Georgia: rapporteurs welcome progress made and hope the authorities will soon address outstanding issues

At the end of their visit to Tbilisi from 28 to 30 March 2017, the co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for the monitoring of Georgia, Boriss Cilevics (Latvia, SOC) and Kerstin Lundgren (Sweden, ALDE), welcomed the consistent progress made by the country in the honouring of its accession commitments and membership obligations and the excellent co-operation between the country and the Council of Europe in doing so.

At the same time they noted that a number of items still remain to be fully addressed, including with regard to the independence of the judiciary, which is an issue closely followed by them. In this respect they expressed their confidence that the authorities, and other stakeholders would soon address these outstanding issues.

With regard to the constitutional reform process they welcomed the pledge of the ruling majority that no provisions would be adopted that would not have the approval of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. They noted that that there is now a good possibility that a broad agreement can be created on the new electoral system which is a long standing recommendation of the Assembly. The rapporteurs urged all stakeholders to overcome any outstanding differences and to ensure that the electoral system and its implementation is based on an as broad as possible consensus between all stakeholders concerned.

In this respect the rapporteurs expressed their concern that some of the issues being discussed in the framework of the electoral system, a prohibition of party blocs for elections while keeping a relatively high threshold and the rewarding of seats of parties that do not make the threshold to the winner of the elections, cumulatively would undermine the stated goal of the authorities to strengthen political parties and multi-party parliamentarism in Georgia.

The rapporteurs will continue to follow the constitutional reform process closely and expressed their hope that the constitutional amendments that will be proposed by the Constitutional Commission will be based on an as wide as possible consensus of all stakeholders in the country.

The rapporteurs also welcomed the adoption of the so called third wave of judicial reforms but expressed their regret that some recommendations of the Venice Commission that aimed to strengthen the independence of the judiciary, such as the election of the court chairpersons by their peers, were not followed by the parliament.

They expressed hope that these issues will be addressed in a future reform that should also address some of the concerns that the rapporteurs heard with regard to the functioning of the High Council of Justice.

The rapporteurs noted the concerns expressed with regard to the amendments to the laws governing surveillance, in particular that the agency responsible for the surveillance of telecommunications would lack the required independence. The rapporteurs called on the authorities to request an opinion of the Venice Commission on the law as adopted.

The rapporteurs underlined their satisfaction with the clear and univocal declaration of the Prime Minister that the authorities would fully abide by the interim measures ordered by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in relation to the Rustavi 2 case and, taking note of reports that the current owners of Rustavi 2 would be looking at changing the ownership structure of the company, expressed their hope that all other stakeholders would equally respect the spirit of these interim measures.

Lastly, the rapporteurs expressed their serious concerns about the integration of the military forces of the Russian Federation and those of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Osssetia and Abkhazia, the closure of crossings of the ABL between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia as well as the holding of a so-called referendum with the aim of changing the name of the region of South Ossetia.

"We strongly condemn these attempts, which are a clear example of the creeping annexation of these two regions by the Russian Federation and which serve no other purpose than to increase the tensions and to wilfully isolate the people that live in these regions. We remind the Russian Federation of its obligations to the Council of Europe in this respect", the two co-rapporteurs concluded.