EU mediation yet to reach solution in Georgia as prime minister visits Brussels

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell and Georgia's Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili hold a news conference after a EU-Georgia association council in Brussels, Belgium, 16 March 2021. [EPA-EFE/YVES HERMAN / POOL]

EU-mediated negotiations between the Georgian ruling party and the opposition are yet to bear fruit, the South Caucasian country’s prime ministerial visit to Brussels revealed on Tuesday (16 March).

EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell called the current political situation in Georgia, a country with ambitions to join the EU, a “pivotal moment”.

Georgia’s political crisis escalated last month after police stormed the party offices of opposition leader Nika Melia and detained him, deepening a political 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.

While Garibashvili arrived in Brussels, a special envoy of Council President Charles Michel has been mediating between the government and the opposition in Tbilisi.

Borrell said that the ruling Georgian Dream party had “a special responsibility” to find solution to the crisis, while also criticising the opposition, which has been boycotting the legislative since the October 2020 parliamentary elections.

“Boycotting the parliament is not helpful for a functioning democracy,” Borrell said.

The opposition in Georgia has been boycotting both the previous and the current parliament.

“Unhappily, there is no agreement yet,” he added.

During his visit to Georgia at the beginning of the month, European Council President Charles Michel unexpectedly announced that “time has come to move from facilitation to mediation” and kicked off a series of meetings between the opposition and the ruling Georgian Dream party.

EU to assess progress in Georgia mediation talks on 15 March

After his unexpected visit to Tbilisi to mediate the deepening political crisis in Georgia, European Council President Charles Michel said progress in talks between the ruling party and the opposition will be assessed in two weeks.

Since then, Christian Danielsson, previously head of the EU executive’s department for enlargement and neighbourhood, has been mediating between the ruling Georgian Dream and the opposition.

Topics in the table include electoral and judicial reform, addressing politicised justice and the issue of prisoners, power sharing in the Parliament and future elections.

The issue of snap elections, demanded by the opposition and rejected by the Georgian Dream, is reportedly one of the most contested parts of the negotiation.

Asked by journalists if his party is ready to release what the opposition describes as “political prisoners” and schedule snap elections, Garibashvili said “it is not up to me.”

He said “it is not up to me to decide when or how to release or not release the prisoners. It is about the rule of law, it is about the judiciary system is about the court decision to put someone in jail or release someone from prison.”

Regarding the snap elections, he said “it is not up to me to decide to have snap elections or not. It is said very clearly in the constitution. We had very free, fair and transparent elections in 2020 October, all international organisations… and all international observers, acknowledged these elections as free and fair and competitive, and therefore, the next parliamentary elections in Georgia will be held in 2024.”

Answering the same question on snap elections, Borrell acknowledged that the recent parliamentary elections had indeed been free and fair.

In his meeting with Commission enlargement chief Olivér Várhelyi before the association council,  Garibashvili stressed that Russia’s growing military presence in the region calls for a more proactive engagement of the EU.

Russian military presence in South Caucasus increased after a Kremlin-negotiated truce between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Last year Russia was also reported to have between 9,000 and 10,000 soldiers on both breakaway territories, which in South Ossetia amounts to one soldier for every eight residents.

Borrell said Russia’s role in the region had been discussed during the Brussels talks.

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Russia is responsible for human rights violations, including loss of life, torture, disrespect of property and privacy occurring in Georgian breakaway regions of Abkahzia and South Ossetia as it had effective control of the territories after the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, …

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