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EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee Holds Twelfth Meeting

The 12th session of the EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee (PAC) was held on June 8 at the European Parliament in Brussels. The permanent delegations of the Georgian government and parliament, as well as the European Parliament attended the session, led by co-chairs, MP Maka Botchorishvili, who heads the Georgian Parliament’s European Integration Committee, and MEP Marina Kaljurand, Chairperson of the EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee.

Co-Chair MEP Kaljurand’s statement 

During her introductory speech, MEP Marina Kaljurand stressed the significance of the PAC debates and the need for parliamentary scrutiny in implementing the Association Agreement, highlighting the impending decision by the European Council regarding Georgia’s candidate status.

Kaljurand acknowledged two European Parliament resolutions on media freedom, journalist safety in Georgia, and the situation of former President Mikheil Saakashvili. “There is no point in hiding that the relations between Georgian authorities and the Western partners, and notably with the European Parliament, have been quite stormy and I can even say chaotic, in the past year,” said Kaljurand.

While citing the results of a public opinion survey commissioned by IRI, which indicated that 89% of respondents expressed strong support for EU integration, Kaljurand noted: “The Georgian government and the parliamentary majority must deliver now on their promises, not for us, but first and foremost for their own citizens who truly aspire to join the EU,” adding that “there is a unique window of opportunity and we don’t know how long it’s open, it may close quickly, so this historical chance has to be taken.“

She emphasized the importance of open and honest dialogue among members of the European Parliament, stating that they must address the unpleasant aspects of Georgian decisions while maintaining a high regard for Georgia.

Kaljurand drew attention to the statement made by Shalva Papuashvili, the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, who claimed that 80% of the 12 priorities had been implemented and hoped for a “fair assessment” from the EU. MEP pointed out that reports from civil society representatives and the Commission indicated that these reforms were “incomplete, patchy and often superficial.” She stressed that Georgia is falling behind Ukraine and Moldova in some key areas.

In discussing the challenges facing the EU-Georgian relationship, she underscored the weariness felt by members of the European Parliament, colleagues in other European institutions, and Western partners. She stated, “[They] are tired of hearing office holders and members of the ruling party claim about our so-called efforts to drag Georgia into opening a so-called “second front” against Russia. This is a Kremlin propaganda textbook. This is not true. We do not wish that for Georgia and the Georgian people. None of your friends have ever wished to drag you into another bloody war. We remember the war of 2008.”

Speaking about the factors contributing to Georgia’s falling behind Ukraine and Moldova, MEP said this gap stemmed from political injustice and a lack of judicial independence. She highlighted instances of intimidation and violence against independent journalists, hate speech targeting Western diplomats, Members of the European Parliament, and civil society representatives. She also mentioned incidents of police brutality against peaceful demonstrators of March 7-9 rallies and Prime Minister Garibashvili’s anti-LGBTQ statements made in Budapest. Additionally, she cited the government’s ambiguous stance towards Russia and its refusal to join sanctions against it, along with the recent resumption of direct flights between Russia and Georgia.

MEP Kaljurand spoke about the responsibility of the opposition, too, emphasizing that their decision not to join the parliament in 2019 and not participate in the mediation process was a significant mistake. She further noted: “Their participation in parliamentary work and constructive contribution to the tackling of the twelve priorities remains essential too.”

During the discussions, Marina Kaljurand responded to a statement made by a Georgian MP, attributing the further deepening of polarization in Georgia to the statements made at the meeting, including the statements of the MEPs that criticized the Georgian Government’s anti-Western rhetoric. Kaljurand referred to an interview given by the Georgian Prime Minister to “Imedi TV,” where he made negative remarks about the EP, blaming it for its alleged desire to open a “second front” in Georgia. Kaljurand highlighted that these statements, along with others, contribute to the perception of anti-Western rhetoric and accusations against European institutions. She addressed the MPs, stating: “My advice is not to blame others; look into the mirror and see what you can do better.”

Co-Chair MP Botchorishvili’s statement

The meeting’s Co-Chair, Maka Botchorishvili, emphasized the significance of the Association Agreements as a vital tool for EU integration. She highlighted that since 2014, Georgia made notable progress on its path to the EU, implementing crucial reforms that have transformed the country into an appealing destination, bringing it closer to the EU.

Botchorishvili said that most of the EU’s 12 priorities have already been addressed. However, she underscored that the decision not to grant Georgia candidate status, unlike Ukraine and Moldova, “left space for uncertainty and speculations.”

In the current geopolitical context, with continued Russian aggression challenging the security of the EU and the unjustified war in Ukraine creating additional vulnerability in the region, Botchorishvili highlighted the continuing reality of Russia’s illegal military presence in Georgia’s occupied territories. She stressed that this reality places Georgia in a unique situation within Europe.

In addition, she stated that despite the fragile and vulnerable security environment, Georgia stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people as they fight for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of their country. “We do our best to demonstrate support for collective actions and efforts in support of Ukraine and strictly follow the implementation of our own policy of ensuring that circumvention of sanctions does not happen through Georgia.”

Addressing the relationship between the EU and Georgia, she noted the detrimental impact of three European Parliament Resolutions last year, emphasizing their “negative role” in creating misleading perceptions about Georgia. She pointed out that these resolutions contained “significant inaccuracies,” widening the gap between the EU and Georgia.

Regarding reforms, MP Botchorishvili said many were implemented, claiming improved human rights protection and the rule of law. She noted that “independent international organizations” have recognized these achievements and argued this deserves “commendation rather than neglect.” However, she stressed: “We also know that much needs to be done by government and society as well, but we cannot achieve anything alone, without trust-based partnership and cooperation with the EU and its institutions, including the European Parliament.”

Concluding her speech, she expressed the expectation that the EU would take a significant step this year “based on fair assessment and grant candidate status and encourage Georgia to move forward on its European path.”

Discussed issues

During the committee session, the parties discussed the cooperation agenda between Georgia and the European Union, the progress of implementing the 12 recommendations set by the European Commission, and the execution of the Georgia-EU Association Agreement, which includes the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreement.

Georgian Delegates’ Interventions

The State Minister for Reconciliation and Civil Equality, Tea Akhvlediani responded to the references made by MEPs to statements by the Prime Minister of Georgia, stressing that the quotes had been “taken out of context” and clarifying that the Prime Minister’s statements highlighted civil equality, the protection of minority rights, and the violation of international law in the 2008 military aggression against Georgia, which aimed at preventing its integration into the European Union and NATO. Akhvlediani said she was disappointed with the negative interpretation of Georgia’s leaders’ statements and said she hoped for “a more positive perspective” on the government’s efforts and commitment to meet the EU criteria.

Deputy Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Genadi Arveladze, stated that Georgia is fully committed to the long road of joining the European Union, ready to undertake all necessary efforts, and emphasized the implementation of reforms to deepen trade relations and align with EU standards, highlighting the successes achieved, including increased trade turnover and market access for Georgian products, while emphasizing the importance of showcasing these success stories for the DCFTA and EU integration process.

Deputy Foreign Minister, Teimuraz Janjalia emphasized that Georgia regards the recognition of its European perspective as a strategic decision, that Georgia eagerly anticipates this important EU decision by the end of the year, while also expecting EU accession negotiations to begin with Georgia along with Ukraine and Moldova, avoiding negative differentiation and polarization.

First Deputy Chairperson of Committee on European Integration, Levan Karumidze expressed disappointment that the long-standing requests from the Georgian side to include the conditionality in EU financial aid programs, which would envisage withholding support from countries recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, have been consistently ignored. Karumidze said: “Georgia does not join the statements about the countries that have not recognized the independence of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, thus trying to minimize the risks of recognition.” Karumidze expressed confidence that resolving the conditionality issue would significantly improve alignment of Georgia with EU official statements, potentially surpassing a 75% indicator [it was said during the session, that the current rate of alignment stands at 28% – eds.]

The Ambassador of Georgia to the European Union, Vakhtang Makharoblishvili, highlighted the European Union’s significant assistance in Georgia’s non-recognition policy and joint support for resolutions, while expressing the need for the European Union to explicitly address the issue of occupation in its official documents.

As a member of the Parliament of Georgia from the largest opposition party UNM, Ana Tsitlidze emphasized the historical struggle for freedom, the Russian occupation of 20% of Georgian territory, and the country’s aspiration for European integration, despite anti-European sentiments from the government. She highlights the sacrifices made, the defense of the European future, and the need for Georgia to become an EU member, while addressing the oligarchic system, corruption, political prisoners, and the lack of a free judicial system and elections, all underscoring the importance of a strong and democratic Georgia for both the country and the European Union.

The member of the political group “People’s Power” Eka Sepashvili emphasized the significance of Georgia-EU relations for the country’s development, society, and as Georgia’s historical choice, highlighting the shared values such as freedom of expression, human rights, and democratic principles, while addressing Georgia’s support for Ukraine in the war, adherence to international sanctions against Russia, successful actions by customs services to intercept sanctioned shipments, and positive assessments of Georgia’s commitment to sanctions in the US State Department’s report.

Meanwhile, Maia Bitadze, a member of the “Georgian Dream” party, reiterated Georgia’s commitment to European integration, expressed disappointment with certain statements made during the session that contributed to “polarization rather than depolarization”, highlighted the challenges faced by Georgia due to the Russian occupation, emphasized Georgia’s efforts to protect itself from fake headlines, and emphasized the country’s desire for peace and stability while working towards EU membership.

Giorgi Chakvetadze, a member of the Georgian Dream party, addressed the case of former president Saakashvili, emphasizing the country’s comprehensive National Human Rights Strategy that ensures human rights protection. Chakvetadze suggested that Saakashvili may be intentionally exaggerating problems with his health to secure his release, pointing out that the European Court of Human Rights had rejected the transfer request. He emphasized that the outcome of a single case should not affect Georgia’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic system.

Herman Szabó, a member of the opposition party “Girchi,” addressed the issue of police brutality, citing the arrest of Georgian rappers for a song criticizing the police. He also criticized the election process of three non-judge members to the High Council of Justice, describing it as “shady” and expressing his refusal to recognize those individuals as legitimately elected members of the council.

MEP statements

Deputy head of EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS) Luc Devigne stated that the European perspective granted to Georgia has strengthened the EU-Georgia relationship and brought the country closer to European standards, principles, and legislation, but expressed concern over certain actions and decisions, such as the “Foreign Agents” laws, that are harmful and contrary to recommendations. Devigne emphasized the need for ambitious judicial reform, robust e-legislation, and adherence to European values, while also highlighting the importance of Georgia aligning with the EU’s foreign and security policy.

Diana Jabłońska, the head of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations – Department of Georgia, Moldova, and the Economic and Investment Plan for Eastern Partnership, expressed the importance of concrete reforms with strong implementation in order to seize the window of opportunity for Georgia’s European integration, highlighting the country’s strong support for EU integration and effective public administration, and emphasizing the European Commission’s commitment to assisting Georgia through various tools and financial support.

MEP Juozas Olekas emphasized the need for open dialogue and addressing the strong polarization between political groups in Georgia, suggesting that one potential solution could be the release of the former president from prison, while expressing support for Georgia’s candidacy status and urging a focus on tangible progress in fulfilling the 12 points of the EU-Georgia cooperation agreement.

MEP Nacho Sánchez Amor criticized the European Commission’s decision not to grant candidate status to Georgia, stating that it was a political mistake that exacerbated polarization in the country, and emphasized the need for a broader assessment of achievements beyond the 12 priorities. Amor also advised Prime Minister Garibashvili against following Viktor Orbán’s path and suggested allowing former President Saakashvili to be taken out of the country for medical treatment as a means to reduce polarization. He further emphasized the responsibility of both the government and opposition in addressing polarization.

Concluding remarks of the Georgian speakers

The Deputy Public Defender of Georgia, Natia Jalukhidze, expressed her concern about the arrest of June 2-3 protestors, underlined the Public Defender’s commitment to protecting freedom of expression, and expressed her hope that such incidents would not be repeated in Georgia, describing the case as “very alarming”. She discussed the challenges faced in reaching a compromise on the selection of the public defender, clarifying that the appointment of Levan Ioseliani was not a mere formality but aimed at preserving the crucial institution of the Public Defender. Jalukhidze also highlighted the active involvement of the Public Defender’s office in working groups focused on rule of law and judiciary reforms and particularly emphasized the institutions role in addressing LGBTQ minority rights protection.

Niko Tatulashvili, the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Human Rights Issues, emphasized the advancements in human rights protection in Georgia, such as the appointment of three non-judge members to the High Council of Justice and a decline in the number of cases filed against Georgia at the European Court of Human Rights. He also highlighted ongoing improvements in the country’s judicial system and the introduction of a new initiative aimed at providing employment opportunities for individuals receiving social benefits.

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


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