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“Germany’s Role in Georgia’s European Future: How to align expectations?”

On 8 February 2019, the Institut für Europäische Politik in cooper­ation with the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP) organized a public event in the framework of the Berlin Policy Hub to discuss Germany’s role in Georgia’s European future and possible ways to align mutual expec­ta­tions in their bilateral relations. Around 30 guests partic­i­pated in the round-table discussion hosted by the European Commission Repre­sen­tation in Berlin.

The partic­i­pants were welcomed by Patrick Lobis, Head of the Political Team of the European Commission’s Repre­sen­tation in Germany, who gave an overview of the current state of EU-Georgia relations and referred to the findings of the recently issued Associ­ation Imple­men­tation Report on Georgia. H.E. Elguja Khokr­ishvili, Georgian Ambas­sador to Germany, stressed in his intro­ductory remarks that Europe was part of Georgia’s identity and that Germany played a decisive role for Georgia within the European Union and the Eastern Partnership. He furthermore under­lined that a new European “Ostpolitik”, as advocated by German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass, should be based on close cooper­ation between the partners.

Following the intro­ductory remarks, Dr. Bidzina Lebanidze, researcher at GIP, and Viktoria Palm, research associate at IEP, presented the main findings and conclu­sions of a joint draft paper on percep­tions and misper­cep­tions in Georgian-German relations: While Germany perceives Georgia as a very – at times overly – ambitious, but strate­gi­cally important partner due to its unyielding pro-European orien­tation and reform efforts, the Georgian side perceives Germany as an unreliable partner who hampers Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspira­tions from a position that is overly consid­erate of Russian interests.

The following panel discussion, featuring Dr. Kornely Kakachia, director of GIP and co-author of the draft paper, Liana Fix, Körber Stiftung, as well as Dr. Franziska Smolnik, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP), criti­cally assessed Germany’ role for Georgia’s European aspira­tions, the identified misun­der­standings in bilateral relations and possible ways to overcome them. Liana Fix described an ongoing paradigm shift in Germany’s “Ostpolitik” mirrored for instance in an increas­ingly critical discussion on the Nord Stream II project. She furthermore pointed out that the possible/eventual “carrot” of membership for the Eastern neigh­bours is currently weakened due to the EU’s internal problems. Franziska Smolnik raised the point that to overcome misun­der­standings, it was important for Georgians to under­stand how German foreign policy is formu­lated and which role domestic politics play. Germany, on the other hand, should acknowledge that symbolic gestures matter to the Georgian public and its politi­cians and should act accord­ingly. Kornely Kakachia stated that Germany at times seems to under­es­timate its persuasive power within the European Union and the crucial role it plays for the Eastern neigh­bours. He also formu­lated the wish from the Georgian side to polit­i­cally escape the Southern Caucasus region, and rather be perceived as belonging to a group with Ukraine and Moldova.

The panel concluded that it was important to foster the mutual under­standing in bilateral relations to prevent Georgian hopes from being dashed, which in turn bears the risk of jeopar­dizing Georgia’s pro-European path. After the panel discussion the audience had the chance to comment and ask questions to the panelists. The issues addressed were the next steps in the imple­men­tation of the Associ­ation Agreement, the proba­bility of Georgia being polit­i­cally considered detached from the South Caucasus as well as the need to also accept uncom­fortable truths.

The Berlin Policy Hub is part of the “Europeanization beyond process” initiative funded by the Open Society Founda­tions. It aims at connecting Eastern European Think Tanks with their German counter­parts in order to enhance the exchange of knowledge and ideas and encourage new ways of cooper­ation. Researchers from Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are given the oppor­tunity to present their research to German experts and decision-makers and to promote a better under­standing of topics of relevance for their home countries.