European Parliament will vote to give consent to the Association Agreement with Georgia in Strasbourg on December 18.
Debate on Georgia in the European Parliament on Wednesday evening demonstrated most of the political groups’ support to the ratification of the Association Agreement between the EU and Georgia, which will be put on vote on December 18.
The vote in the European Parliament in Strasbourg will be attended by Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili and Foreign Minister Tamar Beruchashvili. Ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili, who has been invited by the European People’s Party (EPP), is also expected to be present.
A day before the vote, MEPs debated on the issue, as well as report and draft of resolution, which was prepared by a Latvian MEP Andrejs Mamikins, who is a rapporteur on Georgia. The original draft, however, was amended when it was discussed by the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee in November with many of the changes introduced by the EPP group to reflect in the text their concern over “selective justice” and prosecution of former government officials.
In his opening remarks MEP Mamikins said that “Georgia has always been a European country”, where the European integration enjoys with the support of majority of population. He said that he’s “impressed” by reforms Georgia has carried out and also added that there are still many issues that need to be closely scrutinized by the EU, among them in the areas of rule of law, judiciary and protection of minority rights.
European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who spoke during the debates to voice the European Commission’s position, said that ratification of the Association Agreement and strong support by the European Parliament would be “an important message for reinforcement” of EU-Georgia ties.
“Georgia is one of the frontrunners of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership policy,” Commissioner Avramopoulos said, adding that the Association Agreement with Georgia is a result of EU’s determination to build “democratic, stable and prosperous” country in the region, which is of “key strategic importance” for the EU.
He said that as a result of implementation of the Association Agreement “Georgia will move closer to the European Union.”
“Georgia has made important progress in its democratic development following” 2012 parliamentary, 2013 presidential and 2014 local elections, Commissioner Avramopoulos said. “But the political climate in the country needs improving.”
“Political confrontation and polarisation should be avoided and space for opposition and cross-party dialogue need to be ensured. Georgia needs to continue reform of the judiciary and to ensure rule of law,” he said.
Avramopoulos also said that provisional application of the DCFTA, which was launched from September 1, “is already showing first results”, citing 15% increase of Georgian exports, mainly in nuts and mineral products, to the EU in September, 2014.
In his remarks the Commissioner also touched upon Moscow’s new treaty on “alliance and strategic partnership” with breakaway Abkhazia, signed in November, saying that it was detrimental to efforts to stabilize situation in the region.
Most of those over forty MEPs, who spoke during the debates, voiced their support to the Association Agreement with Georgia and many of them were also noting about challenges in the process of carrying out further reforms required by the agreement.
“Ratification of the Association Agreement is not a Christmas gift for Georgia,” said Lithuanian MEP Petras Auštrevičius from the group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. “It is a huge task that will require from the Georgian authorities both good skills and solid speed. For instance in 2015 the legal harmonization will embark some 72 legislative initiatives.”
Many of the speakers during the debates were discussing the issue in the context of Russia, some of them noting that Georgia remained committed to its European path despite of pressure from Moscow.
Polish MEP from the group of European Conservatives and Reformists, Marek Jurek, said that the EU should have offered the Association Agreement to Georgia much earlier, particularly after Russia’s aggression in August, 2008. “Such a response could have even prevented Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” he said.
When French MEP Aymeric Chauprade from France’s far-right National Front spoke against the Association Agreement, he was attacked by some MEPs by accusing him of voicing Moscow’s views; Romanian MEP from EPP group, Cristian Dan Preda, pointed at National Front receiving loan from a Russian bank and another Romanian MEP from the group of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, Victor Boștinaru, said that sometimes he has an impression of “Moscow speaking” in the chamber. British MEP Sajjad Karim from the European Conservatives and Reformists group suggested there should be an investigation into a clear pattern of “far-right, extremist” and “pro-Putin” groups being funded from Russia.
“When you defend the point of view of Americans, I do not say that you are an agent working for Washington,” MEP Chauprade responded.
“Those who will vote in favor of this [Association Agreement] will put us on the right side of the history. Those who will decide to vote against are choosing Vladimir Putin’s path,” Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson of the EPP group said.
Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, a eurosceptic group in the European Parliament, co-chaired by leader of UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, said it would abstain from voting on ratification of the Association Agreement with Georgia.
Many of the MEPs, while expressing full support for the Association Agreement, were also raising concerns over what they were calling “selective justice” and “politically motivated” prosecutions of former government officials in Georgia. MEPs from EPP, which is a partner of UNM opposition party in Georgia, were especially outspoken in this regard.
After condemning Russia’s occupation of Georgian territories, Swedish MEP Gunnar Hökmark from EPP said “selective justice that we see the Georgian government is using against its opposition” is unacceptable.
Lithuanian MEP Gabrielius Landsbergis of EPP said that there “are still some alarming developments” in Georgia. “People who laid the foundation for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic path are prosecuted on political motives and Georgia increasingly demonstrates indications of selective justice; the current Georgian government should note that it is being taken into account very seriously here in the Parliament,” he added.
In his closing remarks Commissioner Avramopoulos said the discussions confirmed that “we agree on the need to continue strongly support Georgia moving close to the European Union.”
“We also welcome political commitment of Georgia to continue with the necessary reforms, in particular in the field of justice, rule of law and response of fundamental rights of all citizens without discrimination. Prosecutions should be transparent, proportionate, free from political motivation and adhering strictly to due process,” he said.
Along with ratification of the Association Agreement, MEPs will also vote on December 18 on a broad-ranging draft of non-legislative resolution on Georgia.
While the draft welcomes Georgian authorities’ “recent reforms” to “strengthen” democratic institutions, it also expresses concern about “the lack of accountability of the prosecutor’s office” and about numerous former government officials and current opposition figures being charged and imprisoned. The draft also “expresses concern” over “the potential use of the judicial system to fight against political opponents, which could undermine the efforts of the Georgian authorities in the area of democratic reform.”
The draft says that the European Parliament “welcomes recent reforms by the Georgian authorities designed to further strengthen the stability, independence and effectiveness of institutions responsible for guaranteeing democracy (particularly that of the judicial institutions), the rule of law and good governance, and as regards consolidating the system of protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms; reiterates the importance of ensuring that all three branches of power remain separated; calls for the effective use of the checks and balances system, together with oversight mechanisms.”
It “notes the efforts by the Georgian authorities in the area of democratic reforms, including tackling the reform of the judiciary, and the need to investigate properly and fully all allegations of violations of human rights; reiterates that justice-sector reform in Georgia remains a priority for both Georgia and the European Union; recognises the fundamental principle of equality before the law and the guarantee of procedural rights.”
The draft resolution “deplores” what it calls “the violent outbreaks of Islamophobia and homophobia that have taken place in the country”, as well as “the failure of the prosecution services and the judiciary to bring the perpetrators to justice in an effective way.”
The draft notes importance of a cross-party dialogue for the adoption of the basic reforms and obligations which stem from the Association Agreement, “in the spirit of a consensual European choice” and calls on the Georgian political forces “to avoid the ‘winner takes all’ approach that has characterised the previous governments, in order to overcome the long-standing polarisation of Georgian society.”
The draft “acknowledges that accusations of cases of so-called selective justice have had a negative impact” and calls on the Georgian authorities “to avoid instrumentalising the justice system as a tool of political retribution.”
The draft resolution notes that Georgia “has a European perspective and may apply to become a member of the Union provided that it adheres to the principles of democracy, respects fundamental freedoms and human and minority rights, and ensures the rule of law.” It says that conclusion of the Association Agreement “is not an end in itself, but part of a broader process to bring the country into the European mainstream legally, economically, politically and socially.”
It also says that the European Parliament “fully supports visa liberalisation for Georgia as an immediate sign of closer EU-Georgia relations and a direct benefit for the population.”
The draft resolution also addresses issues related to Georgia’s relations with Russia and breakaway regions.
It calls on Moscow “to reverse its recognition” Abkhazia and South Ossetia and “to end its occupation” of these regions. It expresses concern over treaty on “alliance and strategic partnership” signed between Moscow and Sokhumi in November.
The draft reads that the European Parliament “supports the positive steps taken by the Georgian government towards the improvement of relations with Russia” and calls on Moscow “to engage constructively in finding a peaceful resolution to the conflicts and particularly with the Geneva talks,” which were launched after the August 2018 war. The draft says that the European Parliament “finds regrettable… the lack of substantial progress in the Geneva talks despite the efforts of the Georgian authorities to engage constructively to address all security and humanitarian concerns in the conflict areas” and calls “for a more effective role for the EU in the process.”