Members of the European Parliament have warned that Georgia is facing a crisis in democracy, taking aim at both the government and opposition.
The comments came during a debate on the situation in Georgia, as the political crisis sparked by the disputed October parliamentary elections further deepens.
Opening the debate, Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that while Georgia ‘remains a key associated partner of the European Union’, the current crisis was a ‘cause for serious concern’.
‘This situation risks undermining Georgia’s democracy.’
His concerns were echoed by others.
Andrius Kubilius, an MEP and former Lithuanian Prime Minister, said it was ‘difficult to see Georgia in this deep and long-lasting political crisis’.
‘Because this is a crisis of democracy. Maturity of democracy means transparency of elections, rule of law and non-politicisation of justice, real adherence to democratic values and fair parliamentary processes.’
Lithuanian MEP Petras Auštrevičius, speaking on behalf of Renew, the third largest grouping in the European Parliament, said the crisis ‘illustrate a systematic political crisis that prevents further democratic consolidation’.
Romanian MEP Nicolae Ştefănuță, also from the Renew group, said Georgians could ‘no longer situate themselves between real democracy and imitation democracy’.
‘If Georgia truly wants to change the trajectory and ascend to a Euro-Atlantic integration, it needs to really show commitment. It needs to be more reform-oriented and more creative and open in its foreign policy. It must fully undo the damage left by the previous flawed regime. It must commit to the rules and values that make us Europeans.’
‘If Georgia wants European and Atlantic integration, it cannot slip down into the claws of corruption.’
Many MEPs urged Georgia to undertake structural reforms to overcome the crisis, primarily focussing on reforming the electoral system and addressing the politicisation of the courts.
This included German MEP David McAllister, speaking on behalf of the European People’s Party, the largest grouping in the European Parliament.
‘The way forward should include an ambitious electoral reform, a rule of law and court reform, also addressing politicised justice, power-sharing in parliament, including the setting up of the investigative commission and potentially new elections.’
McAllister was not the only MEP to mention the possibility of new elections in Georgia, which has been the main demand of the opposition.
German MEP Viola Von Cramon of the Greens–European Free Alliance said ‘the people of Georgia need to be the cornerstone of the solution.’
‘They should decide the date and time of the next elections.’
A possible compromise floated by the Georgian opposition has been to hold a referendum alongside local elections later this year on whether to hold snap parliamentary elections.
‘Those elections would only be an emergency fix and not a long-term solution’, Von Cramon said. ‘Without a completely new electoral system, we will see the crisis repeating itself. The reform of the judiciary and more parliamentary oversight for the opposition must be the political priority.’
EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles gave a similar solution. ‘The main outstanding issues in the political stalemate are the issues of electoral reform, justice reform, perception of a politicised justice, power-sharing in Parliament and — this is the most difficult issue — the question of early new elections or a possible plebiscite.’
Anna Fotyga, speaking on behalf of the conservative ECR grouping, said that the EU should focus on facilitating dialogue between the government and opposition in Georgia, ‘probably leading to new inclusive elections’.
‘Behave as real Europeans’
Fabio Massimo Castaldo, an MEP from Italy’s Five Star Movement, called for ‘an immediate end to the arrests based on political motivations and the immediate release of Nick Melia.’
Riho Terras, an Estonian MEP and former chief of the Estonian armed forces was more blunt.
‘We, the European Union, cannot tolerate the raiding of the office of the main opposition party and the imprisonment of its chairman. How can we expect the opposition to negotiate if one of the negotiating parties has been put behind bars?’ he asked.
Markéta Gregorová, speaking on behalf of the Greens–European Free Alliance, said the EU should help Georgia ‘get back on track again’ and ‘let go of political prisoners, such as Mr Rurua, promised already by the [March 2020 agreement between the government and opposition], and Mr Melia, and let citizens decide who represents them, in a fair system, without a shadow of a doubt about its fairness.’
‘Here we are on 9 March, after a year of promises and with an even worse situation. It saddens me to see it.’
Anna Fotyga of the ECR Group, also referred to the March 2020 agreement, calling it the ‘one exception’ amidst ‘so much bad news coming from Tbilisi’ since June 2019, when police dispersed an anti-government protest outside parliament.
‘The bad news culminated in the period after the [October 2020] elections, with the recent storming of the opposition party headquarters and the arbitrary detention of their leader.’
EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell Fontelles also mentioned Melia, after one MEP suggested the EU had not reacted strongly to his arrest. ‘Let me state that there was no silence’, he said.
He referred to a statement made by the EU after a court ordered Melia’s arrest which made ‘specific reference to the case of Mr Melia’.
‘So, I think this explanation is interesting and useful to explain how things were.’
Where blame was laid for the ongoing crisis, it was in most cases, laid at the feet of both the Government and the opposition.
‘Politicians from both camps are to be blamed for this mess’, Viola Von Cramon of the Greens–European Free Alliance said.
‘Both harmful shadow actors — Mr Saakashvili and Mr Ivanishvili — should stop any further interference’, she added.
There were several references during the debate to honorary UNM chair Mikheil Saakashvili and Georgian Dream founder Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Michael Gahler, an MEP from Germany’s ruling CDU party, said he did not want ‘the people who make the decisions for the government and the opposition to work in the background or from abroad’, in an apparent reference to the two.
He said the solution to the crisis should not be about ‘short-term tactical advantages for one or the other party but about returning to a common path that leads towards Europe.’
Estonian MEP Riho Terras said Ivanishvili was ‘acting as a puppeteer’.
‘He’s not leading from behind. He’s leading from behind the curtains,’ he said.
Rasa Juknevičienė a former Lithuanian Defence Minister representing the European People’s Party also blamed both the government and opposition.
‘I have always had doubts about the commitment of the de facto leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party to pursue Euro-Atlantic integration. But today, I do not see anybody on either side of the political spectrum willing and ready to take responsibility for the future of the country’, she said.
Andrius Kubilius a fellow Lithuanian MEP from the EPP, said he ‘simply would urge both sides to start to behave as real Europeans’.
This was a sentiment echoed by Italy’s Fabio Massimo Castaldo. ‘The streets of Tbilisi are covered with flags of the Union: it is time for the values they represent to enter fully into the political debate of Tbilisi itself.’