The European parliament on Wednesday (16 September) with overwhelming majority praised Georgia’s progress but called on the EU and NATO hopeful to press on with justice reforms and depoliticisation of the judiciary.
Following the adoption of the report, the Georgian government said “EU-Georgia relations are at the historically highest level in terms of depth and scope of Georgia’s European integration.”
“Georgia’s ultimate goal is to join the European Union because such has been the will of the Georgian people over the last decades,” it said in emailed comments.
With a total of 19 virus-related death, EU parliamentarians commended “the internationally-acclaimed response of the Georgian people and public authorities to the COVID-19 outbreak.”
The EU pledged to give €183 million in grants to Georgia to respond to COVID-19, and provide an additional €150 million in loans for the purposes of enhancing its macroeconomic stability, which Brussels hopes will free up further national resources that can be channeled to citizens.
The politicians also highlighted the progress made in the implementation of the association agreement and trade deal — of the deepest type the EU has outside of EFTA countries –between the bloc and the South Caucasian country.
MEPs praised the electoral reforms adopted in July after months of negotiation between the ruling Georgian Dream party and the opposition, which resolved the political turmoil that erupted last year, after the bill that would have ensured fully proportional elections in October 2020 failed.
Lawmakers called the upcoming parliamentary elections “pivotal in confirming Georgia’s democratic credentials” and said that cross-party dialogue in the run-up to the October polls will be the basis for political stability.
While parliamentarians acknowledged reform efforts to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, they said that that the “reforms of the justice sector remain modest” and expressed concern “about recent court cases against opposition politicians.”
Reacting to the European Parliament’s report, the Georgian government said “the government has no leverage on the court decision.”
“This is exactly what our efforts are aimed against, as we stand committed to further strengthening independence of our judiciary,” Georgian authorities told EURACTIV.
“Bringing our judicial system in line with the European standards is in fact one of the main elements of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, therefore a basis of our domestic agenda,” it added.
MEPs lamented the the recent controversial appointment of Supreme court judges.
The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, who said that “it is important for the Georgian parliament to revisit the selection procedure for” the court, “which undermines a transparent, genuine, merit-based nomination process.”
Borrell also mentioned that the bloc will agree joint priorities for post-2020, floating that the fight against “abuses in the visa-free regime” may be one of them.
A Commission report published in July found that last year both the number of refusals of entry for Georgians to the Schengen and the number of Georgian nationals staying illegally increased, by 17% and 26% respectively. Georgia is the main country of origin of asylum, with the number of Georgians seeking protections inside the bloc growing 9% in 2019.
“Unfounded asylum applications lodged by Georgian citizens to EU member states and Schengen-associated countries remains an issue that requires ongoing and substantial efforts by the Georgian authorities,” the report read.
In an effort to please the EU, the Georgian parliament recently tightened its travel regulations to the bloc, introducing the possibility to refuse exit for those who do not have the necessary documents.
Local civil society, however, has expressed concern that the new travel rules run counter the freedom of movement and breach the constitution that only allows its limitation for reasons of social and state security, population health or justice reasons.
Rights watchdog Georgian Democracy Initiative (GDI) is also worried about the proportionality of the blanket regulations that non-discriminately effects all those who travel to the EU.
“Also, Georgia citizens are unfortunately very skeptical and they do not trust the government in general, because we know that it tends to be not impartial and there is a risk that it will use this kind of mechanism against political opponents or people who it doesn’t like to discriminate at the border,” Mari Kapanadze, director of GDI’s civil and political rights program told EURACTIV.
The Commission for its part said that it is not yet in a position to provide an in-depth assessment of the law but will look at it during the next visa report cycle.
“The Commission expects Georgia to continue fulfilling the visa liberalisation benchmarks, and welcomes Georgia’s efforts and actions to address the recommendations of the last Visa Suspension Mechanism report, including revising national legislation in view of strengthening pre-departure checks,” a Commission spokesperson told this site.
The parliament report also said “the media landscape in Georgia is dynamic and pluralistic, but also polarised” highlighting the importance of equal coverage of political views in programming during the upcoming electoral campaign.
The MEPs also blasted Russia for the its “attempts to destabilise Georgia,” and condemned “cyber-attacks against Georgian institutions and media outlets widely attributed to Russian actors.”