"Georgian Dream - Democratic Georgia”
“United National Movement”
Georgia’s dream: Europeanization as democratic consolidation
Georgia’s dream: Europeanization as democratic consolidation
Georgia- Tbilisi - For years the Georgian Parliament was an uneventful political battlefield. Policy consensus and “bipartisan approaches” prevailed. It was in court and in prison that real political contestation took place. In this sense, fortunately, 2013 was an exceptional year.

For a year, the Georgian political system experienced a period of cohabitation, with two parties sharing power. This situation gave rise to heated debates, gravitating mostly over the theme of continuity and change. This was to be expected from a political system that was unaccustomed to peaceful transfers of power, a milestone that Georgia reached only fifteen months ago. While these major landmarks were recognized and validated by our international allies, what made political contest distasteful and fundamentally un-European was the interpersonal character of these political encounters. Given a political tradition where political competition gravitates around personalities, where parties do not survive electoral defeat, where the most fearsome debates concern personal legacies rather than value agendas, politics often becomes too personal to be substantive.

In March 2013, a 14 points Parliamentary Resolution committed the uneasily cohabiting parties, that is, the United National Movement and the Coalition of Georgian Dream to a sustained pro-Western trajectory. And in this scheme, the fundamental choice of committing to an Association Agreement in the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013 was expectable. In Georgia, there is a per mare, per terra consensus over the fact that we must remain an islet of Europeanization in the South Caucasus. Of course, there are two concerns in this respect.

First, many in Georgia would agree that being in Europe is not an anti-Russian statement: competitiveness, rule of law, respect for cultural diversity, solid multilateralism, consensus driven policy, a reliable social safety net, a social partnership culture, respectable institutions, and a commitment to human rights. This makes sense for us, in terms of what we want to be. The point of what we don’t want to be comes by defect, not in principle. However, given the wounds of the country since the War of 2008, noting the rising wave of xenophobia in Moscow, the scaling up of provocations with the so called “borderization policy,” not to mention heightened tension in the streets of Kiev, there is a fear that Georgia may once again be victimized. This is an enduring fear.

Second, across the 28 capitals of EU member states, the Eastern Neighborhood does not occupy the same significance. With Ukraine not signing onto the Association Agreement, there is a mixture of disappointment and disengagement from the wider region. Moreover, the unfolding economic crisis triggers a rise of support for xenophobic and Eurosceptic political forces, imposing upon Brussels a timid approach to neighborhood policy. This is an emerging fear.

Ultimately, without real certainties and plenty of fears, Georgia has no option but to be daring. Georgians broadly agree that commitment to the West has been crucial for the process of democratization. Human rights standards, free and fair elections, freedom of expression, are only some of the dimensions of democracy that have benefitted from Georgia’s commitment to a Euro-Atlantic trajectory, despite all odds. However, for this choice to be meaningful, we must now make a qualitative leap from transition to consolidation of democracy. And in this sense, “Europeanization” is becoming as important as democratization.

At this point in time, Europeanization in Tbilisi must come to signify two things. Bottom line: we must go from fierce interpersonal rivalry and consensus politics to substantive political rivalry based on fundamental interpersonal respect. Reforms on public broadcasting constitute a tangible step toward this direction. However, substantive progress will entail building solid processes of interest aggregation, a social partner’s culture, strong parties, and stronger still institutions. The ultimate political question is “who do we represent,” not who is more patriotic. In this respect, the laws on Consumer Protection and Labor Law reforms were far more significant landmarks. Overall, we must go beyond reforms aiming at the creation of a business-friendly environment to create an inclusive and citizen-friendly society: motivate the young and talented to stay on if not repatriate, promote small and medium businesses, and create a basic social safety net.

For this kind of Europeanization, which goes well beyond façade reforms, the focus must be on bottom up policies, that is, hundreds of minor interventions rather than grand projects promising total transformation by a single stroke. In this sense, the Association Agreement and Visa liberalization will make this process of substantive Europeanization irrevocable, concluding the process of “transition.” However, once these grand commitments have been made, we should seize to think in terms of major “milestones.” Indeed, we should seize to reform our Constitution and begin to disagree politically rather than merely “in principle.”

The Parliament rather than the Constitutional Court or the Prosecutor’s Office must become the epicenter of this Europeanization-as-consolidation process. We have perhaps obliterated the homo Sovieticus, but we must now create authentic and meaningful Georgian citizenship; the only role model we have for this project is European citizenship. Despite the crisis in Europe, there is no substitute to the vision of “returning to Europe.” For us, this is of course no “return;” this is uncharted waters. But, Georgians have no option but to be daring.
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