EU mediator returns from Georgia empty-handed

Christian Danielsson, Personal Envoy of President of the European Council, speaks during a press conference in Tbilisi, Georgia, 12 March 2021. Christian Danielsson is on the working visit to Georgia. [EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE]

After a week of negotiations, the special envoy of European Council President Charles Michel returns to Brussels empty-handed, after unsuccessful attempts to find solutions for the Georgian political stalemate.

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.

At a press conference following nearly a 10-hour round of negotiations, Michel’s envoy Christian Danielsson said in Tbilis on Thursday (18 March) that there was agreement between the parties on certain issues, but there were issues on which consensus had not been reached.

“It is up to the leaders to find a way out of the political crisis,” Danielson said, according to Jam news. 

The ruling and opposition parties subsequently traded accusations of responsibility for the failure of the talks.

After already once extending his stay in Tbilisi to find a solution, Danielsson will now return to Brussels to report to Michel.

The head of the European Council, representing the EU member states, during his visit to Georgia at the beginning of the month 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.

He suggested the parties around five points: judicial reform, electoral reform, politicised justice, future elections and power sharing in Parliament.

The issue of snap elections, demanded by the opposition and rejected by the Georgian Dream, was reportedly one of the stumbling blocks of the negotiation.

The EU’s position is that the fall parliamentary ballot was “competitive and that, overall, fundamental freedoms were respected”.

The negotiations failed to make headway despite the personal engagement of Michel, including during the Georgian prime minister Irakli Garibashvili’s visit to Brussels earlier this week.

Michel met Garibashvili several times in the span of two days but progress remained elusive.

“Now is the time for all political actors to engage constructively and find solutions. Time is short and Georgian people don’t have the luxury of political conflict,” an EU official said.

“Political energy needs to be directed at fighting the pandemic and its socio-economic fall out and democratic consolidation in a geostrategically complex region,” the official added.

On Wednesday (March 17), NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, an alliance the South Caucasian country is keen on joining, expressed his concerns about the events in Georgia.

“It is necessary to find a way to resolve the differences so that Georgia can continue the planned reforms,” he told journalists after a meeting with Garibashvili in Brussels.

Although Georgia is a country in which both the ruling party and the opposition claim to be pro-Western, the never-ending polarisation ultimately plays in the hands of Vladimir Putin, who wants to keep the former Soviet republic away from NATO and the EU.

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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