President Charles Michel visit to Georgia: Key remarks
On July 18-19, President of the European Council Charles Michel visited Georgia as part of a regional tour. This was his third visit this year since the beginning of the political crisis in the country.
The President of the European Council has arrived in Georgia to participate in an international high-level conference. Before Georgia, he visited Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The conference addressed the challenges of the region and the role of the European Union in it. The meeting was attended by the presidents of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.
Before the conference, Charles Michel met with Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and opposition representatives.
Both after the meetings and at the conference, the President of the European Council delivered a number of important messages including possible suspension of EU aid to Georgia.
Each meeting of Charles Michel was accompanied by silent protests of journalists and the civil sector. Media representatives tried in every possible way to convey to the President of the European Council that freedom of speech in Georgia is in danger.
How Charles Michel was met in Georgia
On July 18, at the Batumi airport, Michel was met by the EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell, Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani and Prime Minister of the Acharian Autonomous Republic Tornike Rizhvadze.
At the same time, several local journalists came to the airport wearing T-shirts with portraits of Lekso Lashkarava, a cameraman who died a few days after being beaten in the street by opponents of the LGBT Pride on July 5. They also held posters under the Media Under Attack slogans.
Charles Michel’s third visit coincided with a difficult political situation in the country. This visit was preceded by the controversial appointment of Supreme Court judges by parliament as well as the tragic events of July 5-6, as a result of which 53 journalists were beaten and one cameraman was killed, the two consequent burnings of the EU flag in front of the Georgian parliament, large-scale protest rallies organized by the media for the first time in the history of independent Georgia as well as various protests demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior.
Thus, the arrival of Charles Michel was especially awaited by representatives of the civil sector, the media, and the opposition.
What Charles Michel was told during the pre-conference meetings
On July 19, before the start of the international conference, Charles Michel met with Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili, opposition representatives and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili.
After the meeting, the oppositionists said that they discussed the appointment of judges of the Supreme Court, the events of July 5-6, the upcoming elections and problems with the implementation of the April 19 agreement concluded between political parties at the initiative of Charles Michel.
According to the opposition, they told Michel that on July 5, the police not only failed but did not want to protect journalists from violence. They also stated that the burning of the EU flag was “very negatively assessed” by Charles Michel.
The opposition called on the President of the European Council to increase pressure on the authorities.
“We said that the mechanisms of pressure on this government, which openly renounces the European future of our country, should be strengthened,” said Salome Samadashvili, an independent member of the Georgian parliament.
According to Giorgi Vashadze, leader of the Strategy Agmashenebeli party, they reassured Michel that the opposition would support the government in implementing the agreement:
“Mr. Charles Michel said bluntly that, of course, he will talk to the authorities about these issues, it will be much more difficult behind openly closed doors than in public”.
The opposition did not specify whether there were specific talks about EU sanctions, however, it was said that funding cuts are on the agenda.
The opposition called the fact that Charles Michel met with the opposition before meeting the government authorities as an important message to the government.
“He knows very well that 80% of the population of Georgia support the European Union, NATO integration, Western partners, Western values and freedom in general. He knows that the people of Georgia are closely watching what the president says.
Hence, his messages were very important. There are some facts that I cannot talk about now, but I am sure that very serious signals will be sent regarding the current political crisis in Georgia”, Khatia Dekanoidze, a member of the United National Movement, said after the meeting.
Charles Michel’s statements
Meeting with the opposition ahead of the government was not the only message sent during Michel’s visit. After the meetings, the President of the European Council delivered several important remarks.
The President of the European Council paid special attention to the reform of the judicial system:
“Justice reform is key to the provision of financial assistance to the country”. Michel added that the appointment of Supreme Court justices (contrary to the April 19 agreement that would suspend appointments amid pending judicial reform) was a missed opportunity for Georgia.
“This reform is a key part of the April 19 agreement and a precondition for receiving financial assistance. The hasty appointment of Supreme Court justices does not fully reflect the results of consultations with international partners as well as with local stakeholders. This is truly a missed opportunity”, said Charles Michel.
Charles Michel paid particular attention to the rights of minorities and stated that minority rights are one of the key fundamental values of the EU.
“At the meetings, I stressed that the main and central role of the human rights and freedoms, which play such an important role in the relations between the EU and Georgia. Minority rights are not a secondary issue – respect for diversity and human dignity is paramount, and one of our core values”.
- Charles Michel called on opposition parties that have not yet signed the agreement to sign the April 19 document.
- In his statements, Charles Michel also touched upon the special role of press freedom.
These messages were later explained by the President of the Council of Europe in a statement on his visit to Georgia posted on the Council of Europe website.
- “We hope that you will fulfill your reform commitments, not to the joy of Brussels, but for the benefit of your own society.
Charles Michel, on behalf of the European Union, expressed solidarity with Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova on the difficult path to independence.
“Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have been independent for 30 years. One generation, with great efforts, successes, and obstacles. A generation that defines the future and builds its own space based on prosperity, cooperation and shared values - and it has been a difficult path … In the face of this aggression, the EU expresses its full solidarity with you.
We hope that you will fulfill your commitment to reform, not to the joy of Brussels, but in the interests of your people and for the good of your society. We all understand that human rights, equality, non-discrimination, small and medium-sized enterprises, protection of the press are values that are the best guarantees of prosperity”.
- Georgian gov’t, opposition standoff at an end? What’s in the newly signed agreement
- European Parliament ‘disappointed’, proposes suspending financial aid to Georgia
Each of Charles Michel’s meetings were accompanied by silent protests of media and civil society representatives. In an open letter and posters, journalists and the civil sector tried to tell the President of the European Council that the free media in Georgia and the country’s European path are under threat.
Two simultaneous protests took place in Tbilisi and Batumi.
On July 19, leaders and journalists of opposition TV channels gathered in front of the government office in Tbilisi, where they read a special address to Charles Michel.
“You should know that as long as this person, Irakli Garibashvili, is the Prime Minister of Georgia, the lives of almost all journalists and citizens are in danger”.
This was the main message of the journalists to Charles Michel from Tbilisi. Like the opposition, the media also asked the President of the Council of Europe to increase pressure on the government.
A protest took place in Batumi as well. Local journalists, as well as journalists from Tbilisi and representatives of public organizations, gathered outside the Sheraton Hotel, where the conference was taking place.
“No to violence”, “Homophobia kills”, “Democracy in danger” – these were the main messages of the silent protest.
In addition to the President of the European Council and Georgian dignitaries, the 17th Batumi International Conference was attended by representatives of the diplomatic corps, as well as the presidents of Moldova and Ukraine.
One of the country’s main opposition television channels, Mtavari Arkhi, turned off the signal during a speech at a conference by Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. A black background then appeared on the screen with an inscription stating that there was supposed to be a speech by the country’s prime minister there. Thus, the channel once again protested against the country’s prime minister, whom it considers the main instigator of violence on July 5-6.
When will you resign? – This was the only question that journalists asked the Prime Minister of Georgia Irakli Garibashvili. Garibashvili did not answer the question and fled from the podium.
In addition, an open appeal to Charles Michel on behalf of 59 organizations was circulated in the morning. The signatories of this statement declare that the media are united and are fighting like never before for Georgia to become a member of the European Union.
“Today, more than ever before, we expect Georgia’s international partners to unite to defend democracy and fundamental human rights in the country. Please continue to actively communicate with the Georgian authorities, make public statements about the failures of democracy in the country and work with civil society to continue moving the country towards Euro-Atlantic integration”, the statement said.
Comments of the Georgian authorities
The authorities sparingly commented on Charles Michel’s visit. After meeting with him, President Salome Zurabishvili did not give any comments to the press. Speaking at the conference, she said that this conference is another proof of Georgia’s commitment to the path of European integration:
“Georgia’s European future and its choice are inevitable, they are inseparable from our history, our values, and this is reflected in our constitutional provisions, this is reflected since the day of independence. This was heralded by the choice of our people. This is an issue on which there is no polarization and no debate between political parties, there is a consensus, and we never argue about it. Despite the problems and occupation, our aspirations have never been questioned”.
Even after Michel’s comments, Prime Minister Garibashvili insisted that the government was fulfilling all its obligations.
“First of all, I provided him with information on how our obligations are being fulfilled – all our obligations are being fulfilled and will be fulfilled”, Garibashvili said.
The leader of the European Georgia party, Giga Bokeria, said on the air of the TV Pirveli channel that Charles Michel’s rhetoric does not reflect the dramatic situation in the country:
“For me, as a citizen of this country, the rhetoric and vocabulary of President Michel were inadequate, they were over-diplomatic; they did not reflect the dramatic situation given that the country is on the brink of crisis”.
Charles Michel arrived in Georgia as part of a regional tour. The President of the European Council participated in the 17th Batumi International Conference “The Power of Gravity of the European Union and the Transformation of the Region”.
This is his third official visit to Georgia since the October 2020 parliamentary elections. Earlier, the European diplomat tried to reconcile the parties and ease the post-election crisis in the country.
As a result, political parties signed a document known as the “Charles Michel Agreement”. The purpose of this multi-point document was to ease the political crisis in the country.
The Charles Michel Agreement has not yet been signed by the main opposition party – the United National Movement. The opposition claims that the government is not fulfilling all the points of the agreement. This was especially true of the selection of candidates for the Supreme Court. In turn, the Georgian Dream claims that it does not violate the agreement.
- The President of the European Council is one of the highest officials of the European Union and the main EU representative in the international arena.
- Belgian politician Charles Michel was appointed to this position in 2019. Prior to that, Michel served as Prime Minister of Belgium for five years.
- The European Council is the main political body European Union. The Council includes only the leaders of the EU countries and determines the development strategy and policy of the European Union