Georgians Have High Hopes but Little Information about the Association Agreement with the EU
While Georgians overwhelmingly see EU integration in a positive light, their focus rests primarily on the problem of stubbornly high unemployment, which could be profoundly impacted by the conditions of the AA. The 2013 Caucasus Barometer confirmed a series of studies emphasizing public awareness of the unemployment problem, finding that 54% of adults in Georgia view it as the “most important issue facing Georgia,” dwarfing such options as “unsolved regional conflicts” and “problematic relations with Russia.” That should not come as a surprise, as recent numbers from the National Statistics Office of Georgia give the unemployment rate at 14.6%, high by almost any standard, while some studies have found that the actual figure is upwards of 30%.
EU-Georgia relations and unemployment are closely intertwined because the AA includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), meaning that in addition to dissolving tariffs on all imports from EU member states the country will have to adopt EU regulatory standards on products. Academic opinions are split as to whether this will be helpful or harmful to the employment situation. In the words of Vato Levaja of the Free University of Tbilisi, “we need to adjust to the EU regulations, which are, to put it in a nutshell, the luxury of a richer community…you have to pay for it.” This adjustment could be especially difficult for agriculture producers who must bear the financial burden of meeting stricter food safety standards. Some manufacturers will also need to make costly investments in order to improve the quality of their products. Higher operating costs combined with increased foreign competition (due to the removal of tariffs) could hurt the profitability of some firms, putting downward pressure on employment, at least in the short term.
Proponents of the agreement argue that by improving its regulatory standards Georgia will attract more foreign investment and be able to export products to a wider range of foreign markets. More stringent regulation means better products and more productive industries, thereby increasing national wealth and employment opportunities. That may well happen, but the process will be difficult and likely only bear fruit in the long-term. However, as Georgians see unemployment as the biggest issue facing the country it is important that citizens become better informed about the Association Agreement’s economic implications. While Georgians tend to expect positive outcomes from integration the jury is out on whether deeper ties with the EU will help expand employment opportunities.
For additional insights relating to Georgian attitudes toward EU integration refer to this July post concerning expectations for the Association Agreement or take a look at our data using the CRRC’s Online Data Analysis tool. The website of the EU Delegation to Georgia offers a wealth of information on the Association Agreement.
In August 2012 CRRC launched the study of Georgia’s Workforce Development system, commissioned by the World Bank. Document review and key informant interviews have been used as main research methods in this study. On 19th of December, the World Bank office in Tbilisi hosted a workshop which aimed at presenting and validating the preliminary finding...
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