EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, told members of the European Parliament on January 20 that Georgia has made “impressive” progress in reforms, “beyond benchmarks” set in visa liberalisation action plan with the EU.
The result of these reforms, he said, was the European Commission’s positive report in December on implementation of the visa liberalisation action plan and the Commission will now press ahead with legislative proposal to the EU-member states and the European Parliament to achieve visa waiver for Georgian citizens in the Schengen zone “as soon as possible.”
“Impressive efforts have been made to implement the Association Agreement and the results are already visible with strong growth in foreign direct investment,” Hahn said.
“The visa liberalisation action plan has proven to be an effective tool for promoting a range of reforms, but Georgia has gone beyond the action plan benchmarks and taken further steps to reform the judiciary, as well as the prosecutor’s office,” he said.
“In this regard we also closely monitor that the authorities make sure that there are no unlawful contacts against the Constitutional Court and its personnel,” the EU Commissioner said.
He was speaking at a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg where MEPs debated about implementation of EU’s Association Agreements with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Hahn made the statement on behalf of EU foreign policy chief and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini.
“We can be happy that we have already come so far with our three Association Agreement partners [Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine], but we still have a long way to go and [there is] no room at all for complacency,” Commissioner Hahn said.
The debate was held a day before the European Parliament is expected to vote on draft resolution on “Association Agreements/Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine” at a session on January 21.
Initially there were at least five separate drafts of resolution tabled by major political groups in the European Parliament. But on January 20 a joint motion for a draft resolution was made by EPP, S&D, ECR, ALDE, and Verts/ALE groups.
Specifically on Georgia, the draft resolution welcomes the progress made in reforms envisaged by the visa liberalisation action plan with the EU and “commends the commitment shown in this regard by the Georgian authorities.”
Stressing the importance of media freedom, the draft resolution expresses concern about “the adverse effects on media plurality of cases such as that of the Rustavi 2” and calls on the authorities “to guarantee media pluralism, editorial independence and transparent media ownership, especially on the eve of the 2016 parliamentary elections.”
It expresses support to the proposal put forth by the Georgian authorities of sending an expert mission of high level advisers, comprising of retired judges of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, “to oversee the ongoing case regarding Rustavi 2” ownership dispute.
Emphasizing that judicial proceedings should be “transparent, impartial and free from political motivation”, the document calls on Georgia “to continue, and fully implement, the reform of the judiciary, including by strengthening its independence and depoliticising the Prosecutor’s Office.”
“[The European Parliament] remains concerned about the lack of accountability of the Prosecutor’s Office and the blurred criteria according to which prosecutors and investigators are appointed; calls for continued efforts towards full independence, efficiency, impartiality and professionalism in the judiciary, the Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of the Interior and the newly established [State] Security Service, including parliamentary scrutiny of the activities of the latter two; is concerned about the extensive use of pre-trial detention, especially of political figures and activists, which should be an exceptional measure applied only under urgent and clear circumstances,” reads the draft resolution.
Recalling the statement of by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe on “the undue pressure exerted on judges of the Constitutional Court”, the draft resolution calls on the government to take “appropriate action, including adequate measures to protect the members of the court and their families, to investigate fully all acts of intimidation and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
It says also that “any act of violence against members of any political party should be promptly and thoroughly investigated” and calls on “all political forces in Georgia to improve the political climate by avoiding confrontation and polarisation and ensuring cross-party dialogue in the interest of strengthening democracy and the rule of law.”
The draft resolution calls for the full implementation of the recommendations laid out in a 2013 report, “Georgia in Transition”, by then EU special adviser on legal reforms and human rights in Georgia Thomas Hammarberg. The draft also notes Georgia’s e-procurement system, which, it says, has “substantially increased transparency, efficiency and accountability – key factors in the fight against corruption.”
The draft also says that the European Parliament “expects the [European] Council and the Member States to proceed to grant the two countries [Georgia and Ukraine] a visa-free travel regime without delay.”
Most of the MEPs who spoke during the debates on January 20 were supportive of the three countries’ closer association with the EU and calling for more reforms. Specifically on Georgia some were expressing concerns over, as Czech MEP Jaromír Štětina of EPP group said, selective justice and freedom of media. He, however, also welcomed Georgia’s new PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili’s calls for putting an end to political polarization. Spanish MEP Javier Nart of ALDE group said the Georgian government was controlled by “oligarch”, referring to ex-PM Bidzina Ivanishvili.
MEP from the UK Sajjad Karim of the ECR group, who co-chairs the EU-Georgia Parliamentary Association Committee, said that Georgia has “a good pace of approximation” of its legislations to the EU standards.