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The News in Brief

Tuesday, January 23
Constitutional Amendments Change the Grounds for Restricting Access to Public Information

In December the Parliament of Georgia adopted new constitutional amendments. The amendments were initially aimed at incorporating critical remarks issued by the Venice Commission on a number of specific provisions. However, changes were made to additional provisions as well, including those on access to public information.

The amendment was initiated by the Ministry of Justice and would significantly lower the constitutional standard of access to public information. The Venice Commission had previously reviewed these provisions and not issued any negative comments. The Ministry also did not criticize this article in the spring of 2017, when the constitutional reform was ongoing.

Following parliamentary discussions and strong public outrage, the Parliament did not fully accept the Ministry’s proposal and adopted a different wording. According to the Speaker of Parliament, the proposal was turned down because it set a lower constitutional standard. Instead, the provision was changed to specify the grounds for restricting the right to access to public information, which were already set elsewhere in the legislation, on the constitutional level.

Constitutional amendments adopted by the second hearing provide a better definition of a state secret and specify the grounds for when public information may be withheld for the purpose of protecting state secrets. These are state security, public safety and litigation interests. While these grounds, upon good faith interpretation, may be considered legitimate for restricting access to public information, we hope that their inclusion in the Constitution does not create a future risk of excessive, disproportionate restriction of the right at the legislative level.

The amendment that was finally adopted by the Parliament is ultimately less dangerous than its original version proposed by the Ministry of Justice, which envisioned much more general and broad grounds for restricting access to public information. More specifically, the Ministry proposed adding confidentiality as a basis for restricting access considered by many as a vague and unforeseeable term that would extend the scope of restriction of access to public information in practice, and therefore significantly damage the development of democratic processes in the country.

Parliamentary discussions were also accompanied by procedural problems. Even though civil society representatives did have the opportunity to express their opinion during parliamentary committee discussions, the accelerated pace of adopting changes and introducing new issues made it extremely difficult to hold substantiated discussions on important issues.

State bodies must assume greater responsibility when examining the country’s Constitution and must not allow for future constitutional amendments to be elaborated and adopted in such accelerated manner.

Counterfeit Georgian wine removed from sales in Ukraine

A batch of counterfeit Georgian wine has been removed from sales in Ukraine and the offender was fined by the Ukrainian Antimonopoly Service, announces the Georgian National Wine Agency.

In 2016, the National Wine Agency received information that Ukrainian companies had illegally imitated Georgian wines and used Georgian protected appellation wine names illegally. In particular, non-Georgian wines were sold on the Ukrainian market, the symbols and marks of which were associated with Georgia. Georgian wine labels on the bottles misled consumers about the country of the wine’s origin,” read a press release from the Georgian National Wine Agency.

Companies operating in Ukraine create unfair competition conditions for Georgian wine producing companies and thus directly influence the export potential of Georgian wine. With regard to this fact, the National Wine Agency, within the mandate granted to it by the Government of Georgia, addressed the Ukrainian Antimonopoly Committee which initiated and launched an investigation against Ukrainian company LLC KAMIANKA GLOBAL WINE,” said the Agency.

By the end of 2017 the Ukrainian Antimonopoly Committee acknowledged that the actions of the Ukrainian company as a violation of the Ukrainian law on "protection against dishonest competition" and imposed a penalty of about $242,265.

At the same time, KAMIANKA GLOBAL WINE has been banned for implementing similar actions on the imitation of Georgian wine in the future.