What EU candidate status means to me: Dachi’s story
May 2, 2024

What EU candidate status means to me: Dachi’s story

As part of the European Youth Event (EYE) Berlin, Dachi Chikhasvhili, a YEA from Georgia, was invited to speak on a panel called “EU and The World: Foreign Affairs and Enlargement in Our Union.” Delivering a 15-minute speech to an audience of 150+ people, Dachi spoke about the mutual benefits of EU and Georgian cooperation and what EU candidate status means to him and his country. Here’s what he said….

Hello! Გამარჯობა (Gamarjoba)! My name is Dachi Chikhashvili, and I am a young Georgian, a student, and a passionate advocate for our integration into the European Union.

I think it’s useful for me to start by giving a short background about Georgia and talking about some of the key moments in EU-Georgian relations. 

You might have heard that Georgians frequently say that we are the path to “REJOINING the European Family” – What does this mean? Well, many people might not know that Georgia first got independence from the Russian Empire in 1918 and declared itself a democratic republic. We had a liberal constitution in which women were able to vote and be elected! Only a few years later in 1921 the Bolshevik army invaded Georgia and ended our short-lived independence. After being forced into the USSR, many Georgians, particularly business owners, poets, writers, and experts were subjected to violence and repression over the next 70+ years. 

Despite this, Georgians continued to fight for democracy and freedom. For example, In April 1989 – a year when many other Central and Eastern European countries were able to break free from communism, a pro-independence demonstration in Georgia was violently crushed by the Soviet Army, resulting in 21 deaths and hundreds of injuries. But Georgians never gave up and in 1991 we, along with many other former USSR republics, declared independence.  

Photo of Dachi speaking at EYE Berlin

As early as 2002, Georgians began talking about EU integration – the second President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze was influential for introducing this idea into the political and social discourse of the country. 

In 2009, the EU launched the Eastern Partnership, which established the foundations for a formal partnership between the EU and six of the EU’s Eastern Neighbour Countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, The Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, and of course… Georgia. Under this partnership, Initiatives like the Young European Ambassadors (that I’m part of) came to fruition.

In 2014, Georgia, along with Moldova and Ukraine, signed the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). Access to the EU single market creates huge opportunities for trade, investment and socio-cultural exchange. It has helped Georgia to increase economic integration, and supported political reforms, which have been so important for a country like ours that had to reinvent itself after the period of what we call the “Dark 90s”, where the economy experienced enormous challenges following the transition to capitalist markets. 

I remember the first time when I wanted to visit my student brother in Düsseldorf, in 2016. I had to go through the process of getting a visa to the EU which had been a huge barrier for Georgians. But in  2017, we received EU visa liberalisation and since then more than 500,000 Georgian citizens have travelled to the EU without a visa on a total of over 1 million trips! Free movement with the EU enables greater participation in youth mobility programmes like Erasmus+ and also for our dialogues and ideas to spread more easily. 

In 2016, the Georgian Constitution was amended to specifically include EU and NATO integration as a priority for Georgia’s Foreign Policy, a view shared by more than 80% of Georgians.

In 2023, we had a huge moment which you probably heard about – on 8 November 2023, the European Commission issued an official recommendation to grant candidate status to Georgia, which was then confirmed on 14 December 2023. Therefore, Georgia is now one of nine current EU candidate countries. 

I wish I had been in Georgia when we heard the news that Georgia was granted candidate status for EU membership. People just went to the streets and shared their joy and happiness with each other. Government officials, the President, the Ambassadors of the European countries were congratulating Georgian people on achieving such a huge step forward. Most importantly, this happiness was shared deeply across Georgian society: If I could make a small joke – it was like the same level of happiness as when the Georgian national football team qualified for the Euros tournament for the first time in its history! 

This important step in the EU journey is so meaningful to our people because as I explained, Georgia has a very long history of mobilising for EU integration, and receiving the candidate status is really proof of what people can do when they believe in something and work together to make it happen! 

This was really meaningful to us because in early 2023, thousands of Georgians took to the streets to demonstrate in support of democracy, rule of law, and stronger EU relations. You may have seen a photo – which is now quite a famous photo – it is of a Georgian woman waving the EU flag while she is being blasted by a water cannon. Other Georgians rushed to her side to hold her up while she waved the flag. This week, Georgians are still in the streets showing our government that what we want is our European future, and that we will not stop. The EU’s Candidate Status shows us that Europe recognises this and supports us. It has been a long journey, and there is still further to go.  

This is why I would like to share with you some reasons why we should support Georgia’s EU integration.

Firstly because we share the same values: You come to the EU with your mindset, your values and you voluntarily join this community of like-minded countries, and the Georgian people are committed to the same goals: the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. Moreover, Georgia’s vibrant culture, ancient history, the spirit of its people and of course our awesome food will add to the cultural diversity of the EU. 

Georgia is located in the heart of the Caucasus. Georgia’s achievement of candidate status offers new goals, hopes, opportunities, and perspectives for the countries in our neighbourhood. Georgia’s strategic location at the centre of the Caucasus will facilitate EU access to new connectivity projects by securing the Black Sea. Due to its geography, Georgia can serve as a safe corridor for transporting goods and energy from Europe to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.Although Georgia is roughly the size of Bavaria, it is one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world. He have subtropical, high alpine, and semi-desert climates. We are immensely grateful for the European Union’s support in raising awareness about climate change and through greater integration, the EU and Georgia can continue to work closely together in tackling global challenges.  For example the EU has aided Georgia by aligning our environmental laws with EU standards and by supporting projects that enhance natural parks, improve air quality, promote greener growth, and support waste and water management. Additionally, with the EU’s support, Georgia built the first ever wind farm in the Caucasus in 2015. This is a great example that underscores both Georgia and the  EU’s commitment to environmental issues and highlights how EU integration benefits both people and the planet.

Of course, I wouldn’t be able to finish without mentioning that across the European continent we are feeling the effects of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. But Russian aggression did not begin in 2022, nor in 2014 when Russia illegally annexed Crimea and started the war in the East of Ukraine. Many forget that in 2008, Russia also invaded Georgia and we are still feeling the consequences of this today as about 20% of our land is still occupied. The EU, Georgia, and Ukraine stand united, and integration will help further secure and stabilise our region. I am proud to be here with my Ukrainian colleague, Violetta, to express the deep gratitude of the Georgian people for Ukraine’s support. I strongly believe that the majority of Georgians recognise that without Ukraine’s heroic resistance, we would not even be discussing the possibility of Georgia’s European integration today. So in order to support Georgia, we must support Ukraine.

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