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In EU, Frustration With Georgia Now Evident

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (right) welcomes Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (right) welcomes Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri.
By Ahto Lobjakas
BRUSSELS -- The European Union has fired a warning shot across Georgia's bow, with the president of the European Commission telling Georgia's visiting prime minister that further democratic reforms are essential if Tbilisi's ties with Brussels are to grow closer.

The EU has hinted in the past at frustration with Georgia's democratic progress under President Mikheil Saakashvili. But Jose Manuel Barroso adopted a new, sterner tone on March 17 while highlighting the shortfall between goals and reality in the volatile South Caucasus country.

His comments, which come on the heels of a scandal over a fake news broadcast in Georgia, mark the first time an EU official of Barroso's stature has publicly expressed doubts about Tbilisi's commitment to democracy.

Following a meeting with Nika Gilauri in Brussels, Barroso said the EU is "hopeful that intensive work will continue to consolidate democratic institutions, create an inclusive political culture, and ensure full media freedom."

Barroso said progress in attaining these goals is crucial if Georgia wants to move closer to the EU. "It is important also to conclude all the democratic reforms, including, of course, respect for media freedom. That's why I also referred to the importance of the next local elections," he said. "I believe this is critically important for a closer relationship between the European Union and Georgia."

Barroso said the upcoming local elections in May in particular represent an "opportunity" for the Georgian leadership to demonstrate its commitment to political pluralism and the international standards of free and fair elections. "I am confident Georgia will seize it," he said, with more than a hint of suggestion.

Quietly Frustrated

EU officials have long been quietly frustrated with the increasingly authoritarian and erratic leadership of President Mikheil Saakashvili since the Rose Revolution of 2003. The bloc was shaken by the violent suppression of opposition demonstrations in late 2007 and was caught off-guard by the country's conflict with Russia in August 2008. An EU-sponsored inquiry into the causes of war all but laid the blame at Saakashvili's door, accusing him of overreacting to Russian provocations.

Most recently, Brussels was baffled by a fictitious news report broadcast on March 13 by Georgia's pro-government Imedi TV station. The report, which created widespread panic within the country, suggested that Russian forces had once again invaded Georgia, Saakashvili had been killed, and opposition leader Nino Burjanadze had assumed power with Russian support.

Barroso said he was "concerned" by the hoax.

Imedi, once owned by the late opposition tycoon Badri Patarkatsishvili, now has an opaque ownership structure. It is run by former Saakashvili chief of staff Giorgi Arveladze and is said by independent experts to offer coverage nearly identical to that of Rustavi-2, the main pro-government TV channel.

The established ties between Saakashvili and Arveladze had prompted questions about whether the Imedi report had been prepared at the behest of the government. Saakashvili and other top officials have sought to distance themselves from the report. Speaking in Brussels, Gilauri rejected suggestions Imedi is under the sway of the government.

"It's not government-owned or government-controlled. It's a privately held TV station," Gilauri said. "[The fictitious program] wasn't good, definitely. I completely agree with you. But it's free media, privately held. There is an independent Telecommunications Commission that we have in Georgia which will hold hearings on this issue independently in the nearest future."

Chopping Block

But Barroso underscored the seriousness with which the EU views the incident by warning the Georgian government to refrain from exacerbating tensions in the region. The EU, which operates the only international monitoring mission along Georgia's administrative borders with the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, has some leverage on the issue.

The continued presence of the mission is a major Georgian policy objective. It is, however, not uniformly popular among the bloc's member states. France and Germany, in particular, fear it may complicate the EU's relationship with Russia should tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi resurface. If Georgia's democratic record continues to suffer, the mission could end up on the chopping block this autumn, when its extension is next up for debate.

Gilauri's visit scored only one small triumph -- securing a promise from the EU that a visa-facilitation agreement could be signed in early summer. This would make EU visas cheaper and easier to obtain for Georgian citizens -- and would finally put the country on an equal footing with Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova.
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by: George from: USA
March 18, 2010 20:59
The criticism of Saakashvili regime by both US and EU is definitely a very important signal, which he is going to misinterpret again and cause a major turmoil in the region. He thinks if the temperature in the Caucasus is high and Georgia is in yet another open military confrontation with Russia, NATO and EU will have no choice, but to stand by him. The man is not only dangerous for the people of Georgia, but for the whole region. Somebody, please, stop him from starting another war!
In Response

by: Boris from: London
March 23, 2010 06:20
Aha, KGB guys are here, spreading some propaganda...

by: Giorgi from: Tbilisi
March 19, 2010 06:48
Quiet frustration is not enough!!! Europe was once already quietly frustrated, when Russia invaded and it left Georgia with 20% occupied by foreign troops. Further quiet frustration will cause Georgia to cease existence!!! It is time to act.

The frustration should not be expressed to the Prime Minister of Georgia, who has no interest in changing the established practices, but to the people of Georgia, so that they feel the support from EU in their fight for democracy!

by: Ron from: NL
March 19, 2010 08:43
Georgia is not an Europeran country. I think closer ties with Georgia are fine. But then indeed it must become a real democracy. But the EU must also make clear to Georgia that Georgia will never enter EU and/or NATO.

On Abkhazia and Ossetia: mind that most EU countries recognized the illegal Kosovo independence. So then why should Abkhazia and Ossetia stay in Georgia against their will?
In Response

by: Stan from: Toronto
March 19, 2010 18:44
Your objectivity leaves a lot to be desired Ron from Netherlands.... Do not poke your nose in the things you don't understand.... For your information in Kosovo Serbs slaughtered Albanians and were trying to drive them out of the territories inhabited by them for generations. In Georgia it was the other way around. Russians with Abkhaz help drove native Georgians out of their historical lands and carried out a vigorous ethnic cleansing. Feel the difference, "professor"? And please leave alone Saakashvili. You have not seen Georgia before he took the office....
As for your assumption that Georgia is not a part of Europe, it does not really matter much... You probably have never been to Georgia to be able to judge for yourself.
Anyway what I have seen from the developments of the last coulpe of years is that Europe proved to be a hypocritical, two-faced, mendacious, corrupt and dastardly old hag. If it were not for Germany's Merkel and and the French "macho-boy" president.... the Russian invasion of August 2008 would have never taken place. HTH.
In Response

by: Jim Kirk from: United Federation
March 22, 2010 10:56
Stan from Toronto and Charles from Montreal accusing Ron from NL of ignorance. I don´t know any of you, but it feels like a pot calling a kettle black... Albanians lived in Kosovo "for generations"? Generations of what? Fruit flies? And Georgian "historical lands" in Abkhazia? Really? Why don´t you just take a trip to a library (not wikipedia or faux-fox news), the real thing, before you make fools of yourselves again.
In Response

by: Andrew from: Tbilisi
March 23, 2010 06:27
@ Jim Kirk

Well Jim, I suggest you take your own advice boyo,
Pretty much all historical evidence, from the eyewitness accounts of Strabo, the writings of Herofotus and other classical observers, the records of the Roman, Byzantine and Turkish overlords of the regions of western Georgia, not to mention medieval observers and right up to the present day all describe Abkhazia as a part of Georgia. For example, Strabo describes Dioscuras (now called Sukhumi) as a Svanian (Svans are a sub group of Georgians) city in his works on geography.

Even during the period the current separatists like to talk about the Kingdom of Abkhazia actually had the title of "The Kingdom of Abkhazia-Egrisi", the royal family were Georgians, the nobles were mostly Georgian with some Apsu and North Caucasians, and the capital was in Kutaisi.

Pretty much all historical monuments in Abkhazia were built by Georgians and have Georgian inscriptions.

The simple fact of the matter is that both Georgians and Apsu have lived in the area for over 2000 years. BOTH have an inalienable right to live there.
In Response

by: Charles from: Montreal
March 20, 2010 19:44
Ron please go take care of your family business, because your Weki-Stupid-kedia knowledge of Caucasus does not allow you to adventure in commentaries of such articles. You are right, Georgians are Martians and they should left annihilated by descendants of Mongols! Nobody cares of small nations, there is no place for them on the planet. Just bid nations like colonisator or occupant Russians, French etc should exist!

by: Tornike from: Tbilisi
March 19, 2010 12:59
Mr. Barroso should be more "concerned" with the fact that Russian troops have seized part of Georgia and clearly have an intent to depose a democratically elected government in this country, rather than with a stupid hoax by a private Georgian TV station...

by: David from: Paris, France
March 19, 2010 13:59
The problem here is that behind Sakaashvili are clones waiting to take his place. Georgia does not have competent leadership, and at this point this is very troublesome.

by: guest
March 20, 2010 12:03
It's (03/17/2010) also the first time that the EU leadership openly joins invasion of Georgia.

by: Thomas R Cardwell from: Lincoln Nebraska USA
March 20, 2010 14:22
Saakashvili should step down. His latest stunt was dangerous and unconscionable. He is has become increasingly authoritarian and despite some earlier forward progress is no longer moving Georgia in the right direction. 502735
In Response

by: Ed
March 21, 2010 09:08
Why are people so quick to jump to the conclusion that he was behind this "stunt?" Has there been any proof, evidence?

I think this scenario might be closer to reality:
"For Russia, it might appear, Saturday’s broadcast might appear to be a win-win situation. The content of what many in both Moscow and Georgia are already calling Tbilisi’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast simultaneously reduces the credibility of Georgian criticism of Russia’s actual behavior and leaves Saakashvili in a weakened position at home and abroad.
Russia has frequently sought to weaken those around it by backing through false flag operations that push its opponents to make radically anti-Russian statements -- the Cheka’s “Trust” operation of the1920s is a model – knowing full well that once those statements are shown to be false, those who make them will be the first to suffer."

Interesting how all that happened while this is going on in Russia:
http://www.rferl.org/content/At_Least_1500_Rally_Against_Putin_In_Vladivostok/1989060.html

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
March 21, 2010 07:12
"Georgia is not a part of Europe" is old Russian propaganda
For Cousins-Emperors that hated Peter the First - too presentabla.
Still Europe is part of Georgia since 15th Century BC, even it would be so,
When South Iberians and some Hetites started European Civilizations, Ron

Serbians did commit war crimes, more than Muslims, but your conclusions,
Even if it is so, should not annex Serbian populated territories like Kraina,
Serbian Bosnia, or Kosovo - not just because Russia use precidents,
But even more so, principal - they grabing lands from Serbians.

Worse - Russia and Germany, blessed by "Bechtel" and Quin,
Deviding Eastern Europe, corrupting and using NATO and EU,
And looking for excuses - while Russia invade, annex and kill,
NATO push deal for Germans, and Brits say How-Do-You-Do?

Konstantin.

by: Boris London
March 23, 2010 06:18
EU is actively looking for an excuse to turn against Georgian democraticallly ellected government. Why?, because they are so afraid of Putin. Americans have spoiled those western europeans, providing them with a nuclear umbrella. Most of those countries don't even have a decent army. They don't want a headache, period... no matter what... even if they have to do very unpleasant business with KGB. Even, if that means ceeding their sovereignty to some degree.

by: J from: US
March 23, 2010 23:22
As fascinating as EU opinion may be I think they should busy themselves with EU issues. Help Greece for example. Are there not enough problems in EU? Euro is losing value, maybe that's a concern?
In Response

by: Paul from: Cologne
April 13, 2010 05:09
Well I think the EU, is thinking about Greece and Bulgaria. Since these countries are very close to Georgia, the EU is paying attention to situation in Georgia. I wonder if the US has not enough problems with its economy, health care and islamophobia, wenn it occupies one country after another, instead of doing what its president promissed to do (and even got the Nobel Prize these promisses).
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