime minister Natalia Gavrilita and parliamentary chairman of the Igor Grosu.

“Moldova’s citizens are prepared to work hard towards a stable and prosperous future in the EU and the family of European states.”

Both countries already enjoy deep political and socio-economic ties with Brussels through the Association Agreement, but a membership request is a major development in their relations with the 27-nation bloc.

The membership path requires applicants to apply fundamental political adjustments, ranging from trade to rule of law and anti-corruption commitments. Normally, this requires many years, but the applicants argue that these are extraordinary circumstances. 

“There is no such procedure in the EU treaty as a fast-track accession, which would bypass the traditional way, but now I would not exclude that the EU would follow a simplified procedure [in these cases],” Viorel Cibotaru, who heads the European Institute for Political Studies in Chisinau, told IWPR. The situation is changing so rapidly and cardinally that I would not exclude some courageous and advanced EU decisions in the face of this major humanitarian catastrophe for Europe.” 

Moldova’s application coincided with the visit of EU vice-president Josep Borrell and the commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, Oliver Varhelyi. The country of 2.6 million has already received over 100,000 refugees from Ukraine and Brussels has allocated an emergency fund of 15 million euros funds to support the government’s humanitarian efforts.

On the other side of the Black Sea, Georgian Dream, since 2012 the country’s ruling party, faced strong opposition pressure to follow the same initiative.   Kyiv’s bid won backing from MEPs in a non-binding resolution.

“The government’s announcement in some ways is surprising, after its confrontational rhetoric with the EU over recent months,” Hans Gutbrod, associate professor of international relations at Ilia State University in Tbilisi, told IWPR. “But it shows that Georgian citizens did get their voices heard, through their protest for Ukraine, against the Kremlin, and for Georgia’s westward course.”

In Tbilisi, thousands have taken to the streets in a public display of support towards Ukraine, while also criticising the government for refusing to apply sanctions on Russian companies and individuals.

Georgia and Moldova, which signed the Association Agreement with the EU in 2014, have restrained from openly criticising Russia’s invasion. Both countries are in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis the Kremlin, with Russian troops stationed on their soil, in regions which have been de-facto independent from the central government since the early 1990s. Their small economies are also deeply dependent on Russia’s.

“Many Georgians understandably want to see real action by the government, but applying sanctions may involve some tough choices,” Gutbrodt continued. “From wine across blueberries to tourism, many Georgian companies sell to Russians. They have been stretched thin by the pandemic. Diversifying more would have been desirable, but transport costs are a factor, too.”

Kornely Kakachia, director of the Tbilisi-based think tank Georgian Institute of Politics, agreed that the government faces tough decisions, but argued that they needed to be taken to ensure the country’s security.

“Kyiv does understand Tbilisi’s limitations, its delicate situation and did not expect any military help, but it did expect a political and moral support at the highest level, which it did not get,” told IWPR, adding that Georgia itself was in peril.

“Georgia is next in line after Ukraine. Tbilisi is Putin’s unfinished business. He aims at not having a neutral buffer of post-Soviet Europe. Should Georgia be in danger the only support it may hope for is from the West. Georgia cannot balance Russia and if this chilling relation between Tbilisi and the West continues, Georgia will isolate itself, which is exactly what Moscow wants.”

On March 1, Ukraine recalled its ambassador to Georgia, Igor Dolgov, for what President Volodymyr Zelensky called Tbilisi’s “immoral stance towards sanctions”. 

The Georgian government also prevented a charter flight with volunteers from leaving Tbilisi airport. The volunteers had responded to Zelensky’s call to support the Ukrainian army and joining the newly established International Legion for the Territorial Defence of Ukraine. The plane, organised with the support of the Ukrainian government, was to fly to Poland, from where the volunteers planned to travel to Ukraine.

Support for Euro-Atlantic integration is high. A poll conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and CRRC Georgia in January 2022 showed that 83 per cent of Georgians support EU membership. In Moldova 64 per cent supports it, according to a survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in late 2021.

“We are all very vulnerable now, all three states,” Cibotaru said, adding, “The most important thing is the signal given to Moscow: no more veto is accepted on the decisions of the countries with whom to associate and which organisation to be part of.”

Aliona Ciurca contributed to this report from Chisinau.

This publication was prepared under the "Amplify, Verify, Engage (AVE) Project" implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway.

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