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Georgian government responds to the EPP

By Ana Robakidze
Monday, March 18
The summit of the European Peoples Party (EPP) was held in Brussels on March 14. EU and non-EU heads of state and government, as well as opposition leaders of the EPP, along with the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission -Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, participated in the summit. President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, also attended the summit, as the head of a non-EU state.

Earlier, on March 13 the EPP Presidency adopted a new declaration on Georgia. The official webpage of the party states that the declaration is a “conditional roadmap for concluding the Association Agreement.”

“In the light of the recent events in Georgia that have undermined its democratic standards, the President of the European People’s Party (EPP) made the following declaration which offers a roadmap on how to restore the process for the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration,” the web-page states.

The declaration provides recommendations to the Georgian government to improve the situation in three areas: democracy, the judiciary and the media.

The EPP “regrets that since the October 2012 Parliamentary elections and the first democratic transfer of power which followed, backward steps in the country touching on the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary and the media, as well as democratic standards have damaged the positive image of Georgia.”

While the EPP reaffirms its support “to the Euro-Atlantic integration process of Georgia" the party says that even though the negotiations about an Association Agreement with the EU are complete, its signature and its ratification by the EU may be ‘endangered’. “However, the presidency of the European People’s Party believes that through a comprehensive dialogue with the Georgian government, confidence between the European Union and Georgia can be restored and the obstacles overcome.”

The declaration says that the EPP “encourages the current administration to implement the remaining necessary reforms” and also underlines that “there cannot be a functioning democracy without a free and competitive level field for all political forces” and calls on the Georgian government to “to ensure that justice is not used selectively as a tool for the advancement of political goals.” According to the declaration, in order to keep democratic processes irreversible in Georgia, the government shall ensure the independence of the judiciary.

The Georgian government is highly concerned by the tone of the EPP and assessed the declaration as another attack on the new government. “The EPP recommendations are nothing but groundless accusations by the United National Movement (UNM), just in an alternative formulation” the government of Georgia says in the official press release published on March 15.

As a reply to the EPP declaration and roadmap on Georgia, the government prepared and released a memorandum. “The declaration is ambiguous, provides sharp criticism without providing any examples or proof,” the memorandum says, accusing the EPP in drawing conclusions without having studied the situation in Georgia. The preamble of the memorandum informs that the Georgian government will try to reply to some misunderstandings on which the EPP declaration has been based.

“The government remains loyal to the supremacy of law and does not carry out any political persecutions,” the memorandum says as a reply to EPP's concern over the functional democracy in the country, reminding the EPP that many international organizations have revealed numerous human rights violations during the period of Saakashvili's administration.

The government also comments on the recommendation of the EPP to ensure the independence of the judiciary and implementation of the Venice Commission’s recommendations on the draft amendments to the organic law on the Courts of general jurisdiction of Georgia. The memorandum says that many international organizations and human rights protectors have recognized the judiciary system of Georgia as the weakest institution, in a desperate need of fundamental reforms. The Georgian government has reaffirmed its readiness to implement the Venice Commission’s recommendations, as well as the recommendation of the special representative of the European Union, Thomas Hamerberg.

The State Minister of Euro-Atlantic Integration, Aleksi Petriashvili, explained that the government is ready to accept any remarks or recommendation, if they are based on true facts and circumstances. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maia Panjikidze, says the EPP declaration should not be accepted as the general opinion of Europe. “This is a particular viewpoint of a particular group,” Panjikidze said.

Representatives of the UNM commented on the memorandum of the government. MP Nugzar Tsiklauri said that the actions of the government will cause the isolation of the country from Europe.

Independent experts think that it is necessary to improve the communication with Europe. Expert of political science Kakha Gogolashvili believes that the EPP cannot be considered as a “rival” to Georgia, as it was one of our strongest supporters in Europe. “I do not think they will change their position in future, just because there is a new government in Georgia... but it is necessary to have better communication with them,” Gogolashvili said.