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Analysis

Government’s EU Action Plan: the Intention that Counts?

Some thoughts on the government's action plan to meet the European Commission's nine conditions for Georgia

On December 14 the European Council decided to grant Georgia candidate status. The decision to open accession negotiations will depend on Georgia’s progress in meeting the nine recommendations made by the European Commission on November 8. Given the Georgian government’s mixed record on the perceived political will to implement in good faith the EU’s 12 priorities, of which the current nine are essentially a more detailed copy, the government’s every move will be closely watched and scrutinized by both external partners and internal stakeholders.


Vano Chkhikvadze is EU Integration Program Manager, Open Society Georgia Foundation, Tbilisi, Georgia


“Historic Decision” with Strings Attached

The European Union made a historic decision in December 2023 to grant Georgia the status of an EU candidate country. It comes with conditions presented by the European Commission on November 8, 2023. In order to move to the next stage of EU integration and open accession negotiations with the club, the Georgian authorities have to meet nine conditions, which the European Commission calls steps.

These include reforming the judiciary, establishing a strong track record in investigating cases of corruption and organized crime, and ensuring free, fair and competitive elections in 2024 that are fully in line with OSCE/ODHIR recommendations. 

None of these requirements are new. You could say that the EU has put old wine in new bottles. Brussels has been asking the Georgian authorities to meet these requirements for several years.  But the requests have fallen on deaf ears due to a lack of political will in Tbilisi. It remains to be seen whether the opening of accession negotiations with the EU would be an attractive carrot for Georgian Dream (which is seeking re-election for a fourth consecutive term in the parliamentary elections scheduled for autumn 2024).

The Action Plan

On November 27, 2023 the Georgian authorities approved the Action Plan addressing the implementation of nine steps. On the same day the document was sent to Brussels for their review. The move was praised by the EU Ambassador to Georgia Pawel Herczynski who expressed his happiness that the “authorities have acted at lightning speed”.

Unlike in the previous case when the action plan of 12 priorities of the EU (a prerequisite for candidate status) was not consulted with Brussels, the current intention of the Georgian authorities could be assessed as the step to the right direction.  It is commendable that the document has been made public. However, the process itself was closed and lacked the inclusiveness. The document could have had greater legitimacy if it had been presented and consulted with stakeholders in the country before being sent to Brussels.

Contents

The Government Action Plan saw the light of day on 25 December 2023. It addresses the nine EU steps with 22 activities and includes a list of activities, a timetable and the responsible government bodies. As it appears from the document, unlike in the previous case, the center of gravity of the implementation of the nine steps is no longer solely at the Parliament of Georgia, but there are also other agencies responsible for its fulfilment. The Action Plan lists only four of them: the Government of Georgia (the administration of the government), the Parliament (the Cabinet of the Speaker and the Legal Committee), the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Surprisingly, the EU Integration Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are not singled out in the Action Plan as the main responsible bodies (at least when it comes to Step #1- Combating disinformation and foreign information manipulation and interference against the EU and its values, and Step #2-Improving Georgia’s alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy).  The document is general and does not provide concrete details, baseline or target indicators. There also appears to be some mismatch between what the EU expects and what the Georgian authorities plan to deliver.

Approach

The Commission Staff Working Document (SWD), which is an integral part of the enlargement package, provides not only an assessment of reforms that Georgia has carried out but also a concrete and detailed list of actions that the EU expects the country to implement. For example, in the area of judicial reform, the EU expects Georgia to put in place by 2024 a system of extraordinary integrity checks, with the involvement of international experts with a decisive role in the process for candidate and persons currently appointed to all leading positions in the judiciary, in particular the High Council of Justice, the Supreme Court and court presidents. To address this particular step, the Georgian Government Action plan keeps being general. It envisages creation of working groups involving civil society organizations and all parliamentary political faction and the amendment of relevant legislation by March 7, 2024.

The Action Plan shows the same approach in the fight against corruption. While the EU expects Georgia to repeal the decision of February 2023 and rejoin the OECD Anti-Corruption Monitoring Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia (OECD/CAN) and to fully implement the recommendations of the previous rounds, the Georgian authorities plan to amend legislation based on the recommendations of the Venice Commission and to organize a series of meetings with civil society and all parliamentary factions to review the annual action plans of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Special Investigation Service and other relevant bodies.

The government Action Plan remains ambiguous on how/if the authorities are going to investigate and prosecute the organizers of the violence on 5 July 2021 and 8 July, 2023 at Tbilisi Pride. It does not provide any concrete details on how the authorities are going to address to the step # 5 that entails improving the implementation of parliamentary oversight of the State Security Service, the National Bank of Georgia or Election Administration.

Clearly Ambiguous

Overall, the fact that the authorities decided to develop the Action Plan to address the nine EU steps could be seen as a step in the right direction. It is also positive that the document has seen the light of day. However, the activities listed are too broad, ambiguous and lack baseline data and targets. It does not clearly address the EU’s expectations for Georgia in 2024. Last but not least, there is no information on whether the EU has provided feedback on the Action Plan and whether these recommendations have been taken onboard by the Georgian authorities.

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