Survey Results: Do Georgians Know What the EU Is?

On October 10, the Europe Foundation (EPF) presented its recent survey report titled ‘Knowledge and Attitudes towards the EU in Georgia, 2009 – 2017’. The presentation was held at the Marriott Hotel in Tbilisi.

The report presents the results of a study into Georgian citizens’ knowledge of and attitudes towards the European Union. It looks at the results of five waves of surveys conducted in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017, and attempts to identify trends and highlight changes in both knowledge and attitudes of the population of Georgia.

“It is always useful to have an opportunity to learn about the sentiments of the people,” said Carlo Natale, the Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Georgia. “For us policy-makers, it’s a sort of reality check. A lot is going on between the EU and Georgia, and both sides are committed to taking this further”.

He claims that a lot of work is being done on a daily basis by the Georgian government, civil society and the EU in order to bring benefits and real results to citizens.

“We have to be just as effective in our communication efforts as in the implementation of our projects and programs. Democracies would not be called democracies if they worked against the will of the people. So, it is important that the ordinary people approve of the actions of the governance,” he said.

Such surveys help to assess mandates and support greater cooperation and deeper integration. Natale said he was “pleased that for a consecutive eight years, the EPF surveys had shown the enthusiasm of Georgians towards EU integration at a consistent high”.

“It is a very challenging task to be a well-functioning democracy,” noted Martina Quick, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden in Georgia. “[The country] requires not only free and fair elections and transparent institutions, but also well-informed citizens. To be successful and sustainable, democratic reforms need to be based on a broad, inclusive and fact-based discussion about what society should look like, what choices need to be made and why”.

She added that the EPF survey is an important contribution to the Georgian reform process, assisting in the understanding of just how informed Georgian society is about the EU and what gaps need to be filled.

“Of course, the Government of Georgia must decide how to carry out the reforms, but in order to ensure sustainability, it is important to build on a firm ground of correct and updated information and inclusive debate what this integration can mean to Georgian society,” Quick said.

The report draws some interesting conclusions. Support for the EU integration process among the Georgian population continues to be strong, but rests on hopes and expectations rather than on genuine knowledge of what integration really means. This is the challenge that the Georgian government, together with the EU and the member states, have been working to address.

The survey also shows that knowledge of the EU integration process is developing “rather slowly”.

“What is encouraging to see, is that a large and an increasing part of the population is interested in learning more,” Quick said. “What is perhaps less encouraging but still useful information for all of us, only a small percentage of the respondents answered that they received information from the government, the EU delegation and member state embassies. It means that we have to approach the issue a bit differently, especially in minority regions, where the level of knowledge is significantly lower. We can still see from the survey that there is still a perception in the Georgian society that EU integration is threatening to Georgian traditions. This perception has decreased, but it is still wide-spread. This is an obvious result of the lack of information and in some cases, of incorrect information being deliberately spread”.

“[I see it as] a disaster that only 41% of the population knows about the EUMM,” said Johannes Douma, the Ambassador of the Kingdom if the Netherlands to Georgia. “This is a very negative signal for me. We will go on.”

The following are some of the findings that EPF highlighted:

• Georgian citizens associate the EU with democracy. A vast majority of citizens agree that the EU is a source for peace and security in Europe.

• The citizens are now better aware of the EU than they were in 2009. However, the population’s knowledge of a number of issues is still limited; for example, Georgians require more information about EU institutions, agreements reached between Georgia and the EU, and interventions implemented in Georgia with support from the European Union.

• As expected, there are disparities between the levels of knowledge between the country’s rural and urban populations.

• The majority of Georgian citizens believe that they do not receive sufficient information about the EU, with almost half of respondents noting that they would like to receive more information about it.

• The majority of the Georgian population believes that, compared with the United States and Russia, the EU can better assist Georgia. However, a large segment of ethnic minorities disagrees with this view.

• Georgian population’s direct support for EU integration, that decreased to 62% in 2015, has increased to 71%. This proves again that the overall attitude towards the EU is highly positive and Georgians strongly support the country’s European integration.

• The current state of Georgia’s market economy is named most commonly as the factor impeding Georgia’s accession to the EU, followed by the rule of law, the approximation of Georgian legislation to EU legislation, the protection of human rights, the development of democratic institutions and the protection of minority rights.

• A large majority of the Georgian population is somewhat informed about visa liberalization. However, only 16% are confident that they will enjoy the visa-free regime within the next 12 months.

• The share of Georgian speakers and ethnic minorities who think that the government should be like a parent rather than an employee hired by the citizens, remains unchanged since 2009.

Over 2000 (2258) respondents were questioned in three languages: Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani. The survey was commissioned by the Europe Foundation and conducted by CRRC Georgia with support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Georgia, and the Danish International Development Agency (Danida).

Maka Lomadze

12 October 2017 18:20