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PACE President Daems pays official visit to Tbilisi

By Natalia Kochiashvili
Thursday, July 29
President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Rik Daems arrived in Georgia for a 2-day official visit on July 27. He held meetings with the PM Gharibashvili and Foreign Affairs Minister Davit Zalkaliani, Parliament Speaker Kuchava, and Representatives of Opposition Parties.

During the meeting with government officials, the focus was on the positive role of Georgia in the Caucasus and the successful mediation of the PM of Georgia, which resulted in the release of 15 Armenian citizens and the delivery of important maps of mined territories to Azerbaijan.

“The parliamentary delegations of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia will try to resolve the issues in which Georgia will play a leading role,” Daems said.

Talks also concerned the agreement reached through the mediation of Charles Michel. At all meetings, Daems drew focus on the implementation of the agreement. He has urged all Georgian political parties to practically implement the April 19 EU-mediated agreement which includes large-scale reforms including in the electoral and judiciary fields.

Daems said that the EU-mediated agreement, which solved a 6-month political crisis in Georgia, should be ‘fully implemented in practice without further delay’ and that will push Georgia towards ‘full European integration.'

“Stop the game and put it into practice, because its components are extremely important,” Daems said.

He also underscored that the recommendations and opinions of the Venice Commission, a body with a high worldwide reputation for constitutional reform and the electoral system, are always needed when carrying out reforms and the cases where they were not taken into account are grounds for debate.

Gharibashvili noted that the ruling team has fulfilled the provisions of the agreement and the process continues, yet underscored that a large part of the opposition has not signed the Charles Michel Agreement, which is an obstacle to stabilizing and calming the political situation.

The parties also discussed the 2021 local government elections. The PM noted that the government is motivated to hold the elections in a calm and transparent environment and addressed Daems with a request to send as many observers as possible to prevent anyone from speculating on the elections for any reason.

Daems said that he has ‘never heard’ of municipal elections and ‘something like a referendum’ being conducted simultaneously as is planned in Georgia for the October 2 municipal elections.

“I do not know how it will work, it's a bit strange, you are going to elect mayors and it is somewhat a referendum between the opposition and the government. It's interesting, but I'm not going to interfere.”

Per the EU-mediated agreement, if the ruling party receives less than 43% of total votes in the municipal elections, repeat parliamentary elections must be held in the country, as the opposition has demanded this since the 2020 parliamentary elections. However, as Georgian Dream announced on July 28, the ruling party exited the agreement and announced it would be annulled. Recall that the opposition United National Movement, European Georgia, and the Labour parties have not signed the agreement in the first place.

The EU-mediated agreement was proposed by the European Council President Charles Michel to help the Georgian political parties resolve a political crisis that began after the 2020 parliamentary elections when Georgian opposition parties refused to take up their seats in parliament because they said the elections were rigged by Georgian Dream. The Temporary Investigatory Commission of the Parliament concluded otherwise - note that major opposition parties have boycotted this commission as well.

The meeting also focused on the events of July 5-6. “If anyone has a perception that the government is going against media freedom, I will be against it. Freedom of speech and of the press is important,” the PACE president commented, clarifying that there is a difference between your own opinion and what is happening. The press can have an opinion, but it must be clear that it is an opinion and not just about facts. According to him, violence is completely unacceptable and it is unfortunate what happened to the media. Violence in the streets should be controlled as much as possible, but the authorities are not always able to do so fully.

Daems believes that all the details of why this happened, who encouraged it, and for what reason will be clarified and all perpetrators will be held accountable. This is something that society needs to talk about to make it never happen again. According to him, the press has a huge responsibility to try to ease the polarization on one hand and gov’t has the duty to protect all citizens, including journalists to do their job.

Parties also spoke about the situation in the occupied territories of Georgia. The PM stressed the importance of intensifying efforts to secure the release of the illegally detained Irakli Bebua. He also said it was important for the international community to continue to speak out about the Russian Federation's illegal actions and human rights abuses in the occupied regions of Georgia and to take appropriate steps to ensure that the Russian Federation fulfills its political and legal obligations, including the ceasefire agreement. The necessity of entering international monitoring missions in the regions of Georgia occupied by Russia was also emphasized.

The PM noted that during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Georgian government made every effort to assist citizens living in occupied Abkhazia, including free medical treatment and admission to universities without examinations. The head of government expressed concern that the de facto government of occupied Tskhinvali was refusing humanitarian aid offered by the central government.

He also reviewed the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of Georgia and called it very successful. In addition, Daems clarified that the Georgian delegation to the PACE will be joined by 4 members from the opposition by the beginning of September. At the end of the speech, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly expressed his strong support for Georgia, including the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and thanked the Minister of FA for the close cooperation, including the warm hospitality and the meeting.