The ruling Georgian Dream Party has withdrawn its observer membership of the Party of European Socialists (PES), the second largest party in the European Parliament, after being criticised for taking part in a conservative conference.
Announcing the decision on Thursday, party chair Irakli Kobakhidze said it was a response to PES’s criticism of Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili for his participation in the Conservative Political Action Coalition (CPAC) meeting in Budapest, Hungary.
PES is a progressive pan-European umbrella platform represented in the European Parliament by the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the second largest group in the parliament after the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).
In his CPAC keynote speech on 4 May, where he shared a platform with and praised Hungary’s far-right prime minister, Victor Orban, Gharibashvili lashed out against ‘LGBTQ+ propaganda’ which he claimed went against ‘traditional family values’ and promoted ‘gender-affirming procedures for children’ — key homophobic and transphobic talking points of far-right groups internationally.
Shortly after Georgian Dream’s withdrawal from the group on Thursday, PES told OC Media that it had ‘for several months […] discussed, expressed concern at, and condemned activities by Georgian Dream which place the party outside the values of the PES’.
‘The PES has also publicly raised its concerns at the PES Foreign Policy Network in March chaired by PES Vice President Kati Piri, and at the highest level during the PES Presidency meetings chaired by PES President Stefan Löfven in March and April’.
Piri had described Gharibashvili’s speech at CPAC as ‘placing him completely outside the values of our political family’.
PES also told OC Media that ‘Georgian Dream has been unable or unwilling to satisfactorily justify its actions’, adding that they had not received a formal withdrawal request from Georgian Dream.
In his press conference on Thursday, Kobakhidze criticised PES for voicing ‘threats’ publicly without directly reaching out to them.
The Georgian Dream chair listed additional grievances that allegedly contributed to their decision to leave the group, accusing PES of ‘failing to support’ Georgian Dream at least once since the party became an observer member in 2015 and failing to support Georgia’s bid for EU candidacy.
Last October, PES emphasised their support for granting candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, and the potential for it to be granted to Georgia.
‘Their future lies inside the European Union’, PES asserted in their resolution, a position that Georgian Dream celebrated at the time.
But on 11 May, Kobakhidze cited actions by the group that he and his party took issue with.
‘Last year and this year, several tens of [Members of the European Parliament] from PES supported absurd resolutions in which the European Parliament demanded sanctioning of our founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili, releasing two criminals — Mikheil Saakashvili and Nika Gvaramia — and ending the prosecution of another criminal, Davit Kezerashvili’, Kobakhidze complained.
[Read more on OC Media: European Parliament calls for sanctions to be considered on Ivanishvili]
‘In those circumstances, PES membership not only failed to benefit Georgia on its path towards European integration but was entirely counterproductive’.
Kobakhidze went on to accuse PES of losing its connection to its ‘classical social-democratic ideology’ and of descending into ‘pseudo-liberalism’.
‘This sort of ideological transformation of PES is unacceptable for us and is incompatible with the values and vision of our party as well as of Georgian society’, he said.
Kobakhidze added that his party was looking for ‘a European family’ that matched the party in terms of ‘loyalty’ and values.
Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili also raised this possibility.
‘Excuse me, friends, but that’s who we are, we want Georgia this way, that’s how we are — conservatives, […], defenders of family values and if they don’t want us with them for this reason, I wish them well and good luck.’
‘There is a conservative platform, there are others too, and we’ll partner up with other parties’, he said.
It is not yet clear which of the other six political groups represented in the European Parliament the party might attempt to join.
Both the centre right European People’s Party (EPP) and right-wing European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) groups have supported resolutions criticisng the party, and even the far-right Identity and Democracy group, with members including the German AfD, spoke in support of the resolution proposing sanctioning Ivanishvili.