The European Parliament passed a resolution on the EU Neighbourhood Policy on October 23, which in respect of Georgia expresses support for initialing Association Agreement with this country at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in late November, but also says that signing of this agreement should be “conditional on tangible progress” in the rule of law and democracy.
In the lead up to the approval of the resolution, drafted by the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, the document drew much attention in Georgia because its draft included a phrase referring to ex-interior minister and former PM Vano Merabishvili, who is now in pre-trial dentition, as “political prisoner”.
The draft was also calling to make even the initialing of the Association Agreement at the Vilnius summit conditional “on tangible progress by the Georgian authorities in the area of the rule of law, starting with the release of all political prisoners including Vano Merabishvili.”
Georgian Dream ruling coalition was saying that this amendment was introduced in the draft as a result of UNM’s efforts made through some MEPs from UNM’s partner European People’s Party (EPP); GD lawmakers, as well as Georgian government officials were saying that efforts were underway for removal of the phrase from the draft. PM Ivanishvili said on October 21 that there “is very small probability” for this wording to remain in the final text.
When commenting on this issue, PM Ivanishvili also said in an interview with the Imedi TV on October 21 that in general UNM and the previous authorities were spending “lot of money” on lobbying.
“It’s not Europeans’ and Americans’ fault, it’s our fault; they [the previous authorities] managed astonishing things with money amassed by robbing us and created good image there [in the west]. I do not rule out even a corruption; haven't you heard of corruption in Europe and America? They [the previous authorities] were handing out lot of money abroad, hiring lobbyists to make PR; this [trend] is gradually scaling down, but it still persists; they still have money and they spend it,” he said.
These remarks, in particular mentioning “corruption”, angered the EPP leadership. In a written statement on October 23 chairman of EPP group in the European Parliament, Joseph Daul, said that “accusations by PM Ivanishvili that AFET [Committee on Foreign Affairs] MEPs have been bribed are totally unacceptable” and added that “Ivanishvili’s populism has no limits.”
The text of resolution as passed on October 23 no longer mentions “political prisoners”; it “notes the ongoing judicial inquiries affecting leading opposition figures, including Vano Merabishvili, and calls for the full respect of European standards and norms.”
In the resolution the European Parliament “recognises the progress achieved in the modernisation of the country and in meeting the requirements of the Association Agreement in recent years”, but also “notes with concern” the “deficiencies that still persist in the application of democratic standards.”
“Highlights in this regard the need for further improvements and reforms aimed at achieving an independent and impartial judiciary and an effective criminal justice system, as well as a non discriminatory electoral system and respect for minority rights; notes the ongoing judicial inquiries affecting leading opposition figures, including Vano Merabishvili, and calls for the full respect of European standards and norms,” the resolution reads.
“[The European Parliament] encourages the initialling of the Association Agreement, including DCFTA [deep and comprehensive free trade area], at the Vilnius summit and the speedy conclusion of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, believes that the signing of the Association Agreement should be conditional on tangible progress by Georgia in the area of the rule of law and democracy and meeting European standards in the upcoming presidential elections; recognises the important impact the implementation of the Association Agreement, free trade and the introduction of visa-free travel will have on the reform process in Georgia,” reads the resolution, which calls on the European Commission “to apply this rule of conditionality by setting a range of benchmarks according to which this progress will be measured.”
On upcoming presidential vote, the resolution says that the October 27 election “will be a litmus test for Georgia’s readiness to apply standards of democracy and the rule of law, with full freedom for the opposition to run in the elections and for free, independent media to cover the campaign without any interference by the authorities.”
On foreign policy issues, the resolution expresses support towards the Georgian government’s efforts “to lessen tensions with Russia while preserving the country’s pro-European orientation” and reiterates “firm support for Georgia’s territorial integrity.” It also says: “Georgia should not abstain from European aspirations and that it should resist pressure to give up association with the EU.”
The Georgian government welcomed the resolution in a written statement released on October 23.