Author: Teona Lavrelashvili, Policy Officer, European Commission, DG NEAR
For so many years I have been interested in Euro-Parties and my experiences of the recent years have only strengthened my interest. I believe that the relations between Georgian and European parties are of utmost importance in terms of the process of Europeanization of Georgia. This especially concerns the Euro-Parties.
It is becoming more and more important for the Georgian political parties to cooperate with the similar European organizations. One of the reasons for this, one the one hand is that the relations of Georgia with Europe have deepened and the parties have started looking for their international roles, whilst on the other hand, the Georgian parties have realized that international connections represent an important aspect of building a party, especially when, among other advantages, it can also be a source of international political legitimation.
It would probably be worth it to describe the current situation in a couple of words. First of all we need to differentiate political parties of the European countries (local ones such as CDU in Germany, or PP in Spain and so on) and the political parties on the EU level, which are also known as the Euro-Parties. These are the unions of parties, or party families that are formed on an ideological basis. In this regard, right wing, and center-right parties make up one family, left wing parties make another with the conservative, green and other movements also being separate. There are a total of 16 Euro-Parties registered in the European Union, three of which are the European People’s Party (EPP), Party of European Socialists (PES) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) with the strongest representation. Euro-Parties are separate legal entities which, apart from other sources, are also funded from the European Union’s budget. It must be pointed out that the role of the Euro-Parties in terms of formulating the EU policies is growing gradually, doing so parallel to the growth of the role of the European Parliament.
Now let us talk a little about the relations of Georgian political parties and Euro-Parties, how they started and how they are being developed. The process of becoming a member is preceded by the so-called fact finding mission, which assesses to what degree the party’s structure, procedures and ideology are compatible with that of the Euro-Party. These are the formal procedures that influence the relative democratization of Georgian parties.
The first Georgian party which became a member of a Euro-Party (with an observing status in EPP) was the United National Movement in 2008. In 2017, the EPP was joined by another Georgian party, European Georgia – Movement for Liberty, with a similar status.
It should also be pointed out that the Georgian parties consider other Georgian parties as their competitors if they become the member of the same European party family that they are in. The New Rights Party tried multiple times to approximate with the European People’s Party after the UNM became a member, yet fruitlessly.
Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia is also an observing member of the Party of European Socialists. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, on the other hand, brings together two Georgian parties: the Republican Party of Georgia since 2007 and the Free Democrats since 2012. It must be pointed out that ALDE is the only Euro-Party which allows full membership for the political parties coming from the non-member states of the European Union.
Membership in the Euro-Parties presents multiple interesting opportunities to the Georgian parties; however, a part of these opportunities has not been used fully and Georgian parties are expected to develop this potential themselves.
For example, Georgian parties participate in the work of the congresses and working groups of Euro-Parties, also contributing to seminars and trainings, which are held by a Euro-Party (or its respective groups in the European Parliament). It is especially important to participate in the congresses of the Euro-Parties, which are attended by the Prime Ministers of European Countries and other high-level politicians. Hence, participating in the so-called networking provides new opportunities for the Georgian parties to develop and gain certain legitimacy on the national level.
The problems preventing a more effective cooperation of the Georgian parties and Euro-Parties are definitely worth discussing. One of the major problems is that the motivations for inter-party cooperation are different among the Georgian parties and the Euro-Parties. Apart from legitimation and the growth of authority in the eyes of the people, it is sometimes also important for the Georgian parties to gain additional resources and technical support in terms of increasing the capacities of the party, whilst for the opposition parties it is no less important to have some kind of protection in the case of the conflict with the government. Euro-Parties, on the other hand, are primarily concerned with increasing their international influence and also boosting their chances of affecting policies on the European level.
The second problem is connected with the fact that the Georgian parties often do not have clearly formed ideologies and programs and there is often a large divide between the formal documents and their actual practices. Euro-Parties are making some effort to help Georgian parties to resolve these flaws; however, their influence is largely nominal.
Cooperation is possible through various formats; however, only some of them are being used at this stage. One part of these formats is the connections between respective women’s and youth organizations. For example, the Women’s Organization of the United National Movement is a member of the EPP Women’s Organization, whilst neither the Georgian Dream, nor the Republicans (or Free Democrats) have utilized this opportunity.
As for the youth organizations, there is an interesting trend here. Part of the Georgian youth organizations conduct their work independently from their respective “central” parties. For example, Young Socialists of Georgia is a member of the Young Socialists of Europe, whilst the Socialist Party of Georgia no longer exists and was not part of any Euro-Party even during its existence. It is interesting to note that youth wing of the Georgian Dream is not a part of this organization and yet it became the observing member of the International Union of Young Socialists from 2016.
Young Rights is also a member of the Youth Organization of the EPP, whilst the New Rights Party itself is not a member of the EPP.
And yet, what can be done better? What other, new forms of cooperation can be put forward? I believe that the Georgian politicians should use innovative approaches, which merits the analysis of the situation from two different levels – from Tbilisi and from Brussels. For example, the medium of party research is completely unused. Euro-Parties have their own research centers such as the Wilfred Martens Centre for European Studies (WMCES) of the European People’s Party and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) of the Party of European Socialists. It is important for the Georgian parties to find modes of cooperation, be it joint projects or creating similar research centers in their midst.
In addition, Georgian parties have the opportunity of getting involved in the formation of the Eastern policies of the European Union more actively. Georgian parties can achieve the adoption of the declarations important for Georgia during the political summits such as the Eastern Partnership Forum, NATO summits and so on. Euro-Parties will, on the other hand, start advocating these points in the Council of the European Union.
Finally, I would like to once again underline the fact that the deepening of the cooperation between the Georgian political parties and Euro-Parties is one of the major facilitating mechanisms of the Georgian political project and I expect that this process will gather more and more intensity over time.