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Updated: European Parliament Adopts Report on Georgia’s AA Implementation

On 14 December, the European Parliament (EP) adopted the report on the implementation of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement (AA) with 430 votes in favor and 52 against.

Below are the takeaways from the report:

Political Dialogue and Elections:

The European Parliament “regrets that deep polarization continues to be the defining feature of Georgia’s political environment” and called on political stakeholders to “refrain from any divisive and aggressive rhetoric […] unite their forces in order to avoid jeopardizing their key goal of Georgia’s EU membership through the implementation of ambitious democratic, judicial and anti-corruption reforms.”

To that end, the EP emphasized the “need to build and increase trust among all political and institutional stakeholders, as well as between them and the Georgian people,” while underscoring, however, that the ruling party “holds most of the tools and bears the main responsibility to deliver on that.”

The resolution reiterated that the EU-broked April 19 Agreement continues to present a “pathway toward strengthening democracy and the rule of law and reducing polarization in Georgia and are therefore reflected in the 2021-2027 EU-Georgia Association Agenda,” and expressed regret that Georgian Dream left the agreement while calling on all political forces to honor the agreement.

In relation to the Court’s decision to convict Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, the leaders of the opposition Lelo for Georgia party, the EP emphasized that the “use of the court’s verdict to strip Japaridze of his parliamentary mandate is a clear demonstration of politicized justice” and stressed that “further convictions of political leaders will contradict the declared intentions to reduce polarization.”

Anti-Western Disinformation

Significantly, the report called on Georgian political leaders to halt “aggressive verbal attacks” on MEPs and representatives of Euro-Atlantic partners like the EU and the U.S., as well as the “baseless and harmful rhetoric” about attempts by international partners to open up a second front in Georgia.

It noted with concern the rising anti-Western propaganda, disinformation, and rhetoric in Georgia, “which are at odds with the undiminished and extraordinarily high public support for the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration.”

Elections

In reference to elections, the report called on authorities to complete the country’s electoral reforms and address “persistent shortcomings” in electoral campaigns and the conduct of elections in time for the upcoming 2024 Parliamentary elections, and in line with the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. In particular, it urged authorities to resolve issues of “pressure on voters and candidates by public officials and electoral contestants and allegations of intimidation, coercion, and vote-buying, and on the misuse of administrative resources during the electoral process.”

Notably, in relation to electoral reforms, the report expressed its regret that the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) was excluded from participating in the electoral reforms working group by the Georgian Dream party and called for its inclusion.

Excessive Influence and De-oligarchization

The report also underscored the need to “eliminate the excessive influence of vested interests in the economic, political and public life” – in line with the European Commission’s 12 recommendations – and specifically recommended that Georgia address the “excessive influence of vested interests, notably of the oligarch and former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili…” The resolution called for the Council and democratic partners to “take appropriate measures, including imposing personal sanctions on Ivanishvili and all those individuals enabling and responsible for the deterioration of the democratic political process.”

Notably, the EP did welcome the decision to send the de-oligarchization law to the Venice Commission and urged Parliament to take their recommendations into account.

Mikheil Saakashvili

The resolution expressed “grave concern” regarding the toxicology report released by the American group of experts and physicians which “concluded that many of the pathological symptoms displayed by Mikheil Saakashvili are the result of heavy metal poisoning, contributing to his rapidly declining health.” Regarding the ex-President, it also reiterated that the authorities bear full responsibility for his health, and emphasized that they “must be held accountable should anything happen to him.”

The resolution invited President Salome Zurabishvili to use her constitutional powers to pardon Saakashvili and called on the Vice President of the European Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to “become actively involved” in securing Saakashvili’s release and reiterated its call to Georgian authorities to release him for treatment abroad.

The Rule of Law, Good Governance, and Media Freedom:

Rule of Law

The EP “regrets” that the reform of the judiciary has “stalled and even regressed in several key areas” and called on authorities to address the shortcomings identified by the Venice Commission in the nomination and appointment of judges at all levels, especially to the Supreme Court, and of the Prosecutor-General to fully align the process with European standards.

The EP also called for a “thorough reform” of the High Council of Justice (HCoJ), the body overseeing Georgia’s judiciary, before the remaining members of the HCoJ are appointed, “the procedure for which should be transparent, merit-based and in line with European standards.”

To that end, they stressed that “hasty and non-transparent actions in making key appointments or institutional changes lead to the further politicization of the judiciary, which should urgently be addressed.”

The EP also expressed regret over the fact that Supreme Court appointments were made before recommendations were taken into account and despite repeated calls for Georgia to do so.

Notably, the EP also expressed concern about “continued stage capture and the stagnation of the fight against corruption,” and reiterated its call on authorities to “step up” the fight against corruption and organized crime. The European Parliament called on authorities to “strengthen the independence of its Anti-Corruption Agency,” particularly in relation to high-level corruption cases.

The report likewise urged authorities to “effectively investigate” the illegal wiretapping revealed in September 2021, while pointing out that it included the communications of the head of the EU Delegation to Georgia. Similarly, the EP expressed concern over the amendments in the Criminal Procedure Code of Georgia which expanded the number of crimes for which covert investigations actions are permitted and the duration of these actions.

Press Freedoms

Regarding press freedoms, the EP expressed “serious concern” that despite Georgia’s “solid” legal framework for guaranteeing freedom of expression and media, there was a “deterioration in the media environment and the safety of journalists in 2021.”

The EP condemned cases of “intimidation, threats, and violence against and persecution of journalists,” along with the increasing number of criminal investigations against media workers and owners, and called on authorities to “respond promptly to and effectively investigate allegations of illegal interference and abuse of power” towards the media.

In line with its conclusions, it urged authorities to align Georgian laws on media freedom such as the Law on Electronic Communications with international standards and the Venice Commission’s recommendations. It also called on Georgia to ensure media freedom, including editorial independence, transparent media ownership, and pluralistic and impartial coverage of political views in the work of both private and “in particular” public broadcasters, especially during elections.

The EP also called on authorities to “stop politically motivated” criminal cases against media workers and to review such cases that remain ongoing, recalling in that context, the case of Mtavari Arkhi TV Chief Nika Gvaramia, and those against the directors/founders of Formula TV and TV Pirveli. To that end, the resolution reiterated its invitation to President Zurabishvili to pardon Gvaramia once again.

Additionally, the report noted that the EP “expects the Georgian Government and authorities to take their obligation to provide safety to those sheltering from authoritarian regimes seriously, following reports that non-Georgian journalists have experienced harassment and government interference at the Georgian border.”

Respect for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms:

LGBTQ Community and Women’s Rights

The EP resolution condemned the homophobic pogroms of July 5-6 2021, and “strongly denounced” the lack of diligent investigations into or prosecutions of those responsible for organizing the violence. It called on the Prosecutor-General’s office to conduct a “comprehensive and effective investigation” into all of the organizers and perpetrators of the violence in light of the “overwhelming evidence gathered by the media, civil society, and the Public Defender.”

Addressing this year’s Pride, the EP resolution noted that it took place indoors and that police reacted in time to prevent violent groups from interfering and urged authorities to uphold the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression and to protect the safety of demonstrators.

The resolution called on authorities to ensure the overall protection of the human rights of women and other vulnerable groups like the LGBTQ community and ethnic minorities and to fully implement human rights and anti-discrimination legislation. The EP likewise urged the adoption of the 2021-2030 human rights strategy and action plan.

State Inspector’s Service, Public Defender

The EP resolution also reiterated the importance of independent oversight of Georgia’s state institutions and expressed “serious concern” in that sense about the dismantling of the State Inspector’s Service. Additionally, it highlighted the positive role of Nino Lomjaria, the now former Public Defender, in human rights protection, good governance, the rule of law, and the safeguarding of media freedom.

Regarding the Public Defender, the resolution also condemned regular attempts by authorities to “undermine the independence” of the institution and to “cast doubts on the integrity of the office and its staff.”

Additionally, it welcomed the establishment of an independent board to review Public Defender candidates and called on the parliamentary majority to select one of the top three candidates put forward by the board “without delay.”

The EP resolution emphasized the “crucial role” of civil society organizations in democratic oversight and called on the European Commission and Member States to provide support to CSOs as well as independent media.

It also called on Georgia to restrict the use of “strategic lawsuits against public participation targeting human rights defenders and media representatives and thereby inhibiting their critical and independent work.”

Notably, the resolution expressed concern regarding the number of Georgian asylum seekers in the EU and called on authorities to increase cooperation with European partners on the issue.

Territorial Integrity and Security:

War in Ukraine

The EP resolution underscored that Russia’s war against Ukraine “calls for unity and solidarity on the part of the international community, as this will also be decisive for the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity, which the international community did not defend with sufficient strength in 2008.”

Significantly, it welcomed the “strong response” of the Georgian society in support of Ukraine,” paid tribute to soldiers of the Georgian Legion, and called on authorities to align themselves with relevant statements by EU representatives and with EU sanctions.

The resolution also called on authorities to ensure that international sanctions against Russia are not circumvented via Georgia and expressed concern about reports that “Russian people and entities are allegedly using Georgia to bypass Western sanctions.” To that end, it called on EU institutions to “further examine” such reports, including one by the Ukrainian Corruption Agency about Ivanishvili’s “ties to Russia.” To that end, it emphasized that if such ties are confirmed, sanctions should be applied to Ivanishvili and his associates.

On Ivanishvili, it also recalled that “Ivanishvili’s family and his close associates have been sanctioned by Ukraine for their links to the Kremlin, which is behind the ambiguous position of the current Government of Georgia towards Russia.”

Russian Occupation of Georgia

The resolution also reiterated “steadfast support” for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called for the continuation of efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the conflict and an end to the Russian occupation of Georgia. Recognizing the “challenging context” it encouraged Georgia to further engage in constructive dialogue with populations of occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia to “build trust and confidence with a view to sustainable conflict resolution.”

It also reiterated that it “strongly condemns” the illegal occupation of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/S. Ossetia, as well as ongoing borderization, the “dire” security, humanitarian, and human rights situation, while “strongly” denouncing the discrimination against ethnic Georgians in Gali and Akhalgori, including violation of their right to education in their mother tongue, illegal detentions, kidnappings, and restrictions on freedom of movement. Additionally, it denounced the violation of the right to return for internally displaced persons and refugees.

In that context, it reiterated its call on Russia to fulfill its international obligations under the EU-mediated ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008 “notably its obligations to withdraw all its military and security personnel from Georgia’s occupied territories and to allow the establishment of international security mechanisms therein, and t allow the EUMM unhindered access…”

Economic and Trade Relations:

The EP resolution welcomed Georgia’s “positive track record” in aligning its laws and building a fully functioning market economy and called for the opportunities presented by the Economic and Investment Plan to be used to build a “dynamic and resilient economy that is ready to be integrated into the EU single market.” It welcomed that the EU is Georgia’s leading trade partner, with around 21% of Georgia’s total trade being with the Union.

It also called on the Commission to review the DCFTA’s potential to increase trade volumes between the EU and Georgia through “coordinated assistance, with a focus on support for small and medium-sized enterprises and structural reforms…”

Note: This article was altered on 15 December at 11:26 in accordance with the final version of the text.

Read the full report here.

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This post is also available in: ქართული (Georgian) Русский (Russian)

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