Georgia on the Way to the Western Community of Values

Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze speaks at the DGAP on the new Georgian government’s foreign policy agenda

15/11/2012 | 08:30 - 10:00 | DGAP Berlin | Invitation only

Expert Round Table

Category: Georgia, Bilateral Relations

Only three weeks after taking office—and before meeting with the German foreign minister—Maia Panjikidze came to an expert talk at the DGAP to clarify the new government in Tbilisi’s foreign policy priorities. Her most important message: Georgia seeks a connection to the EU and NATO and hopes for reconciliation with Russia. However, the re-opening of diplomatic relations with Russia will remain impossible as long as Russia continues to occupy Georgian territory.

At the beginning of October, the Georgian Dream party won parliamentary elections and formed a government under Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who has split from President Mikheil Saakashvili’s political camp. How will Georgia position its foreign policy following the change in government? Maia Panjikidze openly discussed this and other difficult topics at the DGAP; she also had harsh criticism for the previous government.

A View to the West

Panjikidze described the three key aspects of Georgian foreign policy: European and transatlantic relations will continue to remain a priority—as it was under the previous government. But President Mikeil Saakashvili has lost sight of the fact that the EU and NATO are about a community of values, not merely an economic and military alliance.

Thus, the West has attached greater significance to the cultural dimension of its integration efforts, while also promoting greater civil society involvement in foreign policy issues. The foreign minister pointed out that this was greatly limited under the previous government, even to the point of repressive measures. For Georgia, the Western community of values is an important reference point for strengthening the country from within.

Panjikidze characterized Germany as a central partner due to the fact that the Federal Republic is a strong motor for the European Union and because of Germany’s strong relations with Russia. Germany’s good relationship with both Moscow and Tbilisi could serve as a catalyst for Russo-Georgian rapprochement. But Georgia does not have to choose between the EU and NATO: Georgian foreign policy focuses on effective and forward-looking cooperation with both organizations.

Regional Cooperation

The second key foreign policy aspect is Georgia’s development into an “important regional player.” The country will observe the global context and will be aware—even as a small country—of the fact that it bears national and international responsibility. One example the minister named is Georgia’s involvement in operations in Afghanistan.

The Georgian government particularly hopes for excellent relations with its direct neighbors. Regarding the issue of the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia—which have been separated from Georgia since 2008—the minister said that the government needs to make clear to people in these areas that it would be worthwhile to live in Georgia. But other models, such as a confederation, are not an option.

Balancing with Russia

The most important change in foreign policy is that Georgia now wishes to work toward balancing with Russia—a neighbor with whom relations were fraught under President Saakashvili’s government. Panjikidze sees economic and cultural cooperation as the natural method of choice for improving the relationship. These are simple and feasible starting points. However, the minister left little room for illusions regarding political cooperation: “There will be no diplomatic relations with Moscow as long as 20 percent of Georgian territory remains occupied by Russia.”

But Panjikidze said that the first reactions from Russia have been promising. Moscow expects concrete steps from Georgia. One such step was the appointment of a special representative for Russia. Georgia also recently improved legal stipulations for Russian businesses. The main issue now is not losing track of the mutual nature of economic relations.

The minister emphasized that Georgia sees itself as a forward-looking country that has clearly committed itself to liberal democratic modernization and is ready to accept responsibility in foreign policy. She also signalized a willingness to hold talks with all current and future partners.  

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