President Margvelashvili delivers his fourth annual state of the nation address in Kutaisi, April 7, 2017. Photo: Presidential Administration
President Giorgi Margvelashvili delivered his fourth annual state of the nation address in the Parliament chamber in Kutaisi on April 7.
Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili and some government members were present in the Parliament along with the Chairperson of the Supreme Court, Chairman of the Constitutional Court, representatives of the Autonomous Republics of Abkhazia (in exile) and Adjara, and foreign diplomats.
Margvelashvili opened his 29-minute long address by speaking about the track record of the ruling Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia (GDDG), which obtained constitutional majority in the October 2016 Parliamentary Elections.
Margvelashvili stated that following the elections, he felt that GDDG winning the constitutional majority created “a threat of concentration of power,” but at the same time, “opened up opportunities for bold reforms and initiatives.”
Five months have passed, the President went on, “a potential threat [of concentration of power] transformed into a serious problem and the reform dynamics are not inspiring.” “Unfortunately, the ruling party refused to open up and engage in a dialogue [with other political forces],” President said.
Margvelashvili, however, added that the GDDG decision to open the parliament’s floor for political debates following his address, “should be welcomed.”
Margvelashvili stressed his role as “the President of all voters” and said he expects the same approach from the Ministers and MPs. “I am looking forward to the moment, when the [election] winner will start seeking partners and not enemies, since I believe that the biggest ambition that a politician might have, is to consolidate the country and the society,” he stated.
Margvelashvili, who has been at odds with the ruling party over the ongoing constitutional reform process, which he regards as a tool to weaken the presidency, called for “a dialogue and institutional cooperation.”
Margvelashvili said that the “Constitution Belongs to Everyone” campaign, launched mid-March by the Presidential Administration “to engage wide layers of society” in the constitutional reform process, will further consolidate the Georgian public and “the voice of the people will be heard better.”
The President added that the society has “a lot of interesting views” on the constitutional reform process. “The people want more democracy, strengthening of self-government and not its weakening; access to universal education; more elected offices and the increase of accountability of these officials, as well as the strengthening of societal oversight; the society seeks more engagement in the decision-making process and the reflection of social guarantees in the constitution.”
“We should not deprive the people of their right to elect the President directly,” the President stated referring to the plans of the Constitutional Reform Commission to make the President indirectly elected.
“The mode of elections for current and future presidents should be based not on the desires of incumbent or former Prime Ministers, but on the needs of the people and [the aspiration to achieve] the truly balanced constitution,” he added.
On economy, the President said that the most “acute problems remain unaddressed.”
“We still have not managed to build a state, where no one lives on the streets, where no adolescent lives and works on the streets; where thousands of children are not in extreme poverty; where the elderly do not suffer from helplessness, where no one is hungry and no one feels cold,” he stated.
Margvelashvili listed unemployment, poverty, price hikes, meager pensions and unstable currency exchange rate as main economic problems and added that “the growth of economy or investments will remain to be pointless,” if there is no “effective wealth distribution and job creation.”
He then spoke on fostering entrepreneurship, which, in the words of Margvelashvili, should be the Government’s “obligation.” “Economic reforms should not happen without consulting the business sector.”
At the same time, the President underlined the role of the competition in economy, “which is the prerequisite of strong economy.” “Let’s face the recent developments, big businesses are getting bigger at the expense of acquiring and/or merging with smaller businesses … small and medium businesses cannot develop in these circumstances, and neither will the unemployment problem be solved.”
The President also called on the “effective implementation” of the Competition Law and the introduction of “minimal standards” of workplace safety.
Margvelashvili also spoke about the Government’s “positive projects,” such as “Produce in Georgia,” “StartUp Georgia,” “Plant the Future” and the infrastructural projects “which increase the country’s transit, logistical and tourism potential.”
Here, the President also stressed the need of developing the capital market, “which would create a long-term and alternative financial resource for strengthening the private sector.” He added, “the timely implementation of the pension reform, would make the strategy a lot more effective.”
On European integration, the President noted that “real steps ahead have been taken,” but the country “should not settle with what has been achieved.” “Georgia’s declared and ultimate goal is to return to its historical family of European states,” Margvelashvili stated.
“We should work actively for becoming the EU applicant country,” Margvelashvili went on. “For that, strengthening democracy, institutional stability, human rights protection, rule of law, economic development and an effective European legal system is necessary.”
“Expansion of the Europe-Asia transport corridor” remains to be the country’s foreign policy priority and more countries need to be involved in it,” according to the President.
Margvelashvili also spoke on increasing the “engagement of friendly states” in Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration, using Baltic, Scandinavian and Visegrad cooperation formats. Putting Georgia’s problems “under Washington’s spotight is extremely important” as well.
Speaking on the non-recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as “a successful example” of active cooperation between Georgia and its international partners, Margvelashvili noted that the country should also formulate “anti-annexation policy” against Russia’s steps to annex the two territories.
At the same time, he said, Georgia should have “sharpest response to the erection of the new dividing lines and barbed wire fences, to restriction of Georgian-language schooling in Gali district of Abkhazia, to kidnapping of people [on the boundary lines] and to destruction of cultural monuments on the occupied territories.”
He then briefly touched upon the upcoming NATO Brussels Summit, which is to be attended by NATO member states only. “Georgia’s NATO membership perspective was maintained as a priority at the NATO Warsaw Summit; in addition, Georgia was invited to participate in the dialogue on the NATO strategic dialogue for security in the Black Sea Region,” Margvelashvili noted.
“The Black Sea security starts in Georgia,” he continued. “Therefore, Georgia’s active involvement in building the security architecture in the Black Sea is crucial.”
Margvelashvili urged Georgia’s partner states to be its “voice” at the upcoming NATO summit – “European security is determined by the security of Georgia and the Black Sea region.”
Security, Defense Reforms
The President spoke on the importance of societal unity and the need of developing “a unified national security approach” in countering “modern challenges and threats.”
“Adopting the unified approach in national security policy will transform the state, the armed forces and the society into a unified defense system,” Margvelashvili noted.
At the same time, he added, “National Security concept should be updated, National Security Strategy should to be developed and the national security system should to be perfected.”
The President welcomed the proposed reforms in military conscription, according to which, conscripts will go through preparatory combat training for three months and will serve as duty officers for the remaining nine months. He, however, added that the conscription should only serve the country’s defense capacities and that “other public agencies [who use conscripts as duty officers] should find alternative rsources to perform the functions, which are currently performed by recruits.”
Abkhazia, South Ossetia
In his speech, the President also addressed the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.“No one would have imagined that the Berlin Wall would collapse and the leader of unified Germany would hail from the Eastern part of Germany,” Margvelashvili stated.
“I hope the time will come when artificially-erected walls will collapse in Georgia as well and the leader of unified Georgia will be someone from beyond the wall,” the President noted. “The time will come when the divided societies will unite, when Georgians, Abkhaz, Ossetians will manage to find a common ground, when displaced persons will return safely.”
Margvelashvili said that “recent developments” have demonstrated that there is a “crisis” in the Judiciary.
The President reiterated his earlier offer to invite EU experts “in identifying exact reasons of and finding solutions to the crisis.”
Margvelashvili added that “the judges themselves should become the main actors” in improving the state of the Judiciary. “The struggle for independence of judiciary should happen in every court, every courtroom, every office and every conference room; everyone should assume this burden. Regretfully, the judges keep silent over these important issues.”
The President also announced that he will support the individual Constitutional Court applications against the Surveillance Bill in the capacity of amicus curiae, which, in Margvelashvili’s words, will enable him “to help the Constitutional Court in making a better decision.”