Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili delivered his fifth and final annual state of the nation address in the Parliament chamber in Kutaisi on May 2.
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and some government members were present in the legislature along with the Chairperson of the Supreme Court, Chairman of the Constitutional Court, officials from the Autonomous Republics of Abkhazia (in exile) and Adjara, as well as members of the Holy Synod and foreign diplomats.
Margvelashvili opened his 22-minute long address by summing up the performance of the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) party since 2012, when the GD coalition unseated the then ruling United National Movement.
The President stated in his introductory remarks that GD’s victory six years ago was “a step forward” for Georgia. “Peaceful transfer of power was an important step that has pushed the country forward.”
Margvelashvili then recalled his tenure as an education minister, stressing the GD government’s post-2012 reforms in education, agriculture and healthcare were “aimed at ordinary Georgian citizens, at improving their well-being.”
“Six years later, we can say without hesitation that the country has taken an important step forward in terms of its foreign policy, and that the state is no longer aggressive, but we have unfortunately weakened institutions and failed to establish a more democratic system,” the President stressed later.
He also pointed out that the country had entered the phase, similar to the two previous governments, “when power is concentrated in the authorities to the extent that it turns dangerous for democracy, and for the ruling party itself.”
“We do not have a luxury to reenter the era of dramatic changes. Democracy and division of power should be our response to these problems; we need to use our historical experience and the people should be allowed to participate in the democratic process, be it at the municipal or other levels,” Margvelashvili also noted.
Foreign Policy, Defense Reforms
On European integration, the President stressed “impressive results” had been achieved since 2012, listing the Association Agreement/DCFTA, visa liberalization and the recently-announced EU-Georgia high-level dialogue format as some of the examples.
Margvelashvili also touched upon the country’s progress on its NATO integration path. He said the country had remained an aspirant over the last six years, but added that the Alliance’s exercises in Georgia had “dramatically” increased in recent years.
“We have a Substantial NATO-Georgia Package, steps aimed at increasing our defense capabilities have intensified, and the defense reforms that have been carried out in Georgia, have strengthened the country’s defense capabilities,” he said.
The President then called for widening “the scale of the ongoing defense reforms” in Georgia. “Increasing [defense] funding would indeed be a right step, and would [further] increase the country’s security.”
Cooperation with the United States, according to Margvelashvili, has been “effective,” including in the fields of defense and trade. “Talks on a free trade agreement may be launched and deepened,” the President also noted. For that to happen, he went on, the “rights and interests of investors” needed to be upheld.
The President expressed his regret that the Georgian Dream government had “ignored” some of his initiatives, including the proposals for a Georgia Support Act by the U.S. Congress, and for appointing a Special Representative for Georgia.
Russia, Occupied Regions, Security
Giorgi Margvelashvili spoke on Russia at length, reiterating that the country’s diplomacy was “very successful” in dealing with Moscow. “Russia’s recognition policy of Abkhazia and the so-called South Ossetia has failed, and the international community has turned its back to the injustice that Moscow had been selling through lobbying their recognitions,” he stated.
President Margvelashvili also noted that the country’s policy of strategic patience was “right and adequate” in achieving “one of the country’s major objectives – to avoid provocations,” and not allow Russia, which “currently is in the aggressive stage of its development, to demonstrate its force upon Georgia.”
“We need to be particularly cautious, and I believe the policy of strategic patience is right in that respect,” the President noted. He, however, expressed his regret over “lack of [institutional] unity” in upholding the country’s interests.
“I cannot really understand the policy pursued against the presidency; the country that has such [troubled] relations with Russia, decided to abolish the National Security Council, the body that should have served as a discussion platform for defense-related matters,” Margvelashvili said.
“I was surprised when I announced the launch of consultations on the occupied regions in 2015, and all parties, all stakeholders showed up, except the Georgian Dream,” the President noted, adding that “neglecting and rejecting the issues that should be uniting us all,” was not correct. “Neglecting and weakening the institutions does not weaken individual politicians, it weakens the entire country,” he also quipped.
Democracy, Media, Constitutional Reform
Margvelashvili, who was at odds with the ruling party over the recent constitutional reform process, said amendments to the document “weakened both the country’s democracy and its institutions.”
The President criticized the GD for its decision to reduce the number of self-governing cities, for abolishing the presidential elections “against the will of the people,” and for postponing the transition to a fully proportional parliamentary representation to 2024.
He also accused the authorities of “intentionally weakening” the political parties in 2016. “No steps have been taken for strengthening the opposition; no precondition, no legislation has been introduced for a strong opposition,” he added.
The President, however, commended the GD government for changing the state’s “aggressive image.” “Positive changes are being implemented in the prison system, in criminal prosecution,” Margvelashvili also noted.
He, however, stressed the reforms should have been “much more comprehensive.” “The law enforcement system should have been freed from those, who have had a part in violence that took place before .”
“We were equipped exactly with this goal, mission and mandate to eliminate the violent practices when we assumed power [in 2012], but although there is no violence now, these individuals [are still there], and the system has not been depoliticized,” he also said.
President Margvelashvili touched upon the judiciary reforms as well, saying the authorities had postponed the reform process indefinitely through their “recent appointments and decisions.”
The President said media was freer than in the pre-2012 period, but added that “certain non-violent difficulties” were still created against media outlets. “Media representatives work under pressure, they are permanently expecting that they might face some difficulties.”
President Margvelashvili said the country had achieved “impressive results” in foreign trade. “When we assumed power, we enjoyed free trade with a combined market of 200 million people, and today, Georgia can export its products to a market of two billion people.”
Business, according to Margvelashvili, is freer than in the pre-2012 period. “Businesses are not pressured anymore and this is a very positive step,” he said, also commending the Government’s tax reforms and programs for supporting startup companies.
The President, however, stressed GD’s objective for social equality was “unfortunately not achieved.” Unemployment remains a problem as well, according to Giorgi Margvelashvili. “We are facing a situation, when our compatriots are ready to work in life-threatening conditions fearing not to lose their jobs,” he said.