Western democracy is still advancing: Just look at Georgia

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Georgian opposition supporters wave the national flag (L) and the European Union flag (R) as they take part in a protest rally in front of the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, 12 December 2019. [EPA-EFE/ZURAB KURTSIKIDZE]

For every Hong Kong, with all the difficulties played out in the global media, there is a Georgia where the slow advance and entrenchment of liberal democracy is often barely witnessed beyond the Western Embassies in Tbilisi, argues Andrew Rosindell.

Andrew Rosindell is an British Conservative MP and Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

It’s very popular at the moment to lament the decline of liberal democracy – both in politics and in the media. While there has been a decline in some regions, that decline is by no means universal. Democracy in many countries and regions remains robust, and indeed continues to expand.

As the UK considers its post-Brexit role in the world there is much talk of how best to leverage trade deals, foreign aid grants, military alliances  – and rightly so, given the importance of these to the UK’s future prosperity.

What must also be considered is how to project our values, as well as our capabilities. Britain is the birthplace of Parliamentary democracy: the values embodied in our democracy – freedom of speech and of assembly; the rule of law – all flow from the essential value that the people should hold the ultimate power over their destiny and the decisions that govern their lives. Many British institutions – from the World Service, to the British Council, to DfID – currently explicitly or implicitly project this value around the world.

Yet, we can do more.

Our Government must not be afraid to do everything within its power to stand up to those who are backsliding on these most fundamental values.

The recent statement from the Foreign Ministers of the US, UK, Canada and Australia condemning China’s recent actions in Hong Kong is a very promising start.

Yet, at the same time, we must emphasise the positive as well as the negative. The UK government should encourage and assist those countries who are advancing in their efforts to entrench freedom and democracy, and make such regions a priority for UK trade, aid, and diplomatic engagement.

Georgia is a prime candidate: it was the first European country to sign a trade deal with the UK after Brexit and the country’s Ambassador Sophie Katsarava recently wrote that “In Georgia, we see Brexit as an opportunity for the UK to confirm your commitment as a leading member of the Western community, and to extend trading, economic, and political links around the world. The recent post-Brexit Strategic Partnership Agreement signed between the UK and Georgia, including a new trade deal, is a prime example”.

The Georgian Dream government has implemented significant economic reforms and modernisation – the World Bank judges Georgia as 7th in the world for “Ease of Doing Business”.

In fact, for the first time ever, this year Georgia acceded to NATO’s Cybersecurity Platform, known as MISP. Only one other non-NATO country, Finland, has been welcomed to join MISP.

There has also been major progress in the area of democratic reforms, although more still needs to be done. The EU, US and UK governments have welcomed the recent electoral reform signed on 8 March as a major step forward in entrenching democracy and moving Tbilisi closer to NATO and the West.

Unfortunately, the internationally-supported electoral reform is currently in limbo.

The opposition, which signed the agreement on 8 March, is still demanding the release of some of their members from prison, without which they will not support the agreement. While two opposition members have been pardoned and released from prison, a third still remains imprisoned.

Both sides must come together and agree the changes to the electoral system, as well as addressing the appearance of political interference in the judicial system.

Just as the UK should be determined to stand with the people of Hong Kong is difficult times, so we should be vocal about supporting Georgia in its ambitions to implement democratic reforms, so that the flame of their democracy can continue to burn brighter.

We should never miss an opportunity to stand with the forces of democracy and reform against the forces of authoritarianism.

As we move into the new era of UK engagement with the world, it offers us a chance as a nation to reflect on the values that we wish to promote in our relations with the wider world – and indeed, to reflect on our historical contribution.

Much, though by no means all, has been positive – and in modern history there are few values more valuable, or impactful, than Parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.

We must renew our commitment to supporting all those around the world who need our help to keep the flame alive, or to help it burn a little brighter.

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