A group of seven European Parliament members visited Georgia on June 3-4 to, as they put it, see the situation in the country more than seven months after peaceful transfer of power and ahead of the October, 2013 presidential elections.
The ad hoc delegation of foreign affairs committee was made up of representatives from the major political groups within the European Parliament including Czech MEP Libor Rouček and Slovak MEP Boris Zala both from the group of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D); Polish MEPs Krzysztof Lisek and Jan Kozlowski both from the group of European People’s Party (EPP); MEP Ryszard Czarnecki of Poland from the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR); Belgian MEP Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck from the group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and Austrian MEP Ulrike Lunacek from the group of Greens/European Free Alliance.
While President Saakashvili’s party is allied to EPP, two parties from PM Ivanishvili-led Georgian Dream coalition – Republican Party and Our Georgia-Free Democrats (OGFD), are allied with ALDE. PM Ivanishvili said in April that his Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia party would like to be allied with the Party of European Socialists.
During the two-day visit the delegation met President Saakashvili; PM Ivanishvili; parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili; Interior Minister Irakli Garibashvili; Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani; minister in charge of penitentiary system Sozar Subari; Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili, UNM parliamentary minority group leadership, as well as representatives of civil society and media.
While summing up the visit at a news conference on Tuesday evening, MEP Rouček from S&D group said in his opening remarks that all the interlocutors they had met in Tbilisi expressed “strong will” for the European integration. “There is a strong consensus on this question,” he said.
He also said that “there is a real chance” Georgia would be able to initiate Association Agreement with the European Union, also including agreement on deep and comprehensive free trade area, at the time of the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November, 2013.
“There is a strong chance that Georgia will succeed and no matter which political group in the European Parliament we represent, we fully support this effort,” MEP Rouček said.
On the process of cohabitation, he said that “in some occasions we see that there is too much tension” between the Georgian Dream coalition and opposition UNM party; he said that the main message to all the parties was need for more dialogue, cooperation and consensus on major issues for Georgia; he, however, also noted about positive cases of such dialogue and cooperation on number of issues within the Parliament.
“We appealed to our colleagues both from the government and the opposition to sometimes cool down rhetoric and cool down temperature,” MEP Rouček said.
Homophobic violence of May 17 in Tbilisi was also high on the agenda of MEPs’ meetings in Tbilisi. MEP Lunacek from the group of Greens/European Free Alliance said “all of us were really appalled” by that violence; she welcomed that both the UNM and GD condemned the violence. She expressed concern over “raise of hate speech” against LBGT, as well as against other minority groups. She welcomed the authorities’ plan to draft antidiscrimination law.
MEP Rouček said that installation of wire fences by the Russian troops across the South Ossetian administrative boundary line was also discussed during the meetings in Tbilisi; the delegation condemned this so called “borderisation” process and reiterated support to Georgia’s territorial integrity.
Ahead of the visit MEP Lisek of EPP group, whom President Saakashvili awarded with St. George’s Victory Order in November 2011 for spearheading adoption of a resolution on Georgia by the European Parliament, requested Justice Minister Tsulukiani for granting him access to UNM secretary general Vano Merabishvili, held in pretrial detention pending trial into multiple criminal charges. He visited Merabishvili on Tuesday morning. At the news conference MEP Lisek said that Merabishvili’s conditions in the detention facility were “satisfactory.” He said that Merabishvili “is in a quite good shape”. Lisek, however, noted that Merabishvili was missing news and his family members and added that he was informed by the Justice Minister and the minister for penitentiary that Merabishvili had the right to request in a written form a TV set and a short meeting with his family members. “I hope the answer will be positive,” he added.
Asked if he thought that Merabishvili’s arrest was “a political revenge” based on what he heard from various interlocutors in Georgia, MEP Lisek responded: “It is very difficult to judge, because we have [heard] different opinions from representatives of the government and representatives of the opposition.” He added that competition between the political parties should be done in “a civilized way.” MEP Lisek also said that politicians “should take into consideration [that] in two, three, four years there are other elections and everyone can win.”
Responding to the same question, MEP Rouček said: “There is also another rule in democracy that nobody should be above the law – not a prime minister, not even a president… It’s up to judge to weigh arguments both of prosecutor and defense… Neither here nor in any other country this process of looking for justice should slip into something sort of political revenge; that would be a very bad news for Georgia and for Georgia’s effort for European integration.”
Asked about parallel being drawn between Georgia and Ukraine in the context of former PM’s arrest, MEP Rouček responded: “I do not think that we should compare Georgia with Ukraine nor with any other country because every country is different and every case is different.”