Georgia’s aspiration for Europe is the link connecting the country’s long-term development with democratization, while safety and conflict regulation are the most important tasks on the way to Georgia’s European integration. Given the present political and geo-political situation, progress of Georgia’s Euro-integration is directly linked to the future of the occupied territories. Mechanisms and agreements of the EU with Georgian participation (Association Agreement, agreement on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, visa liberalization, etc.) create the potential for Georgia to become more attractive and to make the occupied regions become interested in participating in these formats; this process will accelerate the one of their reintegration in the long-term perspective. However, there are a number of challenges which hinder the scale of implementation of these agreements, in particular, their dissemination across the occupied territories. From this viewpoint, we have to take Moldova’s experience into consideration, as it is one of the member countries of Eastern Partnership. It has similar problems with regard to Transnistria regions, so it has to be analyzed what perspectives and challenges exist in this direction.
On 28 October 2013, at the Summit in Vilnius, the Association Agreement between Georgia and European Union was initialed, which includes the agreement on Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (further mentioned as DCFTA). This agreement regulates export and import of goods and services on the EU market. In 2012 Georgia’s foreign trade turnover with the EU countries increased by 12 % and amounted to 27% of the whole trade turnover. Accordingly, in future, accessibility to the market of 500 million people with and without tariff barriers through the DCFTA agreement is an important incentive for Georgia’s developing economy. Apart from trade with goods, this agreement implies trade with service, capital turnover, approximation of state procurement procedures and investment legislation, protection of consumer rights and intellectual property, as well as provision of competition and protection of labor standards.
It is obvious, that Georgia is bringing about harmonization of trade-related EU acquis at a legislative and institutional level; however, it is still unclear how this agreement will be implemented on the occupied territories. So far, several versions approved in other countries have been considered, although the agreement between Georgia and the EU concerning concrete measures directed to gradually making Tskhinvali region and Abkhazia beneficiaries of this agreement has not been concluded yet.
Moldova faces the same problem, but the situation here is a little different. European Union is Moldova’s number one trade partner, whose share amounts to 54% in the trade of the country. EU export in Moldova reaches 2 billion euros, while the EU import is 940 million euros. Moreover, over 50% of Transnistria production goes into the EU market. It is remarkable, that together with Moldova, Transnistria benefits from the so called Autonomous Trade Preferences and these preferences, together with GSP+ mechanism result in accessibility to the EU market without restrictions and tax dues. In Transnistria hundreds of companies have been registered in Moldovan state departments in order to entitle themselves to the mentioned system, which helped these companies substantially to expand and develop their market. However, these companies will not be able to make use of this system, which obstructs them as well as the perspective of these companies to be motivated to lobe participation in the DCFTA agreement.
Transnistria is a region oriented on export and in case it loses access to the European market, it will seriously harm its economy. Today Transnistria is unbalanced in structural and financial terms and its system is based on Russia’s direct or indirect assistance. In order to save the region’s economy, it is necessary to integrate it with the country’s economy. Consequently, the DCFTA agreement can bring substantial changes and stability to the region’s economy and create the possibility for the region to go into closer cooperation with Kishinev. As for Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region, the situation there is different, as these regions do not have geographic and, accordingly, economic proximity to the EU market and their economic condition is far worse. Major part of Abkhazia budget is subsidized by Russia. Furthermore, Russia sponsors infrastructural projects, construction and agriculture. Abkhazia’s basic trade partners are Turkey and Russia, although goods produced there can also be found in Trans-Baltic countries, Moldova and Ukraine. As for Tskhinvali region, economic activity is very low there and it is completely depended on Russian subsidies.
Russia’s role and influence in separatist regions is the basic hindering factor against their independent development and, probably, their reintegration. Recent occurrences in Ukraine showed that Russia will do its best to stop the process of extending the region’s ties with the European Union and also to reinforce its influence on the separatist territories in order to obstruct the development of institutional ties. Given the regional and geo-political situation, in which, first of all, activated Russia is implied, Georgia should intensify generating engagement elements in these regions in order to continue the perspective of engagement of the separatist regions in the mentioned mechanisms, as Russian factor makes it unreal to accomplish more serious deeds. Taking the current situation into account, DCFTA will not be able to expand on these territories unless Georgia has total control on the borders of these regions and the same situation may continue endlessly, because conflict regulation is not a short-term perspective.
Resulting from all the above mentioned, it is necessary to elaborate sustainable measures and mechanisms which will encourage extension of ties with the regions. Georgian government should be proactive and should create more means for exchanging information between the sides. From this viewpoint, it is essential to engage civil society in the process in order to give it a chance to affect the process; it is important to popularize DCFTA and raise awareness about it as well as to provide Abkhazian and Ossetian sides with basic information about the benefit they might receive from this agreement. Georgia should also see to it that the European Union make active use of diplomatic discourse in order to emphasize Georgia’s success and let it become attractive to the separatist regions. Civil sector should also be actively engaged in generating ideas and mechanisms which encourage the regions’ gradual engagement in DCFTA.
In order to work out the above mentioned measures, it is necessary to make the process open and transparent so that both the civil sector and the wide public have access to the current occurrences. It is important, that the government of Georgia understands that regulation of this problem is impossible without considering Russia’s role and that activation of engagement mechanisms with the occupied territories must be a systemic process. It is also important that this problem is not weakened in the discourse of the international community and that the representatives of the government air it at international forums. Activation of the engagement policy with the regions, which will also encourage the perspective of their participation in DCFTA, should not be linked to the schedule and occurrences of internal politics and should be a permanent process of systemic nature.
Nino Samvelidze is EU programs manager at Georgian Institute for Strategic Studies (GISS). Her main area of expertise is EU foreign Policy, European integration and conflict resolution. Prior to that, she worked as Program Officer at International Republican Institute (IRI) Georgia and as an EU Expert in the project “Georgia in Europe”, financed by the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD). She has spent several months in Brussels, working as Robert Schuman Trainee at the European Parliament, dealing with Eastern Partnership agenda and Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. She holds MA from Central European University and MA in EU International Relations and Diplomacy from College of Europe in Brugge.