Georgia’s Culture Minister, Vice Prime Minister Tea Tsulukiani and Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili have hit out at the European People’s Party (EPP), after its Political Assembly adopted a critical statement suggested by the United National Movement, and retained an honorary seat to imprisoned ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili at the May 31-June 1 congress.
Minister Tsulukiani said on June 1 that the EPP was among several groups whose “key goal” is for Georgia “as a country and a nation to be unsuccessful on the path toward Europe” and not to receive the status of an EU membership candidate.
“The EPP still believes [Saakashvili] to be a big democrat, all the while this person raided the people on Rustaveli Avenue…” Minister Tsulukiani claimed, referring to the abuse of power charges against the ex-President in the 2007 anti-government protests case.
Meanwhile, Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili in his criticism of the EPP appealed to Saakashvili’s conviction over pardoning the former Interior Ministry officials sentenced in the high-profile murder case of Sandro Girgvliani.
“From the high tribunes of the EPP, they ridiculed the idea of justice, murdered Girgvliani, his family, the European Court of Human Rights ruling [in the Gigvliani case], Georgian people’s wish for justice to be enforced and fundamental European Value, the rule of law,” Speaker Papuashvili said on June 1.
He added that “the patronage and protection that we see from the European People’s Party of Mikheil Saakashvili is not a [demonstration of] European value.”
Imprisoned ex-President Saakashvili denies all charges, as well as the two guilty verdicts against him as politically motivated. MORE.
The Georgian Dream officials’ accusations come as the EPP has publicly stated its support for the EU candidacy of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
“The EPP Group believes that now, at a time when the Russian war against Ukraine is affecting the security of the whole region, granting candidate status is an important political signal,” says a press release for the June 2 European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee meeting.
EPP Political Assembly, Party Congress
The critical statement, suggested by the UNM and adopted by the EPP Political Assembly on May 30 had voiced concern over the “trend of democratic backsliding in Georgia,” adding that “the country’s informal, oligarchic rule has undermined good governance and resulted in the continued erosion of democratic institutions.”
Besides, it had criticized the “conviction, arrest, and subsequent inhuman, degrading treatment” of ex-President Saakashvili and the imprisonment of government-critical Mtavari Arkhi TV chief Nika Gvaramia.
Also, during the first day of the group’s Congress on May 31, then-EPP President Donald Tusk — in his speech before formally stepping down from the post — mentioned Saakashvili as “our old Georgian friend who is still in prison” and read out the former President’s letter.
“I have devoted all my life to fighting against the evil embodied today by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Georgian Dream founder, ex-PM Bidzina] Ivanishvili that undermines the foundations of our European community, freedom, democracy, and rule of law,” Saakashvili’s letter said.
During the EPP Congress, Georgian key opposition leader, chair of the UNM, Nika Melia also made an address on May 31, calling on the EU to “open its door to Georgia” and urging the bloc to stand by with Georgia “to defeat the state capture.”
The UNM has been an observer member of the EPP since 2008.
The EPP is the oldest and the largest group in the European Parliament. The center-right group brings together some of the major parties from countries across Europe. Among its ranks, the EPP also has European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.
The developments come as Georgia currently awaits the Europan Commission’s opinion on its bid and the EU’s subsequent decision on candidacy.
The ruling Georgian Dream party, faced with mounting international and local concerns over rule of law and judiciary independence, among others, has claimed the UNM and “its foreign lobbyists” are working against Georgia’s EU membership bid.
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