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Can Georgia’s parliament get the country back on the European track?

Following a brief summer hiatus, the Georgian parliament is back in session. At the top of the list will be the reform efforts proposed by the European Commission.

September 21, 2022 - Mark Temnycky - Analysis

Photo: EvaL Miko / Shutterstock

Earlier this year, the European Commission recommended that Ukraine and Moldova be granted candidate status to join the European Union. The commission stated that the two countries had shown that they were “well advanced in reaching the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.” Following these recommendations, the EU granted Ukraine and Moldova EU candidate status in June.

Georgia, however, was not included in the decision. During the initial assessment conducted by the European Commission, the organisation stated that “recent developments have undermined the country’s progress” and that “further reforms [were] needed to improve the functioning of [Georgia’s] market economy.” The commission concluded that if reform areas were addressed, the EU would consider granting Georgia EU candidate status.

Thousands of Georgians then gathered in Tbilisi, urging that their government take the commission’s recommendations seriously. For years, there has been constant political infighting within Georgia. But the government now has a chance to change its ways.

Following a brief summer hiatus, the Georgian parliament is back in session. At the top of the list will be the reform efforts proposed by the European Commission. Irakli Garibashvili, the country’s prime minister, has taken these matters seriously. Earlier this month, Garibashvili met with Joseph Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. During the session, they discussed Georgia’s application for EU membership.

The European Council acknowledged that Georgia had expressed its readiness to join the EU, but there was still work to be done. First, the European representatives called for political unity within Georgia, stating that political polarisation had to end. Second, the Europeans noted that the Georgians needed to “strengthen their rule of law,” as well as the “integrity and accountability of the judiciary.” Third, the Europeans stated that the Georgian government needed to continue its fight against corruption. Once these areas are addressed, the EU would be ready to reconsider Georgia for EU candidate status. A complete list of  recommendations was outlined in the joint press statement issued by the EU and Georgia.

“We hope that Georgia’s political forces will seize this historic opportunity and step up their efforts to obtain EU candidate status,” Borrell said at the end of their meeting.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union Commission, added to these comments during her annual address on the state of the EU: “You are part of our family,” she said as she stated the importance of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and the Western Balkan countries to the EU. “Our union is not complete without you.”

The statements made by European officials, and their willingness to continue hosting these meetings, suggest that they want the Georgians to succeed in this ongoing effort. But the matter lies with the Georgian government.

While implementing many of these reforms will take time, the areas that need to be addressed were clearly outlined by the European Commission. For example, the commission stated that Georgia needs to pursue political unity. This can be achieved by encouraging diverse political representation, and electing politicians of various backgrounds. Second, the commission stated that Georgia needs to be serious about implementing the rule of law. In response, the Georgian government should establish an independent anti-corruption court that will hold Georgian politicians, policymakers, and citizens accountable for their actions. Third, to reduce corruption, the government can implement anti-corruption reforms by strengthening its political processes.

On the surface, there appears to be progress. According to Eurasianet, the “ruling Georgian Dream party says it will have initiated all [of the EU’s proposed] relevant legislation to meet [these] demands by the middle of October.” Georgian members of parliament have worked tirelessly to address the 12 areas identified by the EU, and the government is hopeful that it can vote on these reforms by the end of the year.

But problems have emerged. For example, constant political polarisation and infighting remain within the Georgian parliament.

Other issues have also emerged. Shortly after the EU decided to defer EU candidate status to Georgia, the Georgian parliament adopted a list of amendments on wiretapping. Then, in July, Georgian officials had “unlawfully obtained and purposefully edited audio recordings from an opposition media newsroom and aired them on a pro-ruling party television channel.” The Venice Commission is currently investigating these issues.

For her part, the Georgian president, Salome Zourabichvili, quickly condemned the events. While she vetoed the surveillance amendments, the parliament adopted them anyway. Zourabichvili then addressed the matter, stating that Georgia had to make an important choice.

“Either we are still within the Soviet legacy, or we are moving towards a truly European system,” she said. “This is not a European life. There is no protection of human rights. It’s a different system, and we must get out of it.”

This is what the Georgian government must determine. The EU has presented Georgia with an opportunity to reform its government and integrate itself with the West. Georgian MPs must decide if they are willing to take it.

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He can be found on Twitter @MTemnycky

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