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Parliament Ignores Venice Commission, Votes De-oligarchization Law

What happened?

Late in the evening on June 13, the Parliament rushed through the draft law “On De-oligarchization” in its second, penultimate meeting with 81 votes in favor and two against. The decision came on the heels of the Venice Commission’s objection, published on June 12.

Why is this important?

Adopting the legislation on de-oligarchization is one of the EU’s key conditions for Georgia becoming the candidate country. However, adopting the law against the advice of the crucial legal authority respects the letter but contradicts the spirit of the EU’s condition.

What did the Venice Commission say?

The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, an advisory body on legal and constitutional issues, in its second, final conclusion said that the draft law – despite modifications – should not be adopted, citing the potential for political abuse and arbitrary application. The Commission said these risks were created primarily since the law’s approach to the problem was “individual” rather than “systemic.”

The draft law passed in the second reading adopted some of the Venice Commission’s earlier, interim recommendations but did not consider the latest objections.

What do Georgians say?

The opposition has decried the ruling party’s move, but the Georgian Dream said they are keen to press ahead.

  • The opposition called the move another attempt to sabotage the EU candidacy by the ruling party. In the past days, as the oral opinion of the European Commission is expected, the ruling majority passed several controversial laws: it overcame the presidential veto on the law that may cripple the independence of the Central Bank and adopted changes that would dilute the opposition’s influence in electing the Central Election Commission Chair.
  • The ruling party chair, Irakli Kobakhidze argued on June 13, that the Venice Commission’s opinion ran contrary to that of the European Commission. In particular, he said the EC took a personalized approach while the Venice Commission favors the systemic one. Kobakhidze said: “The very word “de-oligarchisation” implies a personal approach.” Anri Okhanashvili, Chairman of the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, echoed this talking point.

What’s behind GD’s position?

The Georgian Dream has long expressed its dissatisfaction at the European politicians referring to their party founder and shadow leader, Bidzina Ivanishvili, as an oligarch whose influence must be reduced -as spelled out in several European Parliament resolutions. The EU condition on de-oligarchization does not name anyone, even though Ivanishvili is clearly implied.

  • The Georgian Dream previously tried to instrumentalize this diplomatic ambiguity by saying their law on de-oligarchisation won’t affect Ivanishvili, but may target opposition figures, such as David Kezerashvili, who is financially backing the opposition-minded TV. Kezerashvili decided to sell his shares to the TV company staff to shield it from being targeted.
  • This time around, the ruling party chair Kobakhidze confirmed the determination to enact the law (and, by extension, to target the opposition) unless the EU removes the condition. He said that “as soon as the European Commission agrees with the Venice Commission and as soon as it removes the reference to de-oligarchization [from the list of conditions], we will immediately repeal the law.” Okhanashvili, Chairman of the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, confirmed:
    • “We understand the position of the Venice Commission, but it is important for us to fulfill the EC recommendation. That’s why we have sort of taken the middle way and decided that if the EC takes the issue off the agenda in December, this law will not be enacted and will be repealed.”

What are the implications?

Constructing the narrative of false contradiction between EC and the Venice Commission opinions seems to fit the pattern where the ruling party argues that Georgia “deserves” candidacy for its past performance (and due to the EU’s past mistakes) despite the government’s current shortfalls. It also seems to be preparing the public opinion for shifting the blame for the potential failure to meet the EU conditions (and therefore the status of the candidate) to the EU.

  • In sharp contrast, the Moldovan authorities took on board the Venice Commission’s objection to their draft law on de-oligarchization very similar to that being pushed through in Georgia, and instead focus on the “systemic” approach – a multi-faceted plan to combat oligarchic influence in the country.

The EC prepares its interim opinion in October and plans to formalize the decision on Georgia’s EU candidacy in December, Georgia’s ruling party seems determined to “meet” the twelve conditions on its own terms.

EU Clarifies

And, to set the record straight, just as this news was being prepared, the European Union delegation in Georgia issued a statement on June 14 saying: “EU supports the Venice Commission recommendations: better not to adopt the draft law on de-oligarchization given the described risks. EU is ready to support the Georgian authorities to find a better way forward with a systemic approach.”

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


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