CSOs Present Vision on Implementing EU Requirements

On February 27, the coalition of twelve civil society organizations presented a detailed vision for the implementation of the nine steps defined by the European Commission for Georgia to move to the next stage of the EU integration process and start accession talks.

The organizations that worked on this long document under the leadership of the Civil Society Foundation (CSF) include Georgia’s Reforms Associates (GRASS), Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS), International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Democracy Research Institute (DRI), Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), Social Justice Center (SJC), Court Watch, Governance Monitoring Center (GMC), Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), Sapari, Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI).

Each steps incudes concrete measures to be taken, including in the executive and legislative direction.

Step 1: Countering the disinformation targeting the EU and its values; countering external information manipulation and interference

The document recommends the government to conduct a proactive campaign about the European Union and its values. It also calls on the government dispel misinformation, such as the notion that the West is trying to open a “second front” against Russia in Georgia.

The CSOs noted that strategic communications departments within the government administration and other state agencies must strive to achieve the goal established by the Georgian government’s decision in 2018 when they were established, which is to reduce the impact of anti-Western propaganda and increase public awareness about the country’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

According to the CSOs, both the government administration and the strategic communications departments in the ministries should regularly and proactively inform the public about their action plans and the progress made in implementing them.

The CSOs’ also suggests that the government create a cooperative environment with experienced anti-disinformation civil society organizations, take principled decisions against disinformation, protect the 2024 elections from Russian information interference, promote Euro-Atlantic integration, ensure transparency in the finances of political groups that openly declare their goal of cooperation with Russia, raise awareness among public servants, and promote media literacy.

The CSOs urge the government to stop the “political instrumentalization of homophobia,” which is aimed at discrediting the West by using religious and traditional sentiments. Also, according to the CSOs’ vision, “the government must stop indirectly or directly supporting violent homophobic groups.”

Among other issues, in their recommendations to the legislative branch of the government, the CSOs urge the Georgian Parliament to establish an investigative commission to examine the coordinated and inauthentic networks linked to the Strategic Communications Department of the Government of Georgia, which were reported by Meta.

Step 2: Improvement of alignment with EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy

The document presents a strategic approach for Georgia to align its foreign and security policies more closely with those of the European Union. It emphasizes the importance of supporting the EU decisions and declarations, continuing to share EU positions at international fora, and collaborating with the EU to combat hybrid threats and prevent sanctions circumvention. The CSOs recommend the government to continue to use preventive and if necessary, effective measures against the use of the Georgian soil for evading the sanctions imposed against the Russian Federation.

The CSOs urge the Georgian Government to refrain from actions and statements that contradict EU positions, and to avoid deepening cooperation with countries identified as EU systemic rivals. Additionally, the document advises against promoting economic cooperation with Russia and further developing transport links with the country. It also encourages Georgia’s active participation in EU security and defense policy missions and operations.

Step 3: Decreasing polarization, including through engaging parliamentary opposition in the legislative process, especially on EU-related legislation

The CSOs emphasize the importance of ending heated rhetoric between the opposition and the ruling party, lowering the electoral threshold, distributing power in Parliament, and electing CEC members by a qualified majority. The CSOs’ vision also calls for cooperation in Parliament, allowing the opposition to use parliamentary levers effectively, and stopping polarization and violence against political opponents. 

The document urges an end to confrontational actions against civil society and the media. Also, according to the CSOs’ vision, the ruling Georgian Dream party party should end their boycott of critical television programs and debates, and resume cooperation with critical media. Likewise, the CSOs also call for the resumption of cooperation between the pro-government televisions and opposition representatives.

CSOs also call for the promotion of the political culture of multi-party dialogue and coalition governance within local self-government bodies.

Step 4: Ensuring a free, legitimate, and competitive election process, especially in 2024, and implementing OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. Completion of reforms long before the election day, including the adequate representation of the voters

The CSOs call on the government to ensure free, fair, and competitive parliamentary elections in Georgia by adhering to international standards, completing the relevant constitutional amendments, separating the ruling party from the state, rejecting voter intimidation and bribing, investigating election violations and punishing the perpetrators, transparently implementing electronic voting, and considering relevant electoral reform recommendations including by ODIHR/OSCE and the Venice Commission.

The CSOs call for the continuation of the investigation initiated in July 2022 by the General Prosecutor’s Office concerning election violations. They urge for transparency in informing the public about the progress of the investigation and for holding the perpetrators responsible.

According to the CSOs, it is imperative to implement safe, reliable, and accessible procedures to ensure a smooth voting experience for emigrants. The CSOs say that both the election administration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia should create appropriate guarantees to facilitate the realization of the electoral rights of emigrants, which includes providing them with the relevant information.

The CSOs also stress the importance of the CEC Chairperson and members’ election process and highlight the Venice Commission’s recommendation to return the right to nominate CEC members to the President for political neutrality. 

Step 5: Further improvement in the implementation of parliamentary oversight, especially in the security sector. Ensuring institutional independence and neutrality of key institutions, especially the Central Elections Commission, National Bank, and Communications Commission.

The CSOs emphasize the need for effective implementation of parliamentary oversight mechanisms, urging the parliamentary majority to refrain from hindering opposition’s use of control mechanisms, such as temporary investigative commissions, through procedural sabotage.

CSOs also present recommendations for the independence of the National Bank and the Communications Commission. They advocate for the National Bank to be fully staffed with independent and competent individuals as soon as possible, and they call for the revocation of the rule allowing exceptions in the execution of financial sanctions imposed by the EU, US, and UK, adopted after the United States sanctioned the former Prosecutor General of Georgia, Otar Partskhaladze.

Regarding the National Communications Commission, CSOs suggest changing the procedure for electing its members to ensure broad political and public engagement, and the Commission’s independence.

Step 6: Completion of a holistic and effective judicial reform, including the comprehensive reform of the High Council of Justice and the Prosecutor’s Office, through the implementation of Venice Commission recommendations and a transparent and inclusive process.

The CSOs recommend leading a broad, inclusive, and cross-party consensus-based process for judicial reform. They propose the creation of a mechanism for assessing the integrity of candidates and elected individuals in various leadership positions, including members of the High Council of Justice and judges of the Supreme Court, with the involvement of international experts. 

According to the CSOs, this mechanism should be developed in consultation with the European Commission and the Venice Commission, taking into account best practices in the region. Additionally, they suggest establishing a system for permanent and periodic verification of property status declarations, with the oversight and advisory role of international experts. 

The CSOs also call for a comprehensive analysis of previous reforms and current challenges in the justice system to inform the planning of future reforms. They also recommend developing a judicial reform strategy and action plan that addresses the main challenges and strategic issues in the justice system.

Step 7: Further ensuring the effectiveness, institutional independence, and neutrality of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Special Investigative Service, and Personal Data Protection Service. Implementation of the recommendations by the Venice Commission through the inclusive process; creation of a strong track record of fighting corruption and investigating organized crime

The CSOs recommend several measures to enhance the effectiveness and independence of key anti-corruption and investigative bodies in Georgia. These include ensuring the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s independence and authority to investigate corruption cases, electing its chief by the Parliament with a large majority, and elaborating a new anti-corruption strategy.

Similarly, the Special Investigative Service and the Personal Data Protection Service should have their institutional independence strengthened, selection procedures for their heads changed, and their mandates and powers refined. 

Step 8: Improvement of the existing action plan of de-oligarchization through the multi-sector systemic approach, in accordance with the Venice Commission recommendations and through the transparent and inclusive process, with engagement of the opposition parties and civil society

In the document, the emphasis is on a systemic approach to de-oligarchization, in line with the Venice Commission’s recommendations. This includes ensuring the impartiality, independence, and effectiveness of key institutions involved in the process.

The CSOs call for refining the existing action plan based on feedback from the European Union and the Venice Commission, as well as input from the opposition and civil society. Timely legislative changes and administrative measures are deemed crucial, as well as the effective implementation of these measures, including in investigating high-level corruption cases. The monitoring of the action plan’s execution is also deemed essential, with a focus on periodic, transparent, and effective reporting.

Step 9: Improvement of human rights protection, including through the implementation of the ambitious strategy and through ensuring the freedom of assembly and expression.

The CSOs recommend the revision of the National Human Rights Protection Strategy and Action Plan through broad consultations with civil society, academia and the opposition, taking into account the main issues raised by the Public Defender, civil society and relevant international organizations.

CSOs’ recommendations focus on improving the legal state of civil society and ensuring privacy, equality, and freedom of assembly and expression. Additionally, among other issues, the recommendations also emphasize the importance of addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, and religion, as well as ensuring the protection of minority rights and the prevention of hate crimes. 

The recommendations also call for the strengthening of the Public Defender’s mandate, the implementation of anti-discrimination policies, and the protection of journalists and media freedom.

CSOs urge the government to address ultra-right radical groups and prevent violence, develop and implement state services for victims of hate crimes, adopt a strategy to combat discrimination and hate, and conduct thorough investigations into the violence on July 5, 2021, and July 8, 2023, punishing the organizers and perpetrators taking into account the evidence from the media, civil society, and the Public Defender.

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