Risky de-oligarchization and unaccounted for recommendations - conclusion of the Venice Commission on Georgia
Venice Commission opinion on Georgia
The Venice Commission has published a conclusion on adoption of the Law on Deoligarchization and Law On General Courts, which it says poses a risk, as it may also apply to the opposition and the courts.
Bill on deoligarchization
Limiting the influence of “oligarchs” in political, economic and public life is “of course a priority for a state that wants to achieve a democratic system of the rule of law”, which however may carry some risks:
● “The document sent from Georgia is based on personal approaches and is not systemic, which would serve to strengthen the institutions and the legal framework. Also, against the backdrop of public statements, the bill on deoligarchization of Georgia contains a great risk that, after its adoption, it would spread to the opposition as well.”
● The Venice Commission identifies two problematic approaches:
The first concerns legislation on the media, political parties, anti-corruption and money laundering;
The second an individual approach.
According to the conclusion, with a personal approach, people are singled out according to certain criteria as “oligarchs”.
● The personal approach is punitive and may result in the violation of several human rights if adequate due process safeguards are not provided.
● The Venice Commission prefers a systemic approach that strengthens the legal framework and institutions; despite the problematic nature of the personal approach, not all of its elements and approaches are illegal.
● The Venice Commission is more in favor of a systematic approach, which includes the strengthening of legislation and institutions working in different areas, which allows for effective cooperation and mutual assistance between them.
The Venice Commission recommends a review of the main procedures, including a more precise definition of some terms. It also notes that procedures need to be clarified.
“Ensure that restrictions on those who can be declared oligarchs are proportional by law, and introduce systemic measures to reduce the influence of the oligarchy.” — as written in the conclusion.
The Parliament of Georgia adopted the bill on deoligarchization in the second reading on November 16. After that consideration was stopped and the bill was sent to the Venice Commission.
Work on deoligarchization is one of the recommendations of the European Commission’s 12-point plan. According to the deputies of the European Parliament, speaking of deoligarchization they mean specifically Bidzina Ivanishvili, who is considered the informal ruler in Georgia. From Georgian Dream, businessmen Mamuka Khazaradze and Badri Japaridze, as well as ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili and founder of the Formula TV company David Kezerashvili, are considered oligarchs.
According to a decision by Georgian Dream, the list of oligarchs is made by the government, not the parliament.
According to the draft, a person with significant economic and political weight in public life (an oligarch) is considered to be an individual who simultaneously meets at least three of the following criteria: a) participates in political life; b) has a significant influence on the media; c) is the ultimate beneficiary of an entrepreneurial legal entity that has a dominant position in the market and maintains or improves this position during the year; d) the confirmed amount of his property and the property of entrepreneurial legal entities, of which he is the beneficiary, as of January 1 of the relevant year, exceeds 1,000,000 times the subsistence minimum established for able-bodied persons.
Law on General Courts
Regarding the Law on Courts of General Jurisdiction, it is noted that the main recommendations made by the Commission earlier have not been taken into account so far. Among them, the resolution of issues of personal interests in the High Council of Justice is highlighted.
Elimination of issues of judicial corporatism and personal interests in the High Council of Justice, which should include a comprehensive reform of the High Council of Justice
Limitation of the broad powers of the High Council of Justice regarding secondment or transfer of judges without their consent.
“Acts adopted by the parliament without consultations with the opposition and civil society do not meet democratic standards.
The adoption by the parliament of acts regulating important aspects of the rule of law, without real consultations with the opposition, experts and civil society, does not comply with the norms of democratic lawmaking,” the conclusion reads.
The conclusion also recommends revising the procedure for removing judges from office, clarifying the grounds for removal, providing more time to appeal against this decision, and maintaining salaries for the period of removal.
“Limit the grounds for disciplinary liability of judges related to obvious violations of the obligation of political neutrality, expression of opinion, leaving judges the opportunity to comment on things such as the judiciary. Ensuring that the instructions of the Supreme Court are binding on the High Council of Justice,” as stated in the conclusion.
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Speaker of the Georgian Parliament Shalva Papuashvili at a briefing in the legislature said that the conclusion on the law on deoligarchization says that it is indeed Ukrainian, and the Venice Commission did not object to the adoption of this law by Georgia.
As for the amendments to the law On General Courts, according to Papuashvili, the Venice Commission does not object to the amendments developed by the Georgian Parliament.
“As for the amendment to the Law on Courts of General Jurisdiction, the Venice Commission has no comments on the amendments that we have developed. Along with this, he has suggestions on additional issues, since the Venice Commission discussed not only this project, but also generally assessed its own recommendations issued over the past 2-3 years and considered them in this context. It contains additional recommendations, which we will also discuss,” Papuashvili said.
Lawyer Guram Imnadze says that the conclusion explicitly states that the bill does not provide for a systemic reform of justice:
“>On 7 different issues, it is noted that the bill does not take into account the recommendations previously made by the Venice Commission;
>it is explicitly stated that the bill does not provide for a systemic reform of justice (therefore, by virtue of this and the above paragraphs, the bill cannot comply with the recommendations of the European Commission);
>It is emphasized that the bill does not provide for the reform of the High Council of Justice (which should become the basis for a systemic reform of justice);
>Once again and more clearly stated that the problem of corporatism and nepotism in the council must be taken seriously, because it seriously undermines the credibility of the court;
>Some technical points are noted positively in the conclusion, but it is also indicated here that correct and efficient implementation is important.
I don’t know what justification the government will find after such a conclusion, but recently they held such master classes in asserting black over white that I am sure they will not be ashamed this time either.”
On June 17, 2022, the European Commission prepared a report on granting Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova candidate status for EU membership. Ukraine and Moldova will receive the status of an EU candidate and will be required to fulfill certain obligations, while Georgia will first be obliged to fulfill the 12-point plan and conditions, and only then have the chance to become a candidate.
On October 13, 2022, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) declared the Russian regime a terrorist organization and became the first international organization to adopt a similar act. The ruling party of Georgia claims that it shares the general spirit of the PACE resolution, but does not support the document, because it does not agree with the protocol on the political conclusion of ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili.
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Later the resolution was amended, where the Assembly requires “consideration of cases and release of political prisoners in opposition to President Putin, including a citizen of Ukraine and former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili” in the Russian Federation and other countries.
On November 8, 2022, MEPs discussed the annual report on the implementation of the Association Agreement between Georgia and the European Union at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels. According to the compromise document, Ivanishvili is no longer mentioned as an oligarch, but in the chapter on deoligarchization his name and surname are indicated and it is says that it is necessary to take, among other things, legislative decisions regarding Ivanishvili’s excessive influence.
On February 3, 2023, the European Commission published a report on Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova’s compliance with EU law and rated Georgia’s compliance with EU foreign policy as “moderately prepared”.
Venice Commission opinion on Georgia