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Tracking Georgia’s Reforms: An Analysis of 12 EU Conditionalities

On April 20, the document “The State of Implementation of 12 Conditionalities” was published. The study was prepared as part of the “EU Candidacy Status Meter” internal project of the Open Society Georgia Foundation in cooperation with eight other CSOs. The document focuses on each priority, describing to what extent they have been implemented and what remains to be done. According to the study the record is mixed, with one of the priorities has been fulfilled, two – mostly fulfilled, four – partially fulfilled, and five remain to be fulfilled.

Priorities to be fulfilled

De-polarization priority hasn’t been met and despite the expectations that it would be reduced, the political polarization has deepened in Georgia. The “Foreign Agents” draft law has further exacerbated the divide between the government, opposition, media, and civil society. The power-sharing arrangements in the parliament as agreed per April 19, 2021, Charles Michel’s agreement, and the reduction of the electoral threshold to 2% have not been implemented. Additionally, the court denied the postponement of Mikheil Saakashvili‘s sentence required for his medical treatment abroad. Issues, such as polarized rhetoric and high threshold for parliamentary appointments, persist.

In order to meet the expectations for an independent judiciary, the GD submitted a draft law on judicial reform to the Venice Commission, which noted that the law did not guarantee a comprehensive reform of the judiciary, including that of the High Council of Judges. The Commission also reiterated that its previous recommendations had not been taken into account. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have made similar claims, stating that Georgian Dream did not take into account most of their recommendations. While the procedure for the appointment of the Prosecutor General was changed by consensus between Georgian Dream and the main opposition parties, no agreement was reached on the appointment of the five non-members of the High Council of Justice and the vote was postponed. In addition, two of the judges, considered to be influential figures in the so-called “judiciary clan”, were appointed to the HCoJ before the reform of the appointment procedures.

The Venice Commission has identified significant shortcomings and expressed concerns that, if adopted, the law on de-oligarchization could be applied to the opposition, potentially violating fundamental rights protected under the ECHR. The Venice Commission calls for a systemic approach and emphasizes that the “personal approach,” as applied in the presented draft law, requires strong guarantees to prevent violations of human rights and the rule of law. Meanwhile, the Georgian Dream says that the law will apply to critical media and opposition parties supporters, but not to Bidzina Ivanishvili.

To meet the expectations for the implementation of the priority on media, the Georgian Dream has pledged to cooperate with the Prosecutor’s Office and provide access to information about ongoing investigations in cases of public interest. Parliament adopted amendments to the Broadcasting Law, citing the need to harmonize it with the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive. However, the law was criticized by civil society for damaging media freedom and being inconsistent with the EU Directive. In addition, the study highlights two challenges as regards media priority: the continued imprisonment of Nika Gvaramia and the ongoing litigation against David Kezerashvili by the Ministry of Defense, posing threat to the editorial independence of Formula TV. Among other problems identified by the report are the impunity of the organizers of the July 5, 2021 violent crack-down on media representatives, illegal surveillance over journalists and a guilty verdict in the criminal case against the founder of TV Pirveli.

As for the priority of involving CSOs in the implementation of the 12 priorities, alongside multiple levels of decision-making processes, despite GD’s promise to fulfil the requirement, NGOs had limited representation in parliamentary working groups whereas ISFED was blocked altogether from participating in an election working group. In addition, Georgian Dream continues the smear campaign against CSOs. CSOs recommendations in the process of the Ombudsman’s elections were not taken into account.

Partially fulfilled priorities 

Some of the elements of electoral and institutional reforms priorities were fulfilled, but not all. In February 2021, the Government of Georgia outlined its “Reform Strategy of Public Administration” and “Action Plan 2023-24”, which cover many of the envisaged areas. The changes to the rules of procedures regarding democratic oversight in Parliament and the electoral code, which included the electronic counting system of ballots, were initiated, and adopted by the “Georgian Dream”. However, the accountability of the government before the Parliament is still quite low, according to the CSOs. The Parliament was unable to elect a chairperson for the Central Election Commission. Some of the crucial joint recommendations by OSCE/ODIHR and Venice Commission, such as relating to the delimitation of electoral districts, changes to the media campaign regulations, preventive measures against the intimidation of voters, and others- have not been addressed. In addition the 5% electoral threshold stays unchanged, electoral blocks not allowed, which puts the opposition parties in unfavorable conditions before the 2024 parliamentary elections.

Among the partially fulfilled priorities is the one on anti-corruption measures. The Anti-Corruption Bureau was established, which is responsible for overseeing the implementation of policies and strategies related to anti-corruption efforts. The Head of the Bureau was appointed by the Prime Minister based on a competitive process, and the bureau will be accountable to the Parliament and interdepartmental anti-corruption council. However, CSOs cite the lack of the democratic accountability of the Bureau. Also the corruption investigations are still the competence of various investigative entities, which runs contrary to the principle of having key investigative anti-corruption functions in one agency. However, Georgian Dream did not follow the recommendation to grant the Anti-Corruption Bureau investigative functions. another identified challenge is that the anti-corruption agency remains in the State Security Service.

As for protection of the vulnerable groups, the study notes that to this day, no action has been taken against the organizers of the violent attacks against journalists on July 5, 2021 in Tbilisi. While the government recently elaborated and had the Parliament approve the “National Strategy for Human Rights Protection 2022-2030,” the LGBTQI community was excluded from the plan, and recommendations from civil society organizations were not considered. Additionally, special mechanisms to increase the political representation and participation of ethnic minorities have not been established.

The priority for choosing an independent ombudsperson has been partially fulfilled. For the fulfilment of this priority, GD established an assessment group consisting of civil society and academia members to evaluate applicants for the Public Defender position. Independent CSOs presented three candidates who received the highest evaluations and were supported by the opposition. However, GD conducted a negative campaign against the candidates and did not support any of them. Later, GD supported the candidacy of Vice-Chairman of Parliament Levan Ioseliani without involving the civil sector in the selection process. Ioseliani was ultimately elected as the Ombudsman with the support of some opposition representatives during the spring session.

Mostly/Fully fulfilled priorities 

The EU expects the Georgian government to strengthen the fight against organized crime and ensure accountability and oversight of law enforcement agencies. The study notes that Defense and Security Committee of the Parliament adopted a document containing 76 specific steps to be taken, with responsible bodies and guidelines for their fulfillment. Additionally, the parliament has adopted an Action Plan for combating organized crime from 2022-2024. However, the working group did not discuss the amendments to the parliament’s rules of procedure regarding the accountability and oversight of law enforcement agencies, citing that the work has already been completed under the second priority. The study underlines that the oversight and accountability of the law-enforcement still remain a challenge.

As for gender equality and fighting violence against women, almost all of the expected actions have been taken. The Parliament approved changes to gender equality laws with support from multiple parties. The government also issued a decree to compensate victims of domestic violence, eliminating the “victim status” as a precondition for accessing state services. However, there is still some work to be done. Thematic research is currently underway in the Parliament to harmonize the definition of rape with the Istanbul Convention, and this research is expected to be completed by April 27, 2023. Notably, the proposed changes are supported by opposition parties and civil society organizations.

The 11th priority, which required the Georgian Parliament to adopt laws for courts to proactively consider European Court of Human Rights judgments and to create a mechanism for implementing the legislation, is the only priority that has already been fulfilled. The Parliament successfully passed laws encouraging the Georgian courts to proactively consider ECHR judgments in their rulings, and a special service will provide to Georgian judges the analysis of the ECHR decisions. Civil society organizations were involved in the working group preparing the legislation and the amendments were supported by the opposition.

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