European Council President Charles Michel’s personal envoy to Georgia will head back to Tbilisi this week in an effort to find a solution to the ongoing political crisis that EU officials say may jeopardise the South Caucasian country’s European aspirations.
Georgia’s political crisis escalated last month after police stormed the party offices of opposition leader Nika Melia and detained him, deepening a crisis that also prompted previous prime minister Giorgi Gakharia to resign. Irakli Garibashvili was appointed as Prime Minister five days later, but the tensions remained.
“Political actors in Georgia must appreciate the consequences of a protracted crisis – for their citizens and for the EU-Georgia relations,” an EU official said.
Both the ruling Georgian Dream and the opposition claim to be pro-European, with the government pledging to submit an EU membership application by 2024. However the political polarisation plays in the hand of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who doesn’t want the former Soviet republic to join NATO and the EU.
The head of the European Council, representing the EU member states, during his visit to Georgia at the beginning of March announced that “time has come to move from facilitation to mediation”.
However, after a week of negotiations in Tbilisi, Michel’s envoy Christian Danielsson returned to Brussels last week empty-handed, after unsuccessful attempts to find solutions to the political stalemate.
Parties reportedly managed to reach progress on three out of the five issues put forward by Michel: electoral reform, judicial reform and power sharing in the parliament.
However, little progress has been made so far on the two stickiest issues in negotiations politicised justice and future elections.
The opposition demands snap elections and the release of what it calls political prisoners, including Melia, while the ruling party claims its hands are tied by law, and the next parliamentary elections will be scheduled in 2024.
During his Brussels visit the new Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili doubled down saying that the next parliamentary elections will be held in 2024, when the term of the current Parliament will expire.
EU foreign affairs ministers met in Brussels on Monday (22 March) with the political crisis in Georgia part of the discussions.
“This mediation effort has not been finished, it will continue,” the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell told journalists after the meeting.
“Because we need to continue supporting the process, we need to continue mediating because Georgia cannot be stalled in a deep polarisation that prevents the government from working and the country needs stability in order to face important reforms that they have to do,” he added.
In the meantime Georgian Ambassador to the European Union Natalie Sabanadze has announced her resignation after having represented her country in Brussels for almost eight years. Sabanadze has previously said that she comes from civil society and that she doesn’t necessarily see her future as a civil servant.
Le Monde quoted Natalie Sabanadze, who just retired as Georgia's EU envoy, as saying that "she had disagreements with the Gov't of Georgia" in the past weeks. "All of our leaders say they are pro-European, but it is not sufficient to say it, it is important to be it." pic.twitter.com/LCLvvPAB9s
— Civil.ge (@CivilGe) March 24, 2021
(Edited by Georgi Gotev)