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European Parliament approves report on Georgia’s AA implementation

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Thursday, September 17
The European Parliament (EP) has approved a report on the implementation of the Association Agreement between Georgia and the EU. At the plenary session, 552 MEPs voted in favor of the document, with 61 against and 78 abstentions.

In the report, the EP welcomed the deepening EU-Georgia relations and reiterated the need to continue implementing reforms under AA and DCFTA, while reiterating support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The report highlighted that “Georgia continues to face significant external challenges, notably a worsening situation in its occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia and cyber-attacks linked to Russian actors.”

The document positively assesses Georgia’s progress in the adoption of reforms and legislation, as well as the March 8 agreement between key political parties, however, describes the situation of the judiciary as “worrisome due to shortcomings of the selection procedure of judges and a series of cases against the opposition, which raised concerns about the impartiality of the legal system.”

EP commended political parties for the signing of the March 8 agreement, establishing an “electoral system in line with Venice Commission recommendations.” President Zurabishvili’s decision to pardon two opposition leaders is also assessed as an important step towards easing tensions. The report calls on all parties to ensure that “all outstanding cases of politicized judicial processes are resolved without delay.”

Noting that the October elections are “pivotal in confirming Georgia’s democratic credentials,” EP calls on the Georgian authorities to “fully address the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations” and to review legislation to address “shortcomings and challenges, such as misuse of public resources for campaigning, improper campaign financing methods, impunity for violence, dissemination of hate speech and xenophobia, vote-buying and the ability of voters, especially civil servants, to vote free from pressure and fear of retribution.”

EP gladly noted that the EU accounts for 27% of Georgia’s total trade and underlined the importance of structural reforms to “further improve” the investment climate in Georgia. EP also welcomed 900 000 visa-free visits made by Georgian citizens, but due to the increasing number of ‘unfounded’ asylum requests, calls on the Member States to recognize Georgia as a safe country of origin in order to “speed up the processing of such requests.”

As for the rule of law, good governance and media freedom, EP expressed concern with recent court cases against opposition politicians, “which have undermined trust between the ruling party and the opposition, may adversely affect AA/DCFTA-related reforms and run counter to the letter and spirit of the AA.” The report calls on Georgian authorities to “refrain from pursuing any politically-motivated cases.”

The report called for an investigation into all incidents of “excessive use of force” by Georgian law enforcement against “peaceful protesters and journalists, including during the June 2019 protests.”

EP stressed that selection procedures for judges should be revised to ensure the full implementation of the Venice Commission recommendations, assessing the recent selection procedure of Supreme Court judges as “not entirely in line with the recommendations and marred by serious shortcomings.”

EP also stressed the need for clear provisions regulating free and paid political ads in Georgian media and called on the authorities to “refrain from interfering in media freedom or pursuing politically motivated judicial cases against media owners.”

EP condemned “constant violations by the Russian Federation, which exercises effective control over the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali/South Ossetia.” also expressing concern over the continuing “borderization” across occupation lines.

The report was debated in the European Parliament two days before the final vote. On September 14th, MEPs debated their report assessing the latest developments regarding the EU’s AA with Georgia in a Plenary Session at the European Parliament.

Kati Piri, (Netherlands, Labour Party, part of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats) who addressed the Parliament on behalf of Sven Mikser, the rapporteur recalled, that that the AA is a comprehensive framework that covers a wide range of policy areas from political dialogue, rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms all the way to economic and trade relations. According to Piri, if the COVID-19 situation allows for it, the European Parliament should also dispatch an Election Observation Mission to Georgia. The report commends Georgia’s internationally acclaimed response to COVID-19 outbreak. MEP highlighted the exemplary cooperation between the EU and Georgia in responding to this crisis. The report strongly condemns the ongoing provocations and the ‘borderization’ activities that continue along the Administrative Boundary Line.

Nacho Sanchez Amor (Spain, Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats) announced he was sorry that the opposition in the Parliament didn’t support constitutional and electoral reform that the EU has contributed to and that benefits the majority party as well as minority parties in the system. He added that the OSCE is sending a normal EOM and the European Parliament and the EU should do the same and support domestic missions as well because they are working brilliantly in the country.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy pointed out three important issues, the electoral context, “Now we expect effective implementation of these laws(new electoral system) and respect for the highest democratic standards;” the justice reform,‘it is important for the Georgian Parliament to revisit the selection process of Supreme Court Judges, which undermines transparent and genuine, the merit-based nomination process’; and the conflicts, “let me also reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”

Marina Kaljurand (Estonia, S&D) welcomed the recent electoral reform in line with the ODIHR recommendations and expressed hope that it will contribute to easing the polarization in Georgia’s political and media landscape. She also recognized the promotion of women’s representation, urging all political parties, especially and including the opposition, to do their utmost to guarantee peaceful, fair and free elections on October 31st.

Michael Gahler (Germany, EPP/Christian Democrats) noted that the political landscape, as in many states in transition, is polarized. Approximation with the EU is a view that is shared by many and that is why it is to be welcomed that a new election system has been developed.

Urmas Paet (Estonia, Renew Europe Group) noted that Georgian authorities should refrain from pressuring any politically motivated judicial cases and harassing opposition politicians.

Anna Fotyga (Poland, European Conservatives and Reformists) appealed to free Giorgi Rurua, ‘thus fulfilling the March 8 agreement reached with all opposition leaders.’

Viola von Cramon-Taubadel (Germany, Greens/European Free Alliance) praised Georgia's efforts in fighting Covid-19 and welcomed the new electoral code, adding that ‘Internally, the shadow rule of billionaire Ivanishvili threatens democracy. Externally Russia’s continued hybrid war threatens the country’s sovereignty through military occupation, creeping annexation and cyber-attacks… A level playing field should be guaranteed for all political actors, while the judicial system should become more transparent.”

Helmut Geuking (Germany, European Conservatives and Reformists) said, that “we have to bring Georgia into our European home, because we know what the situation is with Russia, we know what the situation is with Crimea and Ukraine and we know that part of Georgia is occupied. So, we need to bring Georgia to Europe as soon as possible and make Georgia a fully-fledged member.”

Borrell concluded: “We will also not shy away from reminding Georgia of the need to deliver on the full reform agenda. The problems at their borders should not be an excuse for solving the problems that only the Georgian people can solve. The EU through our AA will continue to support Georgia on this day and ever.”