In August Georgian attention was drawn to the looming presidential elections and the leaders of the race that are already defined. Meanwhile, during her first trip to the South Caucasus the German chancellor made essential statements regarding the country’s foreign policy prospects.
Domestic Policy: President Margvelashvili not running for re-election
“I am not going to take part in the presidential race”, said the president of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili during his meeting with students. According to him, he will continue to serve Georgia in a different way. His words did not come as a surprise. He has a certain ratings, but this was not enough to create and maintain the motivation behind.
The parliamentary majority refused to nominate their own candidate at all. It looks like they will support an “independent” candidate – a former minister of foreign affairs Salome Zurabishvili. Zurabishvili was born in France, her grandfather left Georgia in the 1920s. She was a seasoned French diplomat when Mikhail Saakashvili invited her to Georgia and appointed her a minister. She has quite a thick accent, makes mistakes when speaks Georgian, and is still a French citizen. Currently her plea to renounce French citizenship is being processed in Paris, since the president of Georgia cannot hold double citizenship.
During Saakashvili’s presidency the relations between him and Zurabishvili dramatically deteriorated. Zurabishvili has already accused “Misha” of initiating the August war with Russia. By advocating such a position she won the graces of Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, former prime-minister and incumbent head of “Georgian Dream” ruling party.
Saakashvili’s pick is also the former minister of foreign affairs Giorgi Vashadze. It seems like the final battle will involve these two candidates. However, there is still quite a lot of time for many mistakes and surprises of the electoral race until the end of October.
Economy: New procedure for obtaining residence permits
In 2018 the number of foreigners in Georgia exceeded 80 thousand people. In 2012-2016 over 34 thousand of properties with ownership rights were registered by foreigners. According to the current legislation, a residence permit may be issued on the grounds of investing over 300 thousand lari ($120 thousand) or owning a property on the territory of Georgia the market value of which is over $35 thousand.
However, the procedure of issuing Georgian residence permits to foreigners is undergoing changes. The amendments will include the following: legal conditions for obtaining a permit will be investing $300 thousand or owning a property worth over $100 thousand. According to the draft bill, investors will not be immediately provided with a permanent residence permit. First,they will need to obtain a residence permit valid for 5 years. The authors of the draft bill state that increasing the amount of investment and property value needed to obtain a residence permit will stimulate investment flow.
According to the statistics, 53% of Georgian properties bought by foreigners belong to Russian citizens followed by Ukrainians, Armenians, Azerbaijani and Israeli citizens. The majority of residence permits in recent years were issued to the citizens of Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Ukraine, India, China and Iran.
Foreign Policy: Merkel visiting Caucasus.
The German chancellor Angela Merkel made her first visit to the South Caucasus. When persistently asked several times by students why she avoided the word “occupation” talking about the regions of Tskhinvali and Abkhazia, the chancellor replied that “yes, this is occupation” and this was precisely her answer.
This statement made by Angela Merkel resulted in a round of applause coming from Tbilisi National University students. On the same day Merkel visited the South Ossetia administrative border where the Russian “border control line” has a barbed wire fence. The chancellor also had a chance to use field glasses and see the nearby Russian military base.
Earlier during a joint briefing with the prime minister, Merkel made a statement regarding Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic prospects. The chancellor does not see Georgia becoming a NATO member fast. As for the European prospects, Georgia and Ukraine are the most prospective members following the West Balkans.
“I want to say very openly that I am very glad and supportive of Georgia’s European ambitions. This is why the Association Agreement and Free Trade Agreement exist, but from the European side I cannot give you hasty promises. It means that a candidate country must meet certain criteria for the EU to accept a new member, and as for the EU, it should in its turn be able to accept new countries. Currently the West Balkan countries are considered for prospective membership. So we will probably become 35 including the Balkan countries. There should be a flexible structure of developing a stronger and better coordinated cooperation especially in the sphere of European security since it is very difficult to make any decisions in the long term. Georgia and Ukraine will be the next step deriving from their vividly expressed European prospects”.
In Georgia Merkel talked quite a lot on democracy, energy and Russia. The students also asked about building a German-Russian gas pipeline. In particular, the question had to do with guarantees received by Merkel during her meeting with the President of Russia regarding him not using the pipeline for his own benefit.
“Gas comes to us from Great Britain, Holland, Norway and Russia. Radically this will not change with the Nord Stream 1 and 2 projects. Of course, Ukraine will remain, from this point of view, a transit country,” said Merkel.
Merkel’s visit to the South Caucasus is especially interesting given the context of the Convention on legal status of the Caspian Sea, the absence of which stood in the way of launching a pipeline on the bottom of the sea for 22 years. Both in Tbilisi and Baku the chancellor highlighted the prospects of both Shah Deniz and Trans-Caspian pipeline including Turkmenistan, fourth in the world in its resource capacity. This will dramatically increase not only Europe’s energy security, but also the significance of the South Caucasus.