No compromise in sight - EU mediator's efforts to reconcile Georgian political parties again ends in nought
EU mediation in Georgian political crisis
“Unfortunately, no political party has made a decision [to compromise],” said Christian Danielson, the special envoy of the president of the European Council, following a second failed attempt of mediation talks between the ruling party and the opposition bloc in Georgia.
Previously, Danielson spent a week in Tbilisi between March 12 and 19 and stayed in Georgia three days longer than scheduled due to a lack of serious progress.
On the eve of a new round of talks, opposition parties said they would not participate in by-elections, and the government said it would not compromise on the issue of holding early elections.
Political crisis in Georgia explained
The political crisis in Georgia began shortly after the parliamentary elections in October 2020 were held. The opposition did not recognize the election results and boycotted its seats in parliament. As a result, for the first time in history, virtually a one-party parliament is now operating in the country.
The situation worsened in February 2021, when, as a result of a special operation, Nika Melia, the leader of the largest opposition party, the United National Movement, was arrested. Following Melia’s arrest, the opposition and civil activists took it to the streets to voice two of their main demands: the immediate release of political prisoners and the holding of early parliamentary elections.
The same demands are adopted by the country’s opposition bloc, which participated in the EU mediated talks with the ruling party. Several rounds of talks between the Georgian political parties were facilitated by the US Ambassador and other diplomats accredited in Georgia, as well as one of the most influential European officials, President of the European Council Charles Michel. Then, for almost a week, the negotiations in Tbilisi were mediated by his personal representative Christian Danielson, and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili visited Brussels to discuss the ongoing crisis further.
But all the meetings and mediation efforts of high-ranking officials were in vain and now both the ruling party and the opposition are accusing each other of jeopardizing the negotiations
This time, Christian Danielson, in trying to persuade the parties to sign the agreement, offered his own draft version of the document as a starting point for the discussion [full text below].
Danielson said the parties agreed on some of the document’s clauses, including the reform of the electoral system, reform of the justice system, and reform of the system of power distribution, however, none of the sides was eager to sign it.
“The signing of the agreement will put an end to a protracted dispute over key politicized court cases and over the issue of holding early elections. Such a decision requires political courage and responsibility. But Georgia’s Western partners are not here to try and force the parties to make any decisions, these are not the methods of the European Union”, Danielson said.
“European aspirations require compromises, especially from the ruling party. The Georgian leadership needs to compromise and deal with the ongoing challenges. Compromise is a sign of strength, not weakness”, Danielson added.
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What does the opposition say?
“There were five main clauses in the document, three of them we agreed on. This includes a reform of the judicial and electoral systems, the redistribution of [powers] in parliament. But the topic of political prisoners and amnesty requires clarification. I think we have made some progress”, says Mamuka Khazaradze, one of the leaders of the Lelo party.
Another opposition leader, Salome Samadashvili, said the opposition has proposed to the government a plebiscite on the new constitution and early elections. She also emphasizes that “the amnesty proposal should apply to both political prisoners” (meaning Nika Melia and Giorgi Rurua).
“The proposed version of the agreement did not specify any conditions for early elections and any direct or indirect possibility of holding them.
This once again confirms what our international partners have already mentioned before on multiple occasions: the parliamentary elections of October 31, 2020 were held in a competitive and free environment. Therefore, there is no reason for anyone in the opposition to doubt the legitimacy of these elections and the current parliament”, said Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Georgian Dream party.
Speaker of the Parliament Archil Talakvadze told reporters that the ruling party was ready to compromise on the issue of the release of one of the opposition leaders, Nika Melia.
“The amnesty for crimes committed during the June 20 events also extended to Melia. Posting his bail would have been a sign that the other side respectss the rule of law in Georgia… We are certainly constructive and ready for compromise”.
Full text of the version of the agreement proposed by the European mediator
The EU Delegation to Georgia has published a document submitted to the parties for signing by Christian Danielson.
A way ahead for Georgia
We, the undersigned parties, taking into account our shared interest to:
End the current political dispute and advance Georgia’s democratic and rule of law agenda through political, judicial, and anti-corruption reforms,
Enable our country to stay strong and united in meeting the health and economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,
Ensure Georgia’s security and stability interests in the midst of regional challenges,
Act with further determination to fulfill Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations,
Recognizing the support from President of the European Council Charles Michel,
to enter Parliament and to fully participate in parliamentary business upon signing this agreement;
to conduct our duties until the next parliamentary elections with mutual respect and in recognition of the importance of unity in the interest of Georgia’s stability.
Therefore, we commit to fulfill expeditiously and in good faith all of the following elements:
- Addressing perceptions of political justice
- In the interest of Georgia’s political stability and in order to implement this agreement, the signatories commit to address the two cases of perceived politicized justice. In particular, within one week of of signature of the agreement, a party represented in Parliament shall initiate an amnesty law for all violations and convictions stemming from the 19-21 June 2019 protests.
- Moreover, Parliament shall address the perception of politicized justice through legislation and amending the Rules of Procedure as necessary, to require a higher than simple majority threshold for the lifting of parliamentary immunity. .
- Within one week of signature: actions necessary to fulfill this provision shall be taken.
- All signatories then enter parliament to vote on the legislative changes and reforms of the parliamentary rules.
2. Ambitious electoral reform
- All future parliamentary elections will be fully proportional. The next two parliamentary elections shall have a threshold between natural and 2%.
- A grouping of at least 4 MPs shall be allowed to form a parliamentary faction to which MPs from other parties can be included.
- The parties shall support the bill tabled in Parliament on 2 March, introduced to parliament on March 2 with the following complementary modifying or amendments:
- Local elections: a 4/1 ratio of proportional and majoritarian mandates for the five major cities and a 2/1 for all others. Thresholds shall be 2.5% in Tbilisi, the threshold is 3% everywhere else.
- Central Election Commission: 8 professional members and 9 political party members. Professional members appointed by a two-thirds majority of the Parliament’s full composition. One of the political party members representing an opposition party shall be Deputy Chairperson.
- The District Election Commissions: same proportions and 2/3 majority in CEC on professional members appointment.
- Precinct Election Commission: same proportions subject to a parliamentary discussion on feasibility. Professional members appointed by a simple majority plus one vote in DECs. PEC Protocols to be signed by at least 5 professional members + 1 member of a political party.
- The CEC Chairman is elected by the Parliament with 2/3 votes.
- Clear criteria for the recounts of ballots should be defined. The automatic 10% recount of all precincts on a random basis remains.
- A special task force shall be set up under the CEC’s mandate to include Public Defender’s Office and invite credible, non-partisan election observers, as well as trusted domestic and international experts to review the dispute resolution process and provide timely recommendations to the CEC. The task force may be given additional functions such as involvement in recounts.
- In line with the Venice Commission and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE / ODIHR) of 20 March 2021 related to two draft laws initiated in January 2021 (legislative changes regarding registration and financing of parties), and proposed amendments shall be reconsidered.
- Discussion of the draft electoral bill in the Working Group law will be resumed after the entry into parliament of other opposition parties.
- An updated draft amended to fully reflect this agreement must be sent to the OSCE / ODIHR for opinion within two weeks of the conclusion of this agreement.
- All required amendments shall be adopted by the Parliament in a timely manner prior to the 2021 local government elections.
3. Rule of law / judicial reform.
In this parliamentary term, as a first step towards reforms designed for wide-ranging, inclusive and multi-party participation, parliament must approve ambitious judicial reform, including:
Improving the independence, accountability and quality of the Georgian government. As per the two justice reform packages adopted in 2017 and 2019:
a) The appointment of judges in the courts of first instance and appeal should increase transparency and merit-based selection, in particular by appointing judges based on written criteria of good faith and competence;
b) submit to Parliament a draft law on appointments to the Supreme Court, taking into account the Opinion of the Venice Commission No. 949/2019 of June 24, 2019, especially regarding the phased approach to appointments, open voting to the High Council of Justice and the need to substantiate the submissions;
c) must refrain from appointments to the Supreme Court under existing rules;
d) adopt the legislation to ensure the execution of the decision of the Constitutional Court of Georgia in June 2019, establishing the rules for the publication of court decisions.
In the meantime, all appointments to the Supreme Court must be suspended including new candidates. once the new legislation has entered into force.
Substantive reform of the High Council of Justice to enhance transparency, integrity, and accountability, including issues of appointment, assessment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary decisions, and disputes, shall be drawn up and sent to the Venice Commission and the OSCE Office for the Coordination of Human Rights and their recommendations must be fully implemented.
With regard to the future appointment of attorney generals, following the necessary constitutional amendment procedures, including public debate, the parties commit to continue to share a common political position that a qualified majority of parliamentary votes will be required to appoint the next attorney general. These appointments should be made in accordance with international best practice to ensure transparent, impartial and merit-based appointments.
The parties undertake to pursue judicial reform through an inclusive process, including assessing the effectiveness of the third and fourth waves of judicial reform. These reforms will draw on the advice and assistance of international experts, especially with regard to the integrity of the appointed judges.
- Discussions on the implementation of this agreement and further reforms begin as soon as other opposition parties enter parliament.
- The draft is drawn up and sent to the Venice Commission by July 1 for a conclusion.
- The first vote will take place at the autumn session of parliament 2021.
- Parliament will make a timely approval the reforms, no later than the spring 2022 session.
4. Power Sharing in the Parliament
Opposition MPs shall be assigned 5 committee chairmanships, 2 of which shall be among the following committees:
- Committee on Procedural Issues and Rules
- Committee on Legal Issues
- Committee on Human Rights, Legal Affairs and Civil Integration
- Budget and Finance Committee
- Foreign Relations Committee
Members of parliament from opposition parties shall be assigned 1 chairmanship among the following Parliament delegations to international fora: Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, EU-Georgia. Parliamentary Association Committee, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the OSCE PA.
In the future, other positions will be split using an inclusive formula such as the D’Hondt method [used to minimize imbalances]
The parties shall seek to establish a Jean Monnet’s dialogue with the European Parliament.
Timeframe: Within a week after signing, start the process to define more power-sharing in the Parliament with the changes to take effect upon conveying of the autumn session of 2021.
The parties take into account the OSCE / ODIHR assessment, which states that “the parliamentary elections on October 31 were held in a competitive environment and in general respect for all the fundamental freedoms”.
However, widespread accusations of voter pressure and blurring the boundaries between the ruling party and the state undermined public confidence in some aspects of the electoral process. (…) The systematic refusal to consider most of the complaints on a formal basis has significantly reduced the effectiveness of the legal responsibility in the interests of the political stability of Georgia and the implementation of this Agreement. The Georgian government shall request the arrival of an international observer mission for local elections in October 2021.
This political commitment is made upon signature of this agreement.