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Deeper Look

Georgia in EaP 2023 Index in Detail

A new Eastern Partnership (EaP) Index was released on January 24. The edition tracks reform progress in the areas of democracy, good governance, rule of law, policy convergence, and sustainable development between September 2021 and November 2023. The document shows the impact of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and its effect on the reform progress of the six Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries (Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus) and their rapprochement with the European Union.

The EaP Index is produced by the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum with the financial support of the European Union. The present edition is the 9th one, previous was published in 2021.

The 2023 Index ranks Moldova in first place with a score of 0.7, followed by Ukraine in second place with a score of 0.66. Georgia ranks third with an overall score of 0.63. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus rank fourth (0.61), fifth (0.47), and sixth (0.45), respectively.

Civil.ge has delved into the voluminous document to bring you the details.

Georgia: General Evaluation

Regarding Georgia, the document reads: Georgia lost considerable ground across both democracy and good governance, and policy convergence indicators, in fact Georgia’s performance was characterized by a significant downwards drift, if not a sharp plunge in many areas which reflects the country’s political polarization. Significant decreases occurred in almost all thematic areas overseen by this Index, (namely democratic rights, elections and political pluralism, the fight against corruption, human rights protection mechanisms, state accountability, independent media, public administration, market economy, freedom, security and justice, and environment and climate policy), with the exception of freedom of assembly, under the thematic area ‘freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly and association.”

Democratic Rights, Elections and Political Pluralism

The document notes that “Georgia’s political polarization and conspicuous dealignment from international best practices in democracy and pluralism” is a “cause for concern”. It also says that Georgia has experienced the biggest decline in this area among the other EaP countries.

Regarding the two rounds of the 2021 Municipal Elections, the report notes that there were shortcomings in the conduct of the elections. It refers to the ODIHR report, which spoke of allegations of vote buying. The document also notes that the elections helped the ruling party to strengthen its position at the regional level.

Regarding electoral reforms, the document positively assesses the introduction of the digitization of future elections, noting that it will help the country meet one of the EU’s recommendations. However, it notes that if only 90% of the electoral process is digitized, this could prevent the rest of the population from participating in the elections. “Its ‘partial’ introduction (90% of voters) would leave non-electronic voting districts still vulnerable to fraud,” – says the report.

The document emphasizes that the electoral process is compromised by the ruling party’s informal control over the selection of CEC members, “which pushes the country away from European norms in this important sphere.”

Human Rights Protection Mechanisms

Georgia’s score also fell in the area of human rights protection, as a result of the “ruling party’s inclination for dishing out selective justice, pursuing politically motivated persecutions of its opponents, as well as attempting to stifle freedoms of association and expression, which have cast long shadows onto human rights,” – the report says.

The report highlights the rise of “weaponized legalism,” referring to the creation and use of laws by authorities in a way that appears to conform to international practices, but in fact these laws “are used to serve the political ends of the ruling parties”. The Index issue says that “weaponized legalism” has become pervasive in Georgia, along with Belarus and Azerbaijan, and it “has had deleterious effects on human rights conditions in all three states.”

The report notes that “growing concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Georgia were sparked by the arrest of Nika Gvaramia, head of the opposition-leaning Mtavari Arkhi television channel”. The document states that the arrest was widely contested by civil society and international human rights groups as politically motivated. Although he was released in June 2023 following a pardon by President Salome Zourabichvili, “the unlawful detention of even one journalist is a red flag and reflects a decline in human rights and independent media standards,” says the report.

Regarding the Ombudsman’s institute the report notes that “in Georgia, the selection process for the new Ombudsperson was criticized for its lack of transparency and insufficient public consultation, adding however that Levan Ioseliani, the vice-Speaker of the Parliament assumed the role with multi-party support, including from the opposition.

A CASE STUDY: The report includes a case study from Georgia that examines the “subordination of human rights protection to politicization.” The case examines developments surrounding the abolition of the State Inspectorate and the decision to “remodel” it into two bodies. The report finds that the restructuring process deviated “quite sharply” from international practice and standards, raising concerns about political interference. These concerns were exacerbated by the timing of the decision “given that the decision grew around the same time as the State Inspector opened investigations into the possible ill-treatment and violation of data protection laws regarding jailed ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili.” The report notes that the decision was taken without proper stakeholder consultations. State Inspector Londa Toloraia labelled the new law “the most non-European law” thereby highlighting the Georgian Dream‘s deviation from EU norms and principles. Despite all concerns, on 13 January 2022, the Georgian President abolished the State Inspector’s Service, and introduced two separate institutions: the Special Investigative Service and the Personal Data Protection Service.

State Accountability

While Georgia remains at the top of the pile “a marked decline is evident, which when considered alongside other related Index findings suggest that state accountability is worsening at a rate faster than the score might show”, the report says.

The document highlights political polarization and regression in the rule of law, which have affected the quality of government accountability. It adds that these two factors have also affected the oversight role of Parliament. It is noted that “the majority can still block the minority by boycotting the registration of a committee or by acting in such a way as to delay the delivery of a committee’s findings, which can mean the withdrawal of a draft law if the term of the session is allowed to expire.”

In addition, the report points to the government’s resistance to appointing opposition members to chair several key committees, as per EU recommendation, which hampers government accountability.

Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Freedom of Assembly and Association

The report identifies Georgia, along with Armenia and Azerbaijan, as a country where “excessive use of force against demonstrators and journalists covering the demonstrations” was recorded. In these countries, “law enforcers enjoy substantial degrees of impunity,” – the report notes.

The document notes “the declining state of relations between the government and civil society. The document notes that the problems of freedom of assembly in Georgia became a major issue in national politics in 2023, referring to the March 7-9 protests against the so-called “Russian law” on foreign agents. “In essence, the law was a conspicuous move to stifle anti-government dissent and pro-Europe CSOs,” – says the report.

“During these protests, law enforcement agencies resorted to excessive force, deploying tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades”, says the report, noting that according to the Georgian Ombudsman, the protest was essentially peaceful at the time of the warning made by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and there was no reason to terminate it or to use force.

Independent Judiciary

Despite becoming an EU candidate country, Georgia is heavily criticized for its judicial system, which the report says is “prone to acute politicization, weak in the face of oligarchic power, and appears deeply impervious to the types of systemic reforms expected by the EU.” Moreover, the report states that the weakness of the judiciary was one of the main reasons why Georgia was denied EU candidate status in 2022, when Moldova and Ukraine were granted it.

Regarding the politicization of the judiciary, the report notes that judges in Georgia are vulnerable to political pressure, especially in cases involving politically sensitive issues and individuals.

The report notes the politicization of judicial appointments, as seen in the “dubious appointment” of Mikheil Chinchaladze by the High Council of Justice to the chairmanship of the Appellate Court, “which appeared to be a case of direct political interference and thus an undermining of judicial independence.” The document states that the independent media and CSOs claim that a ‘judicial clan’ is at work in Georgia, and that the ruling party controls the courts and in so doing, damages the country’s European path.

The report says that the assignment of cases to judges “does not correspond to international best practice”. Georgia also faces problems with the publication and accessibility of judicial decisions, as well as availability of the court decisions online. These examples “highlight Georgia’s significant lack of alignment with international best practice and EU norms around judicial independence,” the document notes.

Equal Opportunities and Non-Discrimination

In this regard, Georgia is criticized primarily for the rights of the LGBT+ community. The report states: “Despite being an EU candidate state Georgia’s anti-discrimination performance in relation to ensuring LGBTQIA+ equality is strongly inconsistent with EU norms and contradicts the priorities that Georgia must meet to be considered for membership.” It also stresses the ruling Government’s routinely homophobic rhetoric. The report additionally notes the fact that the new National Strategy on Protections of Human Rights for 2022-2030 excludes combating discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, “which is a major shortcoming in relation to protecting LGBTQIA+ rights in Georgia and is a normative misalignment with the EU.”

The report states that the ruling Georgian Dream party “routinely ratchets up homophobic rhetoric to distract from pressing political and social issues.”

Fight Against Corruption

“Georgia is a prime example of how backsliding in the fight against corruption can transpire when a country is politically polarized,” – emphasizes the report, adding that the Government “deprioritized the fight against corruption and even appears to have vested interests in a state of inertia.”

The report recalls that there has been no update of the National Action Plan since 2020 and Georgia became the only country to refuse an Anti-Corruption assessment by the OECD. It is also noted that Georgia missed the two-year action plan cycle of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

The report gives a positive assessment of the creation of the Anti-Corruption Bureau in Georgia, Whilst civil society groups saw the new Anti-Corruption Bureau in Georgia as a positive step, “concerns were raised regarding the extent to which it would be truly independent, properly funded and have sufficient powers of investigation.”

Public Administration

Georgia, “where political loyalties matter,” has seen a “sharp decline” in the quality of its public administration. The report highlights the partial reason for this, which is the decline in public deliberation on draft legislation. “Georgia government has for the past two years ignored its Open Government commitments and its responsibility for open public consultations,” – the report reads.

Market Economy and DCFTA

The document notes that trade between the EU and EaP states has steadily risen over the past decade, though at a bilateral level the relative importance of the EU as a trade partner varies.

Georgia have advanced their normative alignment with the EU around trade. In 2022, the EU accounted for 21% of Georgia’s total trade, the EU thus being the single biggest trade partner.

Georgia, along with Ukraine, and Moldova is “steadily aligning with intellectual property rights legislation” having to address “some residual diverges to become fully aligned with EU IPR rules.”

In the sphere of technical barriers to trade Georgia recorded progress by obtaining the status of affiliate members of European Committee for Standardization.

Associated Trio – “a Less Distinct Entity”

The latest edition of the Index notes the trend of the associated Trio becoming “less distinct entity”. It says: “Ukraine and Moldova are lurching forwards in their EU approximation and are on the cusp of commencing their accession process, which sets them apart from Georgia.”

Noting that although Georgia’s policy convergence score is on a par with those of Moldova and Ukraine, “it has flatlined in its overall EU approximation because of serious backsliding in fundamental freedoms, democracy and governance-related indicators, the government’s evident disregard for civil society and its penchant for appeasing Russia, which is at odds with the EU consensus.”

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