EU Officials Full of Praise of Georgian Youth

It would be unfair to say that the EU rarely offers us, Georgians, words of encouragement. Georgia is doing its homework well, it’s a frontrunner, and so on – we’ve all heard and appreciated that; but when the encouragement and praise are directed towards youth, it carries additional significance. And that’s exactly what happened in Brussels at the end of February, when the European Alliance for Georgia, a Brussels based NGO championing for bringing “More Georgia into Europe”, organized a study trip to the highest echelons of the EU administration for Georgian youth; mostly students from the International Black Sea University. For Georgia’s European aspiration to come true, the nation must learn to “think European,” and when it comes to youngsters, what better way to study how the EU functions and what it stands for then seeing it close-up with your own eyes? Visits to European Commission, The External Action Service, The European Parliament, party Headquarters and to the famed Martens Center - There were basically no closed doors, with speakers discussing the fine aspects of what’s what and Georgia / EU relations.

“Georgia, after Palestine, is the recipient of the largest financial EU assistance worldwide,” Mathieu Bousquet, Head of Georgia unit at European Commission’s Directorate General on Neighborhood and Enlargement negotiations, told the students. “I think this shows how much we want you to succeed. I can say that Georgia, at the same time, has made the most progress and is the most progressive from the countries that aspire to join the European Union”.

Marta Wytrykowska, Policy Advisor at the European External Actions Service, praised Georgia’s active participation in Erasmus+, stressing the importance of the young generation to learn “the European way of thinking,” for, as she put it, it is this generation “that is bound to change many things, including getting Georgia even closer to its coveted goal of EU membership.”

The view was shared by Romain Strasser, Head of HR at the EPP group, the largest political group at the European Parliament, who underlined the fine aspects of Georgia & EU relations and noted a pleasant tradition of successive Georgian trainees at the European parliament.

But what of those who made it all possible? The EAFG is a relatively new organization, with self-anointed crusade to, as their website says, “Bring more Georgia into Europe and vice versa”. Having among its founders both Belgians and Georgians, and boasting an impressive cohort of seasoned EU politicians as members of its honorary board, the organization already has several important projects on its resume. The last one to date, the abovementioned study visit, concluded last week in European Parliament, where GEORGIA TODAY was on hand for an exclusive interview with its President, Mr. Louis Delcart, and Founder Teona Lavrelashvili, herself now a policy officer at the European Commission.

“There is a huge amount of people who are into lobbying and advocacy, and who want to convince (European) politicians and the administration in certain subjects and want also for these subjects to be on the map, permanently. So that is the role that we want to play,” Delcart said when asked about the organization mission and values.

“The role we want to play is not only to make Georgia apparent in the European Commission and European administration, but also to bring Georgia, on a permanent basis, into the world of the Europeans,” he added. “It’s very important that people start to know where Georgia is, even if it is a small republic. It’s a country that’s interested in Europe, that wants to expand its European values, and bring them to that side of the Black Sea and that is important.”

The President couldn’t hide his excitement about his recent visit to Georgia, where he says he visited the Technopark and saw a generation that is “completely digital”.

But lobbying for Georgia must have its challenges, too, what with the recent wave of displeasure from a number of European states with increased numbers of Georgian asylum seekers. It is something Teona Lavrelashvili is all too aware of.

“Our challenge is to somehow reach the ordinary citizens here, in the EU member states. Why is that needed? If you look, for example, at the Western Balkans, which are in the process of accession, candidates or potential candidates; one of the major troubles for those candidate countries is that people in the EU member states are not convinced. Why? Because first of all, they are afraid of any immediate, let’s say, new things, changes in their lives, in their countries. And therefore, if we look at the example of Georgia, apart from the wine tradition and cultural advantages that Georgia has, unfortunately it’s seen as if somehow Georgia is also bringing danger to their countries. We aim to use our strategic communication to inform those people, to make sure they understand that Georgia is both able to and has the potential to bring benefits to the EU and its member states. So how do we do it: we organize events here in Brussels about the EU and Georgia, about different political issues. One of them was organized today and we just held the certificate awarding ceremony.”

But are certificates and knowledge all that Georgian youth will be returning home with? On the contrary, Lavrelashvili claims. She says the most important thing that they’re bringing home from Brussels is hope – of the country’s European future.

“What they could bring home to our country is hope. Hope that Georgia is really on a very good track. Because they have actually heard from high level officials from the Parliament, from the commission, from the EEAS, the external action service of the European Union, that Georgia has pre-accession status, without having this status formally. That Georgia might, and will, become a member of the European Union. It depends on internal and external factors; the EU has to deal with internal problems that they have in the member states, but Georgia is a frontrunner of the Eastern Partnership program. Membership of the European Union is not just the aim for the country, it’s a way forward. European integration is the first of all reforms in different sectors and Georgia should be ready for membership, because this time, this moment will come: this was the message which the officials actually gave to our students. “

Vazha Tavberidze

08 March 2018 15:44