By Eka Janashia (07/02/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On June 27, Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, the European Council’s President Herman van Rompuy, and the European Commission’s President José Manuel Barroso signed the Association Agreement (AA) including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), which was initialed at the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in November 2013. At the same ceremony, the EU inked the AA with Ukraine and Moldova. The AA sets priorities for the period of 2014-2016 to achieve closer political association and economic integration between Tbilisi and the EU.
“It is very difficult to express in words the feelings I am experiencing now. June 27 will be remembered as a historic and special day. Today a new big date is being written in the history of my homeland, which gives hope and which our future generations will be proud of,” PM Garibashvili said at the signing ceremony. In his speech, Garibashvili also addressed Abkhazians and South Ossetians, pledging that a step towards the EU will bring benefits for them too.
The signature of the AA was initially planned for the end of this year but developments in Ukraine induced Brussels to accelerate the process. The AA has replaced the EU-Georgia European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan of 2006 and involves both political and economic components. It envisages reforms aimed at enhancing the quality of democracy by strengthening the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, respect for human rights, as well as peaceful conflict resolution, and cooperation on justice, freedom, and security. The economic component includes the DCFTA and stipulations on cooperation in the energy, transport, employment and social policy sectors.
To this end, Georgia should establish an adequate institutional framework comprising an Association Council, committees, subcommittees and trade-related working groups as well as monitoring mechanisms which will ensure Georgia’s gradual approximation to EU standards and regulations in trade, customs procedures and quality controls. Although the process of approximation does not imply eventual integration with the EU, it paves the way for potential membership at some point in the future.
Georgia is supposed to ratify the agreement in the second half of July. Whereas the process of ratification by the parliaments of EU member states might take several years, the treaty foresees provisional application that could start tentatively in October 2014.
The EU will support the process of implementing the AA through providing financial, technical, information sharing and capacity building support. In July, Brussels envisages the adoption of new assistance programs worth 101 million Euros to advance Georgia’s justice sector and the potential of small and medium business.
After signing the AA, PM Garibashvili welcomed Russia’s “constructive” approach. In his words, Moscow pledged not to obstruct the process and it kept the promise. However, on June 25, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that if the DCFTA between the EU, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova harms the free trade regime of the Commonwealth of Independent States’ (CIS), Moscow will apply “protective measures in complete accordance with the WTO rules.” In response, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso stated that “these Agreements are for something, not against anyone” and that the EU does not seek exclusive relationship with these partners.
The Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment 2012 report, commissioned by the EU, examined the DCFTA’s potential impact on Georgia’s economy. It suggests that the DCFTA might increase Georgia’s GDP by 4.3 percent in the long-term. Tentatively, full implementation of the trade-related reforms will increase Georgia’s exports to the EU by 12 percent and its imports by 7.5 percent, which will improve the country’s long-lasting trade deficit.
While these estimations are based on a long-term perspective, it is unclear what the immediate consequences would be of the “protective measures” that Moscow may impose on Georgia due to the alleged negative implications of DCFTAs between the EU, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova for the CIS free trade zone. Georgian and Russian experts have even arranged technical consultations to examine the potential effects of the DCFTA on trade between Russia and Georgia.
According to Georgia’s state statistics office, Georgia’s export to CIS member countries in January-May 2014 reached US$ 627.6 million, compared to US$ 253 million to the EU. Moreover, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia constituted Georgia’s largest export markets at US$ 240.4 million, 129.7 million, and 108.3 million, respectively.
However, the DCFTA does not restrict the existence of FTAs between Georgia and other countries. Georgia has bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) with major trading partners including Russia and Turkey, and penetration into the EU market will not necessarily take place at the detriment of those of post-Soviet countries.
Although the AA has both political and economic components, the latter has attracted more attention from the public and observers. Most Georgians seemingly assess the agreement in light of the opportunities the AA may provide in terms of improving welfare and the country’s overall economic performance rather than as an instrument for enhancing the quality of democracy.
By Valeriy Dzutsev (06/18/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Profound and simultaneous changes in Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia signify Moscow’s increasing involvement in the affairs of its satellites. The changing political landscape in these territories appears to reflect Russia’s desire to establish greater control over them and make them more useful for its purposes. Russia’s control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia still fills the primary purpose of exerting pressure on Georgia. Georgia may again encounter hurdles in the run-up to signing its Association Agreement with the EU, although Russia too faces constraints as it is tied up in the battle for Ukraine.
By Eka Janashia (06/18/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Election watchdogs groups have given a negative verdict on Georgia’s pre-election situation in the run-up to the June 15 local elections. According to their reports, pressure against municipal candidates and political violence has increased and reflect a deterioration of the political climate compared to that during the 2013 presidential polls.
Georgian legislation requires that at least 15 candidates are featured in proportional party lists in districts with more than 75,000 voters, and at least 10 candidates in districts with fewer voters. Hence, the withdrawal of one nominee could distort a party’s whole proportional list. The election watchdogs argue that pressure exercised by the authorities has caused the cancellation of the entire party list of some non-parliamentary opposition parties in several municipalities.
Former parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze’s United Opposition party was disqualified from the proportional contest for positions in the Dmanisi Municipal Council (Sakrebulo) after five of its candidates withdrew from the race. In the same district, candidates of the Christian-Democratic and United National Movement (UNM) have allegedly also been under pressure to cancel their registration of candidates. The removal of three candidates from Georgia’s Way party, led by former foreign minister Salome Zurabishvili, caused the invalidation of its proportional list in Akhaltsikhe municipality. In addition, the election observer groups disclosed that nine UNM candidates had refused to run in Tsalka, Tetritskaro, Borjomi, Adigeni, Akhalkalaki, Dedoplistskaro and Lentekhi municipalities.
Meanwhile, the election commission of the Marneuli electoral district de-registered Akmamed Imamquliyev – the UNM candidate to head Marneuli’s municipal administration – allegedly due to a failure to meet the law’s requirement of a two-year term of residency. UNM insisted that Georgian Dream (GD) MP Ali Mamedov personally required that Imamquliyev should withdraw his candidacy. The Tbilisi City Court later restored his candidature.
Aside from tensions incurred by the authorities’ alleged pressure on municipal candidates, physical confrontations and assaults against people involved in political activities have become frequent. One of the UNM leaders, Zurab Chiaberashvili, was attacked in a downtown Tbilisi café on May 27. Although the assailant hit Chiaberashvili several times in the head with a cup, the offender was charged with deliberate infliction of minor injuries, instead of hooliganism which would have implied a much stricter punishment.
On June 6, protesters surrounded UNM’s local office in Zugdidi, Samegrelo region, throwing stones and condemning the party’s candidate for the head of the Zugdidi municipality administration, Tengiz Gunava. The rally occurred after PM Irakli Garibashvili stated that Gunava had been involved in the murder of Paata Kardava, a military intelligence officer in Zugdidi who disappeared on August 27, 2008 and had officially been considered missing until June 5, 2014. Attacking and hitting Gunava and his supporters, demonstrators were screaming that he had no right to run in the elections. The next day, a scuffle broke out in Batumi when a few GD activists arrived at a meeting held by the UNM’s leaders with a small group of voters as part of their election campaign.
The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi expressed concerns over the violent incidents and called on authorities to investigate cases objectively, and to take measures both technically and politically to meet high standards of elections. The EU’s special adviser for legal reforms and human rights in Georgia, Thomas Hammarberg, even suggested that the authorities should launch “a national campaign against violence.”
In a survey conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) from March 26 to April 18, 48 percent of the likely voters said they intended to vote for the ruling GD coalition, followed by UNM at 12 percent. United Opposition and the Labor Party got 4 percent each. Of the respondents, 19 percent were undecided, 8 percent refused to answer, and 3 percent rejected all candidates.
Whereas GD still enjoys higher popular support than other parties, the government’s actions and rhetoric have been accompanied with reduced support, especially in regions outside Tbilisi. Garibashvili’s statement, “we will not allow the victory of any political force [other than Georgian Dream] in any region or city” drew heavy criticism from the civil society sector and was assessed as wording typical for totalitarian leaders.
Two years after coming to power, GD desperately needs to maintain the image of a functional political unity capable of synchronizing the multiple interests of its various member parties. While victory in the local elections is a matter of prestige and political survival for GD, it seems that UNM’s immediate goal is simply to gather a sizable amount of votes. If the UNM would gain a grip on local power, that would enable GD to place part of the blame for potential misconduct on the UNM, and possibly to divert popular anger towards the opposition party. Thus, the UNM seemingly strives to allow the ruling coalition space to discredit itself through unfulfilled promises, after which it hopes to regain its own popularity among voters.
Erica Marat and Deborah Sutton (06/04/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
The reform of Georgia’s police, starting from 2004 under former President Mikheil Saakashvili, represents an unprecedented success in the post-Soviet region. Corruption among rank-and-file police personnel was largely defeated, and the police in general became more professional in responding to citizens’ concerns. However, the reform proceeded without public oversight and participation of the parliament, leading to a politicization of the security sector. In the 2012 parliamentary elections, the Georgian Dream opposition coalition pledged to open the security sector for public input. After a brief period of openness to external oversight in 2013, the window of opportunity for public-police collaboration is again closing.
By Eka Janashia (05/21/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
On May 2, Georgia’s parliament unanimously adopted a contested anti-discrimination bill required under the Visa Liberalization Action Plan in order to attain the short-term visa-free regime with EU.
The law on “Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination” envisages the introduction of mechanisms against discrimination conducted on the grounds of race, color, language, gender, age, citizenship, native identity, birth, place of residence, property, social status, religion, ethnic affiliation, profession, family status, health condition, disability, expression, political or other beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, and “other grounds.”
The law triggered enormous criticism from different groups of society and was preceded by heated debates in parliament.
The legal advocacy and watchdog organizations insist that the anti-discrimination law is a watered down version of the original document drafted by the Ministry of Justice, with the active engagement of a broad range of civil society groups and that it provides less efficient mechanisms, as well as financial penalties for discrimination cases, than the initial one. Whereas the original version envisaged setting up a new institution – an inspector for the protection of equality – in charge of overseeing the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation, the adopted law places this competence under the Public Defender’s Office (PDO).
According to Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA), the existing legislation already empowers the PDO with almost the same authority. The purpose of the bill thus should have been to establish new and more effective legal instruments, rather than replicate the old ones. Further, while the anti-discrimination law foresees an expansion of the PDO’s authority, it does not ensure relevant financial support for it. An explanatory note accompanying the bill says that the anti-discrimination legislation will not incur any increase of state budget expenses necessary to recruit additional staff in line with the PDO’s new responsibilities.
Another, more powerful, group which has severely attacked the bill is the Orthodox Church and its radical followers. According to the Georgian Orthodox Church’s statement, released on April 28, the anti-discrimination bill legalizes a “deadly sin” by including “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. The EU represents a conglomerate of different nations and religions claiming to recognize and respect the culture and traditions of various people and expresses its readiness to take into consideration Georgian values as well, but this bill overtly contradicts these principles, the statement reads.
Those against the bill also argue that it allows sexual minorities to be employed even in the preschool education sector, which is alarming as it could have negative implications for children’s mental development. Some radical priests even suggested that the visa-liberalization should be categorically rejected “rather than making such inclinations as homosexuality a legal norm.”
Commenting on the bill, Speaker of Parliament Davit Usupashvili said it is a question of whether Georgia will continue its European path, recognizing that “we should not chase people with sticks, we should not fire people from jobs if we do not share their opinions and their way of life, or else we should stay in Russia, where it is possible to expel people whom you dislike from a city.”
Despite the strong support provided by the liberal wing of politicians, heavy pressure from the clergy forced the lawmakers to make significant modifications to the bill.
Initially, some lawmakers including the Vice-Speaker of Parliament, GD MP Manana Kobakhidze, insisted that the entire list of prohibited grounds of discrimination should be removed, as was suggested by spiritual leaders. While this initiative was not met by the parliament, a note of “protection of public order and morale” was added to the draft law. According to the law, actions committed for this purpose will now not be considered as discrimination against a person. The human rights groups fear that the inclusion of terms such as “public order” and “morale” risks encouraging discriminative interpretations of the law. The special post of an inspector in charge of monitoring the implementation of the anti-discrimination legislation, as well as financial penalties, have also been removed from the draft.
On March 28, as the government adopted the bill and sent it to the parliament for approval, PM Irakli Gharibashvili appealed to the state constitutional commission, currently drafting constitutional amendments, to reformulate the definition of marriage in the constitution as a “union of man and woman.” He claimed that such an explicit definition will eschew wrong perceptions and interpretations of the planned anti-discrimination law. For most Georgian lawyers, the PM’s statement does not make sense because Georgia’s constitution says that “marriage shall be based upon the equality of rights and free will of spouses.” Further, Georgia’s civil code defines marriage as a “voluntary union of man and woman,” meaning that same-sex marriage is already banned in Georgia.
The government seemingly seeks to accommodate the clergy’s demands while simultaneously maintaining the trust of the pro-European electorate.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.