There was an intense EU-Georgia political dialogue in 2012 and negotiations on Association Agreement, including a deep and comprehensive free trade area, “made significant progress”, according to a newly published annual report on progress in relations between the EU and its neighbors, including Georgia.
The progress report, which reviews achievements made by countries within the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2012 and outlines areas and recommendations where further efforts are needed, was released by the European Commission on March 20.
The progress report on Georgia says that “so far, cohabitation has been particularly tense” and calls on Georgia to “ensure respect for the roles of the Prime Minister and President under the constitution”, as well as to ensure that constitutional amendments, if contemplated, are subject to comprehensive consultation domestically and with the Council of Europe’s advisory body for legal affairs, Venice Commission, “to ensure that they stand the test of time.”
According to the report Georgia acted on most of the key recommendations in the last year's ENP progress report and “ensured broadly free and fair parliamentary elections.”
It calls on Georgia to address shortcoming in the electoral law; to reform the justice system to ensure the full independence of the judiciary; to ensure that criminal prosecutions are conducted in a transparent and impartial manner in order to avoid any perception of selective justice; to increase the accountability and democratic oversight of law enforcement agencies; to conduct a thorough investigation into the use of torture in the penitentiary system; to continue to strengthen media pluralism and independence.
In 2012 EU launched new Eastern Partnership Integration and Cooperation (EaPIC) programme and allocated additional resources for countries that make progress in democracy. Under the EU’s ‘more for more’ approach, EaPIC provides additional funding, on top of already committed, to those EaP countries which make more democratic reform efforts. Under this mechanism, last year Georgia received EUR 22 million; Moldova – EUR 28 million and Armenia – EUR 15 million.
In the reporting period the executive branch remained the “dominant governing force and parliamentary oversight remained weak” and concerns persisted about “insufficient independence of the judiciary in the reporting period, according to the report. It, however, also notes that “the new government has voiced the intention to improve the institutional checks and balances as a priority.”
The report said that judicial independence was “a problem”.
“The strongly hierarchical structure of the judiciary; the potential for inappropriate influence by the executive; the prosecution service’s lack of independence, combined with insufficient judicial control over its activities; insufficient transparency in the justice system: all these hamper the effective administration of justice,” the report says, adding that the new government “is tackling these problems with proposed legislative amendments.”
According to the report release of videos in September, showing inmates being tortured, had “possibly decisive impact on the parliamentary elections.” Thorough investigation and long-term structural reforms “are still needed, to ensure that ill treatment is fully eradicated.” “It is encouraging that the new Government has expressed its readiness to tackle this as a priority,” the report reads.
It says that the situation “improved” with freedom of association and assembly; but the report, which mainly covers developments of 2012, also notes February 8, 2013 incident outside the National Library when several UNM lawmakers were assaulted by protesters; the report says that it was “a step back” in respect of freedom of assembly.
The report says that shortly after the parliamentary elections, in which Georgian Dream coalition won, number of local town councils (Sakrebulos), have “bowed to pressure” to elect new chairperson of councils and heads of local administrations.
It also says that process of identifying and then releasing of 190 inmates, recognized by Parliament in December as political prisoners, “suffered from a number of flaws”.
According to the report in previous years there has been “absence of substantive social dialogue, and the perception that the authorities were obstructing the activities of trade unions and putting pressure on trade unionists.” It says that the new government has made a commitment to bringing labor legislation into line with international and European standards.
The report recommends reviewing law on occupied territories, in particular its “restrictive aspects”. A draft of amendments to this law has already been initiated in the Parliament envisaging partial decriminalization of violation of entry rules into breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
On the conflict-related issues the progress report also says: “Following the change of government, there are some encouraging signs of possibly more effective engagement with the breakaway territories, and a more relaxed implementation of the Law on Occupied Territories.”
It also calls for taking “pragmatic and constructive steps (less focused on form and more on content) to encourage trade, travel and investment” across the administrative boundary lines of the breakaway regions.