In a few weeks, Georgia will have an answer as to whether it will become a candidate for membership in the EU.
GEORGIA TODAY interviewed Ambassador of France to Georgia, Diego Colas, representative of the country currently serving as President of the EU Council.
French President Emanuel Macron said, “Russia must not be humiliated, despite Putin’s historic mistake.” Do you consider this statement humiliating for Georgians and Ukrainians?
I don’t think so because I think it must be seen in the context of the policy of strong support for Ukraine. The policy of France, since the beginning of this unjustified and unspeakable aggression of Russia against Ukraine, has been one of very strong support and help: Support in terms of military equipment and help in terms of sanctions. France as President of the EU Council, was instrumental in finding agreement on six packages of sanctions that were taken and went much beyond any previous packages of sanctions that were done before. France was also instrumental in helping Ukraine make a legal case for the various crimes committed, which will have to stand in a court of law. We have an expert from France now deployed in Ukraine, helping Ukraine make those cases and helping the Ukrainian Prosecutor Service do their work.
How about Georgia, also named among those humiliated by Russia?
There was a war in 2008. It was a horrible moment for Georgians. We are aware of that. We tried to bring peace after the conflict and find a political settlement. It was an effort to help Georgia recover as much territory as possible and as much peace as possible to maintain its pro-Western route. That was the objective, and that was largely achieved. I am aware that there has been frustration since 2008 about the Russians not fulfilling these six points of agreement and all the challenges this is creating. This is an issue on which we have a supportive position towards Georgia. On the policy towards Ukraine and statements of Macron, again, the approach is to support Ukraine very strongly, to be careful about maximalist rhetoric but to support Ukraine very strongly, and I find no reason to see grounds for the humiliation of Georgia or anybody else.
Last year, President Macron granted the former Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, the French Order of the Legion of Honor. Isn’t it awkward to see the EU Parliament calling for sanctions to be considered on him?
The award that you are referring to was given because of the solid support that the Cartu Foundation had given in Georgia, in particular to the French school here, and to the Franco-Georgian University, which is significant progress. A policy of sanctions towards the leadership, people who are thought to be the leaders of Georgia, is a very different policy from the one we have now. Our policy right now is the policy of strong support for Georgia. It’s a policy that is translated into Visa-Free circulation, into ambition for the Association Agreement, one that only a few countries have. We don’t see any reason to move away from that policy of firm support for Georgia.
You are right to highlight significant concerns about the state of freedom of the press, which have been expressed publicly by the European Union and myself. There are several ways to address those concerns. However, changing entirely the relationship from one of support to Georgia towards more confrontational, I’m not sure this would necessarily be the most effective way to guarantee and strengthen freedom of the press in Georgia.
Many things will have to be done if the EU grants Georgia candidacy status, but what should the government do if the EU rejects the country’s request?
It’s hard to know what the decision will be. I’m a little bit prudent before speculating what the European Council and the member states in the European Council will decide. The accession process is a very long one of meeting standards and conditions. My invitation would be for everyone to realize this is a long haul. I understand that this is very spectacular right now because there might be, for the first time, recognition of some sort of European perspective. So far, Georgia has been saying “We have European aspirations,” – but the EU has never said – “We agree with you that this is a shared perspective!”. That makes the whole process very unique, very spectacular. But we need to be aware that this is a very long process, and if we are disappointed with where we are at this stage, it doesn’t matter very much, given the length of the race. For that reason, I would invite everyone to keep a sense of perspective of this whole process.
As in any of the European countries, the EU is willing to see the Pride Parades held in Georgia. In the meantime, Russia is trying, sometimes successfully, to make people think that the EU is all about Pride Parades. What must the EU do to make Russia lose this hybrid war?
It is a very reasonable and good question because this question exists in Georgia as it does in other member states of the EU. One of the reasons for the strong reactions to the July 5th events was that we saw that some very fundamental principles were at stake. The freedom of assembly, protection of minorities against majorities, and freedom of the press were very much under question that day. In the case of Georgia, it seems that this question of the March of Dignity of last year and various events organized by the LGBT community in Georgia in the past two or three years, raises questions that are very important for this country. Those questions are right of the individual and the duties of everybody towards the collective – What is the balance between the two? The importance of tradition and modernity in the path of development – How do we balance these things? Those are challenges that exist everywhere. Georgia wants to be a European country and strongly feels like a European one. When I studied Georgian history after I arrived, it struck me how keen Georgia was to be part of the European civilization for millennia. This is one of the great riches of this country. When you visit Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and so many other places, people proudly show this, so it is very much in the Georgia ethos, in Georgian reality, the possibility to find a place for everyone. I think this is one of the challenges coexisting in the 21st century. We also have the challenge of finding this way of accommodating our diversity in France. It is very much a challenge for all Europeans. Unity and diversity are very much European challenges, and are part of the European experience.
Some leading opposition parties consider the Georgian government illegal and refuse to work with them, even though the EU has no questions about their legitimacy. What would the Ambassador of France advise them to do?
Generally, I give this advice to everyone in Georgia. I admire, like, and find exciting in Georgia the way most of the people are attracted to the European civilization and European experience. This is something I encourage everyone to find. The strengths of contact between Georgians and Europeans could be between parliamentarians, lawyers contacting lawyers, artists contacting artists – it has been solid, and there are many ties. But these relations were interrupted by Covid, and I encourage people to find ways to revive those contacts again. I think this was very important for the general life balance in Georgia. This would be the sort of thing that will help everybody take the proper distance from the issue and find constructive ways forward, which is very important.
Interviewed by Georgia Today journalist, Erekle Poladishvili