According to Oliver Varhelyi, European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement, Georgia has made limited progress in de-oligarchization, and has not made any progress in the direction of media pluralism.
Oliver Varhelyi stated this at a press conference, where he presented an oral report on how Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova are fulfilling the recommendations given to them.
“Georgia has achieved limited progress in the direction of de-oligarchization. In this regard, the Venice Commission, in its last recommendation published in June, once again stated that the draft law should not be adopted in its current form, and therefore I welcome the statement made by the ruling party yesterday and the day before yesterday that this draft law will not be adopted. Georgia should now focus on adopting a law that will establish a systemic approach in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission, including strengthening competition policy and political party funding rules.
“As for the standards of media pluralism and legal procedures against media owners, Georgia has not achieved any progress. In order to comply with this point, Georgia should make changes to the Law on Broadcasting in accordance with the opinion of the European Council and should ensure the safety of journalists, as well as increase the safety and freedom of both journalists and owners of media organizations,” Varhelyi said.
Regarding other directions, he stated the following:
“In Georgia, 12 priorities were identified in our June Opinion, and we see that three of these have been completed.
First, on gender equality and fighting violence against women. Second, taking into account European Court of Human Rights judgments in Court deliberations and, third, on appointing a Public Defender through a transparent process.
In seven other areas, Georgia has achieved some progress. These areas are on the issue of political polarization, to guarantee the full functioning of the State institutions and to further improve the electoral framework, to adopt and implement the transparent and effective judicial reform strategy, to strengthen the independence of the Anti-Corruption Agency, to strengthen the fight against organized crime, to strengthen the protection of human rights of vulnerable groups and to ensure the involvement of civil society in decision making processes.
“So, briefly, on the individual steps, what we see on Step 1, that is the political polarization most Members of the Parliament have ended their boycott of the Parliament and few laws were passed with cross-party support. To fully address this priority, Georgia needs to ensure an efficient oversight of the Parliament and end the use of harsh rhetoric and honor past political agreements, notably the one brokered by the European Union, which is called the EU-mediated 19th April Agreement.
“On Step 2 to get into the full functioning of State institutions and to further improve the electoral framework, the Government has adopted a public administration reform strategy and an Action Plan. The electoral code and the Law on Political Associations were amended, to align them to the Venice Commission recommendations and ODIHR recommendations, but we still need Georgia to improve the parliamentary oversight, to adequately investigate allegations of electoral malpractices as highlighted in the ODIHR reports and to reverse the electoral amendments changing the appointment procedure of the CEC chairman, this is the Central Election Commission.
“On Step 3, the inclusive and effective judicial reform, including the High Council of Justice, Georgia needs to submit amendments on judicial reform to the Venice Commission for a second opinion, to adopt a broader reform of the judiciary, especially of the High Council of Justice and finally, to appoint the remaining non-judge members of the High Council of Justice.
“On step 4, on anti-corruption, a new Anti-corruption Bureau was set up. To fully address this step, Georgia still needs to ensure that the anti-corruption bureau operates independently and that the Venice Commission is consulted on the draft legislation and we would ask Georgia to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the OECD anti-corruption network.
“On Step 6, organized crime, Georgia stepped up its cooperation with Europol and the Member States. Now Georgia needs to address all the outstanding recommendations of the Council of Europe MONEYVAL.
“On Step 8, protection of human rights and vulnerable groups, Georgia needs to ensure that an Action Plan for Human Rights Strategy is prepared in an inclusive manner and to ensure freedom of assembly and protection for members of the LGBTQI community.
“On Step 10, involving the civil society in decision-making processes at all levels, Georgia needs to resume constructive dialogue with the civil society and implement regular and transparent consultations.
“In the area of the de-oligarchization, Georgia has achieved limited progress. In this area, the Venice Commission in its recent recommendation from 12th June, reiterated that the draft law should not be adopted in its current form. In this regard, I welcome the announcement made yesterday and the day before by the ruling party that this draft law will not be adopted. Now, Georgia has to focus on and adopt a law setting out a systemic approach, in line with the Venice Commission recommendations, including by reinforcing rules on competition policy and financing of political parties.
“Finally, on media pluralism and standards for criminal procedures against media owners, Georgia has reached no progress. In order to fulfil this step, Georgia needs to amend the Law on Broadcasting, in line with the legal opinion of the Council of Europe and to ensure the safety of journalists and to raise the level of protection of freedom of journalists and media owners.”
Of Moldova, he said it had implemented three of the nine recommendations of the European Commission, formulated a year ago, when the country obtained the status of a candidate for accession – regarding electoral legislation, consultation of decisions with civil society, and respect for human rights. The official added that there is still progress needed in reforming the judiciary.
On Ukraine, he said it had fully met two of the seven conditions that Brussels established as part of Ukraine’s candidacy. The steps are considered essential to start accession negotiations on a formal basis, something Kyiv would like to see happen before the end of the year.
The completed reforms relate to the composition of two high-level judicial bodies and the media sector, whose legislation was amended to align with EU standards.
Ukraine has made “good progress” on a third requirement – the selection of judges for the Constitutional Court – and “some progress” on the remaining four: the fight against corruption, the prevention of money laundering, the mitigation of the excessive influence exerted by oligarchs, and the protection of national minorities.