Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili on Wednesday urged the European Union to grant her country EU candidate status, arguing it would help European security, boost the bloc's regional influence and help democracy in Georgia.
In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine applied for candidate status of the 27-nation bloc, but the EU granted that status only to Ukraine and Moldova.
EU governments said they were ready to accept Georgia as a candidate as well, but the country first needed to speed up reforms in areas such as the rule of law, the independence of justice and media freedom.
"European candidate status is not only about essential democratic recommendations, but also about the future European security architecture. It is about long term stability," Zourabichvili told the European Parliament in a speech.
"Candidate status would cement Georgia's role as a pro- European force in the region," she said. "Europe understands the importance of this region for the new world that is emerging. It knows that Georgia is not only a democratic and European stronghold, but a central element of a secure Black Sea and a stable Caucasus region," she said.
Zourabichvili noted Georgia was also key to new connectivity projects over the Black Sea and through the Caucasus with the Caspian Sea and Central Asia at a time when the EU is looking to diversify its sources of oil and gas away from Russia.
"Promoting Georgia's membership in the European Union is part of a greater strategic vision regarding the new European order that will emerge from what I'm confident will be a Ukrainian victory," she said, stressing Georgia's solidarity with Kyiv against Russia's invasion.
Russia is viewed as an enemy by many Georgians, after Moscow backed separatists in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the 1990s. Hundreds of thousands of Georgians remain internally displaced within the country after several bouts of bloody ethnic conflict.
But Georgia's government has in recent years faced criticism from observers, who say the country is drifting towards authoritarianism.
"Granting us candidates status would serve the democratic future and help lay the ground for all these (EU) recommendations to be fully implemented," she said.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski, Editing by William Maclean)