Michel seeks to mediate Georgian political crisis

A handout photo made available by Georgian President's Press Service shows Charles Michel, the president of the European Union Council speaking during a news conference at Georgian president's residence in Tbilisi, Georgia, 01 March 2021. Michel is on a working visit to Georgia. [EPA-EFE/GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S PRESS SERVICE]

In an unusual move, European Council President Charles Michel invited Georgia’s ruling and opposition parties for talks under his mediation over dinner during his visit to Tbilisi on Monday (1 March).

Michel’s visit to Georgia comes with the parties mired in a deepening political crisis which risks derailing the former Soviet republic from its European path. Until now the EU has supported the party in power – Georgia Dream – and ignored the United National Movement (UNM), despite its pro-European and pro-NATO positions.

“I have called on all parties to deescalate and come together to relaunch the political dialogue and I’ve invited them to a meeting, tonight,” Michel said, apparently heeding the calls from the European Parliament to engage in dialogue.

MEPs ask Charles Michel to mediate in Georgia

A group of MEPs on Tuesday (23 February) have asked European Council President Charles Michel to use his upcoming visit to Georgia to mediate between the government and the opposition, in a bid to appease the “rapidly deteriorating political situation” in the country.

“The time has come to move from facilitation to mediation,” Michel said at his press conference with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.

Georgia’s political crisis escalated last month after police stormed the party offices of opposition leader Nika Melia and detained him on 23 February, deepening a political crisis that prompted the previous prime minister Giorgi Gakharia to resign.

Melia, the UNM party’s chairman has been accused of inciting violence at street protests in June 2019, a charge he dismisses as politically motivated.

The opposition has since been calling for snap elections and the release of what it describes as “political prisoners”.

Michel said readiness to achieve compromises is the route “of a mature democracy, this is the route towards stability and prosperity and this is the route towards an ever-closer relationship between EU and Georgia.”

Michel added that “Georgian citizens must be able to trust their justice system, any polarisation of justice is unacceptable, and we all know that some concrete cases should be addressed.”

During the trip, Michel emphasised the importance of Georgia’s political stability to the EU.

“My intention is not and was not just to spend one day in this marvellous country, and then come back to Brussels and then business as usual,” Michel said.

The Council President said he hopes that some progress will be achieved during the dinner, when he intends to put forward “a framework with some possible topics” and elements that need to be tackled.

Prime Minister Garibashvili welcomed the move, describing it as an “excellent initiative.”

“I want to confirm hereby that I stand ready to attend the meeting and to participate in it,” Garibashvili told reporters.

Earlier in the day, the Council President said the worsening political crisis was of great concern to him “personally, immensely.”

Caucasus instability

“The current developments in your region are a further reminder of the need for Georgia to come together and be in unity on essential issues,” Michel said, alluding to the unstable situation in Armenia, still reeling from its recent war with Azerbaijan, as well as Russia’s influence in the South Caucasus.

After meeting Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili in the morning, Michel headed down to the dividing line with the Russia-controlled region of South Ossetia.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in August 2008 which was ended with the help of the mediation of the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy. As a result, Georgia lost control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, roughly 25% of its territory.

Strasbourg court rules Russia has 'direct control' over Abkhazia, South Ossetia

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, …

The European Council chief announced his intention to visit the Eastern post-Soviet countries associated with the EU after the ill-fated trip to Moscow of the bloc’s top diplomat Josep Borrell, which appears to have prompted EU officials to be more pro-active on a number of dossiers.

After EU embarrassment in Moscow, Michel makes it up by going to Kyiv, Tbilisi

While European lawmakers were scolding the bloc’s top diplomat Josep Borrell for his ill-fated trip to Russia, European Council President Charles Michel has announced he will be travelling to Ukraine and Georgia in March.

In two weeks, representatives will head to Brussels for the EU-Georgia association council, which will assess progress made in implementing the association agreement that serves as the basis of the relationship between the bloc and the country.

[Edited by Georgi Gotev and Benjamin Fox]

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