Georgia’s youth is taking European association to another level

In this article, we highlight the role of Germany and #EU2020DE in the framework of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) with a focus on Georgia and our ongoing project #GEOYOUTH2020 – ‘Manifesto Engaging Youth in Politics in Georgia’, while discussing the role of funding for civil society cooperation to support democratisation processes in the region.

A Comment by AK Glück and Frauke Seebass

 

Going East: a historical abstract 

In 2004, the EU’s enlargement project saw its biggest surge up to 25 members, when Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus, and in 2007 Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union. Further enlargement prospects with the Western Balkan Six (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia) have long been in the making, but a lack of progress in candidate countries, as well as discord among member states continue to slow down European integration. 

For a new way to engage with countries in the Eastern periphery of the continent, the Eastern Partnership Initiative was launched in 2009 as a distinct dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). A dual approach combines multilateral cooperation in the region with bilateral relations between individual EaP countries as well as the EU. In 2017 at the 5th Eastern Partnership Summit, an action plan of 20 Deliverables for 2020 was endorsed making civil society organisations ultimately the key target and natural ally for the implementation of reform measures (“stronger economy, stronger governance, stronger connectivity, stronger society”). 

During her visit to Tbilisi in 2018, Chancellor Angela Merkel has cautiously suggested an accession perspective for the EaP frontrunners Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, once the Western Balkans would be fully integrated. Even though her view is not consensus among European leaders – not even among her own party. But during its current presidency of the Council of the European Union, Germany seems after all more eager to strengthen the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy. For example, foreign minister Heiko Maas has just announced that there will be a first accession conference with North Macedonia before the end of the year.

 

The German soft-power foreign policy approach

Since 2014, the German Federal Foreign Office has been promoting “a fundamental free, democratic and pluralist order” actively in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, and Russia. Strengthening pluralism is one of the main goals of civil society cooperation, empowering citizens to participate in politics based on the principles of democracy: free speech, free elections, and popular sovereignty. 

And the timing of the EaP initiative was no coincidence. Countries like Poland and Sweden were traditionally chief in promoting closer ties with Europe’s Eastern neighbours, while relations with Russia were considered more important in Berlin. But that approach changed after the 2008 Russian-Georgian war and especially since the annexation of Crimea. Then-foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier initiated a comprehensive Review of foreign policy, coining a new self-perception in a changing world – Germany’s New Responsibility.

Drawing on vast networks of embassies and state-related organisations around the world (such as business ventures, cultural institutions, education and training partnerships, and foundations), Germany pursues a three pillar model of foreign policy: diplomacy, economic and cultural relations, and education policy. Interaction with diverse stakeholders of civil society from NGOs to media, to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) applies around the world. That support is usually flanked by bilateral and multilateral diplomatic efforts, e.g. as part of EU negotiations.

 

A closer look at Georgia

Often considered a ‘front-runner’ among the Eastern Partnership countries, Georgia’s “irreversible Europeanisation” remains a model for other countries and a litmus test of the EU’s normative power in its neighborhood. Nevertheless, Georgia continues to be criticised by the European Parliament for alleged elite corruption, insufficient human rights protection and other issues. Strikingly, the increasing contestation of European values within the EU is being used by the Georgian far-right to legitimise their own anti-liberal politics, thus fueling an increasingly hostile polarisation in the country.

However, recent polls indicate a positive image of the EU in the EaP countries. And it is no surprise that the strongest supporters in the region can be found among young Georgians, especially those with a high education living in bigger cities: While the average support among all EaP is at 52 percent, among this demographic group 81 percent confide in the European Union. 

In Georgia, the 18-35 year olds make up a rather low 12 percent of the population, and as anywhere in the world, the Caucasus Barometer reveals that Georgian youth appears to be much more active online than older generations. They are more tolerant towards immigration, and have much more contact with foreigners living in Georgia; they want fewer children than previous generations, and are more tolerant of divorce. They are also highly interested in temporary emigration and more interested in permanent emigration than older people. These figures are certainly related to high youth unemployment, which stands at around 30 percent (down from 40 percent in 2009).

Although the Georgian youth is more inclined to signing offline and online petitions, they are also twice more likely not to vote in elections than older generations. Moreover, they discuss politics and current events with others much less than older people. And compared to Germany, Georgia’s youth is less active in political parties, which remain unstable and unsteady organisations.

 

Manifesto Engaging Young People in Politics in Georgia

In response to this ongoing trend, Polis180 and the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP) have once again joined forces and initiated #GEOYOUTH2020, a project aimed at enhancing political participation of young Georgians ahead of the 2020 general elections (31. Oct). During 10 regional youth summits across the country, young people identified challenges and solution approaches to strengthen the interaction with political parties. These were combined in a Youth Manifesto, which was then presented and handed over to the competing political parties in Tbilisi last September.

The zealous participation clearly demonstrated that #GEOYOUTH2020 has struck a chord, while at the same time exposing an existential threat to democratisation in Georgia and democracies everywhere: Youth engagement is key for reforms towards pluralistic societies, but traditional channels of political participation increasingly alienate young people across the continent

Therefore, it is essential that this generation – the first one to grow up in a democratic system – is prepared for the discourses constituting democratic pluralism. It also resonates with the Georgian National Youth Policy Concept for 2020 – 2030 (For, With and By Young People), naming as its first priority “Active Participation of Young People in Public Life and Democratic Processes”.

 

Civil society support as a remedy to geopolitical deadlock? 

In #GEOYOUTH2020, the Polis180 grassroots approach helped in creating a network of young people who now have a better understanding of their own powers and interests in the democratic system – and can unite to advocate for these. While our project is only a small step, we reveal the potential of such engagement – and the risks of non-participation.

The funding line for Increased Cooperation with Civil Society in the Eastern Partnership Countries and Russia provided by the Federal Foreign Office therefore aligns well with German foreign policy principles and the common EU approach to the Eastern Partners as outlined above. Measures implemented are tangible for those involved, and promote international cooperation and European rapprochement directly. Civil society organisations work directly with people on the ground, and identify needs and measures they can later address in cooperation with partners from Germany.

However, given the short funding cycles of maximum one year, usually shortened by administrative procedures and waiting periods, projects like these still lack financial security and therefore sustainability. A possible remedy could be the extension of project cycles beyond a single year, including multi-annual budgeting on the side of the ministry. 

Another approach could be to reserve a budget for follow-up activities of successful projects, supporting initiatives with meaningful impact to build on their results and to foster sustainable long term impact. This would also reduce the administrative costs at the Federal Foreign Office itself, which has increased considerably with the ever-growing budget of this particular funding line, especially under the current circumstances. A strategic consultation for improved and enhanced cooperation has started between the Foreign Office and civil society representatives, and is currently ongoing.

 

During Germany’s 2020 EU Council presidency, we will publish several articles in English and German analysing some of the German priorities in the EU, e.g. migration and asylum, climate change, how to deal with threats to free speech, recovery plan for Europe, Brexit, digitisation, multilateralism and rule of law. Until the end of the year, when Portugal will take over the presidency for 6 months. 

This project is supported by the German Foreign Office. 

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The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s & OpenTTN’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180.

“Vake Park, Tbilisi” image via Frauke Seebass

 

 

Kernaussagen 

Die Annäherung zwischen Georgien und der EU liegt in den Händen der Jugend

Die Europäische Integration wurde im Jahr 2004 durch den Beitritt von Estland, Lettland, Litauen, Malta, Polen, Slowakei, Slowenien, Tschechien, Ungarn, Zypern, und 2007 Bulgarien & Rumänien um ein Vielfaches vertieft. Mit den Westalkanstaaten Albanien, Bosnien und Herzegowina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Nordmazedonien und Serbien werden seit einigen Jahren Beitrittsgespräche unternommen. Im Rahmen der Östlichen Partnerschaft werden seit 2009 auch mit Armenien, Aserbaidschan, Belarus, Georgien, Moldawien, Ukraine und Russland multilaterale sowie bilaterale Beziehungen aufgebaut. 

Dabei steht die Zusammenarbeit der Zivilgesellschaft im Vordergrund. Deutschlands außenpolitischer Ansatz in Ländern wie Georgien unterstreicht seit 2014, was der damalige Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier im Review Prozess eingeleitet hat. Nämlich die Verantwortung Deutschlands in der Welt neu zu denken, und den Multilateralismus wie auch die gemeinsame Wertegemeinschaft in und außerhalb Europas zu stärken. Die Ziele werden natürlich auch in der aktuellen deutschen Ratspräsidentschaft deutlich.

Unser Beispiel hier ist Georgien. Das Land wird als Vorzeigebeispiel der Östlichen Partnerschaft gesehen. Es sind vor allem junge Leute, die die Annäherung an den Westen begrüßen. Sie sind digital fitter, toleranter gegenüber Einwanderung, sie haben eher Kontakt zu ausländischen Mitbürger*innen, die in Georgien leben. Sie wollen aber auch weniger Kinder und stehen Scheidungen toleranter gegenüber. Die junge Generation (18-35 Jahre) in Georgien macht nur 12 Prozent der Bevölkerung aus. Die Jugendarbeitslosigkeit beträgt 30 Prozent (runter von 40 Prozent in 2009). An Wahlen nehmen sie eher seltener Teil. 

In Anbetracht dieser Entwicklungen, hat Polis180 und das Georgian Institute of Politics #GEOYOUTH2020 ins Leben gerufen. Unser Projekt, geleitet von Frauke Seebass, Anna Kiknadze und Renata Skardžiūtė-Kereselidze, unterstützt die politische Partizipation von jungen Georgier*innen in den parlamentarischen Wahlen am 31. Oktober 2020. Im Rahmen von 10 regionalen Jugendgipfeln wurden aktuelle Herausforderungen und Lösungsansätze in einem Youth Manifesto zusammengetragen, und anschließend den antretenden Parteien vergangenen September in Tiflis vorgestellt. 

Unser grassroots-Ansatz fördert grundsätzlich den Austausch mit anderen jungen Menschen und Entscheidungsträger*innen aus der ganzen Welt. Und natürlich ist unser Projekt nur ein kleiner Schritt in der zivilgesellschaftlichen Zusammenarbeit. Jedoch ist uns auch bewusst, dass befristete Projektfinanzierungen von einem Jahr nicht das stemmen können, was wir uns erhoffen. Hilfreich wären beispielsweise Finanzierungen seitens der Ministerien, die über ein Jahr hinausgehen, um Planungssicherheiten zu gewährleisten durch etwa mehrjährige institutionelle Partnerschaften. Weitere Initiativen werden aktuell diskutiert.

A1

AK studied journalism, history and political science in London. She is a co-founder & board member of Polis180 & edits the Polis Blog. She is currently conducting a blog project on Germany’s 2020 EU Council Presidency.

Frauke-180x180

Frauke is a board member of Polis180 and active in the programme Perspective East. She works mainly on the Western Balkans, and the countries of the Eastern Partnership in the framework of EU Neighbourhood and Enlargement Policy.

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