On May 19, European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) previewed the implementation of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement (AA) based on the draft report produced by MEP Sven Mikser (S&D, Estonia).
While hailing Georgia as an important partner for the European Union and praising some of the reforms the country implemented, MEPs identified some policy areas of concern, including “shortcomings” in the rule of law, judicial reform and good governance. Against this backdrop, in their speeches, the MEPs also largely focused on the implementation of electoral reform envisaged by the March 8 deal.
In his introductory remarks, MEP Mikser welcomed the release of opposition leaders Gigi Ugulava and Irakli Okruashvili, and expressed hope that the March 8 electoral reform agreement will be implemented “in its entirety” without delay.
The chair of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, David McAllister (EPP, Germany) said he welcomes “that political prisoners have been released on the 15th of May.”
He added that “this is an important aspect of implementing the political agreement of 8th of march, but one political prisoner, prominent one, Giorgi Rurua, is still waiting to be released.”
Welcoming the release of Ugulava and Okruashvili, MEP Anna Fotyga (ECR, Poland) also mentioned Rurua, “independent businessman” and “an independent media owner” who remains under pre-trial custody and said charges against him are “simply false ones.”
Stressing that “Georgia is our partner of utmost importance,” she expressed hope for “a peaceful run up to the October elections.”
Seconding Fotyga, MEP Mick Wallace (GUE/NGL, Ireland) was brief in saying that he would also like to see “free and fair elections” in Georgia in autumn.
Alongside with hailing Georgia’s “impressive reform record,” Marina Kaljurand (S&D, Estonia), the Chair of the delegation to the EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee, said “further approximation is still needed in some areas like labor law, environment protection, fight against discrimination of vulnerable groups.”
MEP Kaljurand said she was assured by a ruling Georgian Dream party MP that the discussion over the electoral reform [in the parliament] will resume as soon as the state of emergency will be lifted in Georgia.
Michael Gahler (EPP, Germany) expressed hope that the constitutional amendment process will be concluded by the end of June. “I think that is very important and it gives us the chance and the hope to continue our very comprehensive cooperation,” he stated.
Noting that “we are heard there [in Georgia],” Raphael Glucksmann (France, S&D) said “the agreement is not fulfilled and we have to make clear to the Georgian authorities that these elections are a litmus test for the European path of Georgia and that it has to be free and fair from prosecution [of] politicians and also of media.”
“For Georgia to move on, I would encourage them to launch full investigation into violence of [law] enforcement authorities against protestors and opposition politicians,” said MEP Markéta Gregorová (GREENS-EFA/Czech Republic).
She further emphasized “the crucial role in democratic oversight of civil society organizations” and urged the Commission and the Council to support these efforts “politically, technically and financially.”
In her remarks, Viola Von Cramon-Taubadel (Greens/EFA, Germany) said “Georgia was always the motto for the reforms in the region and it is also important to remind the Georgian government that they should take up the role as a reform model in the region.”
Comments by the EEAS, DG NEAR
Congratulating Georgia for “one of the most effective responses we have seen globally” to the COVID-19 crisis, Lawrence Meredith, Director for Neighborhood East in Directorate General NEAR, praised the country’s economic reforms. He then however highlighted “two issues” on the “political side”- judicial reform and elections – that Georgia needs to address. In this context, he stressed that “all steps” should be taken to “fully implement” March 8 Agreement.
Luc Devigne, Director for Russia, Eastern partnership, Central Asia and OSCE, and Deputy Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia at the European External Action Service (EEAS), noted that he sees the EU-Georgia Association Agreement as a success story. He however stressed that there are also “a number of shortcomings” in Georgia, such as in good governance and rule of law policy areas.