The Government Program 2021-2024 – “For Building a European State”, One-party parliament and Georgia’s European integration
Malkhaz Nakashidze – December 26, 2020
On December 24, 2020, the Parliament of Georgia expressed confidence to the Government of Georgia headed by Giorgi Gakharia. This is the same composition of the government confirmed before the elections, only one cabinet member, the minister of Justice has changed. Parliament also expressed confidence in the government’s program for 2021-2024, called “For Building a European State”. According to the program, the main task of the government in the next 4 years will be the institutional, economic and social preparation of the country to apply for full membership in the EU in 2024. This is a very ambitious plan and we aim to focus on the issues that the government program addresses to achieve this goal. Before discussing the details of the government program in terms of European integration, we think it is important to analyze the parliamentary elections and the current political situation in the country.
Parliamentary elections and the political crisis
The Parliamentary elections were held in Georgia on October 31, 2020. On the second day of the elections, November 1, the Central Election Commission announced the preliminary results of the parliamentary elections, according to which the following parties were named among the parties entering the Parliament of Georgia: “Georgian Dream” – 48.29%; Election Bloc – United National Movement-United Opposition ,,Strength is in Unity- 26.61%; “European Georgia” – 3.78%; “Lelo” – 3.24%; “Alliance of Georgian Patriots” – 3.17%; Election Bloc – ,,Giorgi Vashadze-Strategy Aghmashenebeli” – 3.16%; “Girchi” – 3.03%; “Aleko Elisashvili – Citizens” – 1.38%; “Shalva Natelashvili – Labor Party – 1%. Opposition parties reacted negatively to the results, calling the election results illegitimate and announcing the start of protests. Following consultations, eight opposition parties, which overcamed a 1% threshold in the October 31 parliamentary elections, boycotted the X term Parliament and refused to enter in the parliament. Finally, the first Plenary Session of the Newly Elected X term Parliament was convened on December 11, 2020, but as a result of the opposition’s boycott, the Georgian Dream was left alone in the first session of the 150-member parliament.  88 out of 90 Georgian Dream deputies attended the sitting.
Various international organizations responded to the election results, including based on the preliminary findings of international observers, the EU also said that “the elections were held in a competitive environment and, in general, fundamental freedoms were protected.” However, observers noted that the conduct of the election was influenced by allegations of voter pressure throughout the pre-election campaign and the blurring of the line between the ruling party and the state on election day, which eroded public confidence in some aspects of the process.  On December 11, 2020, the US Embassy in Georgia and the EU Delegation to Georgia issued a joint statement calling on all parties to carefully consider the possibilities of reaching an agreement that will enable Parliament to play its full and vital role.  Four rounds of talks between the government and opposition parties involving US and EU ambassadors were held, but no agreement was reached.
The ruling party hopes that the opposition parties will return to parliament. At the same time, the government has initiated various mechanisms to influence the opposition. The executive secretary of the Georgian Dream, Irakli Kobakhidze, spoke at a briefing on December 17 about the bill submitted by the party to the parliament, which envisages the termination or suspension of state funding for parties boycotting the parliamentary sessions. According to Kobakhidze, the bill is directed against “parliamentary sabotage”. The bill has been criticized by NGOs. In their view, the bill essentially aims to impose sanctions on opposition parties for their protest, which has been reflected in the rejection of their seats by opposition lawmakers. 
The European People’s Party has responded to the issue, stating that it is concerned about the recent legislative initiative of the ruling party of Georgia against the largest opposition party supported by 1/3 of Georgians. We call on Georgia to continue to move towards the values recognized by the European Union, instead of restricting the democratic right of the opposition, to return to constructive dialogue, to find a solution that will benefit all citizens of Georgia.  Regarding the bill, US Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan also said that he does not agree with any law that hinders the development of the opposition or restricts the access of opposition parties to the media. He expressed hope that the Georgian Dream would reconsider the bill initiated by him. 
Eventually, a one-party parliament was formed in Georgia, which, with 85 votes in favor of Giorgi Gakharia, declared confidence in the Georgian government, which changed almost nothing. The opposition considers the elections rigged and is not represented in parliament. At that time, the parliament expressed confidence in the government program “For Building a European state” for 2021-2024. Program.  The main question today is whether the current situation is in line with the building of a European state, how the government with the low political trust and legitimacy should cope the many challenges facing the country and implement the presented government program.
The main directions of European integration in the government program
In the introduction of the program it is mentioned that the building of the state of Georgia is based on the main democratic principles and values - freedom, equality, rule of law and protection of human rights and serves the welfare of every citizen, restoring territorial integrity and full integration of Georgia into European and Euro-Atlantic space. Accordingly, the government states that the main goal of the government program for 2021-2024 – “For Building a European state” is to overcome the crisis created by the pandemic, the rapid recovery and development of the economy, to create a stable and secure environment for every citizen. At the same time, the country will continue to take steps towards the consolidation of democracy and the pursuit of European and Euro-Atlantic integration in the foreign arena. The main task of the following years will be the institutional, economic and social preparation of the country to apply for full membership in the EU in 2024.
According to the document, based on the above goals, for the rapid recovery and development of the country’s economy, as well as building a strong, united and democratic state, the Georgian government in 2021-2024 will focus on the following four key areas: 1. Foreign Policy, Security, Conflict Resolution and Human Rights; 2. Economic development; 3. Social policy and human capital development; 4. State governance. We will focus on the main issues of the program in the context of EU integration.
Restoration of territorial integrity and strengthening of sovereignty
According to the government’s program, in the current security environment, Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration, deepening cooperation with strategic partners and strengthening the country’s sovereignty and restoring its territorial integrity with the involvement of the international community are of particular importance for strengthening Georgia’s national security. In this context, the Georgian government continues to pursue a policy of peaceful settlement of the Russian-Georgian conflict.
The Government notes that it is actively working to achieve concrete, tangible results in the field of de-occupation, which means taking practical steps to fully implementation of the the ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008 mediated by the European Union. Confirmation and fulfillment of the Russian Federation’s commitment to non-use of force, as well as the withdrawal of Russian forces from the occupied territories, is essential. In parallel, ensuring the establishment of international security mechanisms on the ground and increasing international involvement in this process is an important area of action. In this regard, it is an important priority for the Government to provide access to the occupied territories of Georgia in order to fully implement the mandate of the EU Monitoring Mission.
The government program focuses on the peaceful settlement of the conflict, within which the government attaches special importance to the policy of reconciliation and engagement. The program states that the cornerstone of state policy is to ensure the sustainable development of Georgia to make the country attractive to people living on both sides of the occupation line. The government hopes to share with the people of the Occupied Territories the goods and services achieved on the path to democratic and economic development and European integration of the state.
Protecting state interests in international courts
The protection of state interests will continue in the Strasbourg and The Hague courts, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and the Human Rights Steering Committee (CDDH). In 2021, the European Court of Human Rights will announce its decision on the 2008 war case and begin enforcement proceedings. The investigation of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague will move to an even more active phase and cooperation will continue to protect the interests of the Georgian state and people. Active work will continue in international courts to protect the interests of Georgian citizens. In the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will continue the so-called Enforcement measures for deportees.
Strengthening cooperation with the European Union
According to the government program, the country will further intensify certain areas of the integration agenda, which are given in the roadmap for EU integration:
- The effective implementation of the Association Agreement and the use of related opportunities, including the deep and comprehensive free trade area component, will continue to be actively pursued.
- In terms of achieving tangible results for citizens, it will be especially important to continue working towards integration into the European single market;
- Special attention will be paid to involvement in EU programs and cooperation with specialized agencies;
- In the relationship with the EU, significant emphasis will be placed on identifying new opportunities within the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and implementing them effectively;
- It will be necessary to strengthen the cooperation of the associate partners – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – by coordinating and developing common positions on European integration issues;
- Strengthening the state at a strategic level of bilateral partnership with European countries and continuing partnership with traditionally allied European countries;
- The country is particularly interested in deepening cooperation with the United Kingdom in the post-Brexit period.
- During the current years, a formal application will be made to start cooperation with the European Defense Agency (EDA).
- The Ministry of Defense will be ready to participate in specific EU Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects;
- Cooperation with international police structures will be deepened, active cooperation with Europol will be continued, the network of police attachés will be expanded, especially in the EU member states;
- Given the growing trends in cybercrime, special attention will be paid to cyber security issues; Like Tbilisi, all major cities will gradually have a cybercrime police unit set up;
- A new Code of Enforcement will be adopted, which will create legislative guarantees for enforcement proceedings in accordance with modern international standards.
- In line with the EU commitments, work will continue, on the one hand, on the Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance of 23 November 2007 and the Law on the Hague Protocol on 23 November 2007, and on the other hand, mandatory recognition of the 2005 Convention on Court Selection Agreements for Georgia.
The readiness of the economy to make a formal application for EU membership
The main task of the government will be to ensure the readiness of the country’s economy by 2024 to make a formal application for EU membership. To accomplish this task, the economic policies pursued by the Government of Georgia will focus on the rapid growth of the country’s economy, poverty reduction and strengthening the country’s position as a regional logistics and investment hub. According to the program, the tax and customs legislation of Georgia will be harmonized with the EU legislation. A new Law on Entrepreneurs will also be adopted, which will reflect the requirements of the relevant EU regulations provided for in the Association Agreement and its Annexes, thus bringing Georgia’s corporate law closer to EU legislation. In order to further promote the development of small and medium enterprises and to continue the introduction of international best practices, a “Small and Medium Entrepreneurship Development Strategy” will be developed for 2021-2025, based on the main principle of the European Small Business Act.
The government aims to realize the potential of Georgia as a regional hub, for which it is important to develop the country’s infrastructure, transport, logistics, communication, energy, technology, education and financial hub systems. According to the government, among other advantages, it is a practical means of bringing the country closer to the EU market and the opportunity to tap into the potential of an association agreement with the EU. In addition, work will be continued on the integration of the country’s transport systems into the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) through the implementation of the Eastern Partnership TEN-T investment plan. Work will also continue on the development of modern logistics centers in Tbilisi and Kutaisi and a freight terminal at Kutaisi International Airport. To achieve the same goal, taking into account the technical and economic research conducted for the development of ferry and container traffic between Georgia and the Black Sea countries, measures to promote and develop ferry/feeder traffic on the Black Sea with European countries will be implemented. In addition, it is important to develop energy corridors and communication corridors through Georgia, which will also contribute to a practical economic rapprochement with the EU.
A number of projects are planned to strengthen the country’s transit function, including:
- Complete railway modernization and develop port infrastructure;
- Expansion of Batumi Airport Terminal as well as Kutaisi International Airport, as a result of which the area of the terminal will increase 5 times, and the passenger capacity will increase 4 times (approximately 2 million passengers per year).
- In order to increase the level of air safety, in accordance with the requirements of European standards, modernization and development of navigation infrastructure with modern technologies will continue;
- The implementation of the standards and recommended practices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), as well as the European regulations provided for in the Agreement on Common Aviation with the European Union;
- The railway transport sector will be reformed and brought closer to EU legislation and practice, including through the use of EU technical assistance tools;
- Measures will be taken to maximize the transit potential using the broadband telecommunication infrastructure and to establish a digital transit hub connecting Europe and Asia via Georgia;
- Measures to integrate Georgia’s digital market with the EU single digital market will continue, including harmonization of the legal framework for electronic communications and postal services with EU directives in accordance with the obligations under the Association Agreement;
- Approximation of the relevant EU legislation with the plan of the Association Agreement on Food Safety, Veterinary and Phytosanitary with the EU will continue;
- Environmental standards will qualitatively approach European requirements.
Sustainable development of the tourism industry and the European Union
According to the government program, the target countries will be diversified over the next 4 years, which means increasing the market share of the EU and new markets (China, USA, etc.). In line with the global trend of COVID-19, target countries will be identified and, consequently, international marketing activities will be implemented. In order to increase the level of sustainable development of the tourism industry and the level of services, in line with the directive of the European Parliament, the formation of the tourism legal framework will be carried out in accordance with the best European practices. A high standard of travel safety and consumer protection will be introduced through this legal framework. At the same time, the formation of the legislative framework will strengthen the coordination of national and regional policies.
Cooperation with the European Union in education and culture
The government program provides the continuation of the process of introducing a new qualifications framework and new standards for the accreditation of vocational education institutions in order to ensure the quality of vocational education. Active involvement of research groups and implementation of bilateral and multilateral scientific-research and technological projects, relevant legislative guarantees will be created, involvement of Georgian researchers in European Commission research and innovation program “Horizon Europe” grant competitions will be created. The mechanism will be implemented to raise awareness of the international community about Georgia and its culture. The rate of participation in international programs and events will contribute to the deepening of international cultural relations in bilateral and multilateral formats, the involvement of regional art institutions, collectives in the common cultural space of the country and their representation in the international arena. Important international sport events such as the 2023 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships and the European Under-21 Football Championship.
European integration and reforms in public administration
Reform of public administration is an important priority of the government on the path of Georgia’s integration into the European Union. The government plans to continue cooperating with the EU and the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries to further strengthen Georgia’s institutions that have the resources to meet the challenges of modern democratic governance to internationally high standards and be leaders in the region. At the same time, according to the government’s program, open governance and Georgia’s successful membership in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) will remain a precondition for the establishment of a high standard of governance. In this regard, in the renewed format of cooperation with civil society, the government will develop a new Open Government Action Plan for Georgia, which sets specific goals and objectives to improve accountability, transparency and openness. The government says that the priority will be to successfully implement the approved decentralization policy. In this regard, the government aims to establish local self-government by European standards by 2024 and to successfully complete the process of transforming sectoral-centralized governance into effective local-territorial governance. 
Democracy, the rule of law and protection of human rights
Democracy, human rights and the rule of law are fundamental values of the European Union, which Georgia is committed to ensure under the Association Agreement with the European Union. The introduction to the Action Plan of the Government of Georgia for 2021-2024 mentions the importance of these values for Georgia’s European integration, although it is not specified in detail what the Government of Georgia will do in the next 4 years to move closer to the EU in this area. If we compare the government programs of previous years, we will see that human rights protection, democratic governance and the rule of law have a special place in government programs. For example, these issues are set out separately in both the 2016-2020 and 2018-2020 action plans. Earlier, when the Georgian Dream came to power in 2012, reform of the judiciary, independence and impartiality of the judiciary, the reform of the prosecutor’s office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the civil service had an important place in the government program. The government’s program in 2020 addresses human rights issues, but does not go into detail on the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, and the strengthening of democratic institutions in the context of European integration, although Georgia still faces significant challenges.
European Union expectations and Georgia’s European integration perspective
The 2020 report on Georgia’s implementation of the Association Process stated that 2020 would be important for Georgia in terms of its readiness to pursue reforms, which would be crucial for the country’s further progress on the path to Europe. “Ambitious electoral reforms and judicial reform will be crucial to neutralizing the growing political polarization. The report emphasized that parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2020 would be crucial for Georgia to demonstrate its commitment to democracy. In the report, the European Commission called on Georgia to continue the fourth wave of judicial reform, and Georgia’s readiness for the highest standards of impartiality in the justice system is crucial for a credible judiciary. According to the European Commission, this was important for the success of the EU-Georgia agenda. In addition to the EU assessment, it should be noted that according to international studies, Georgia’s degree of democracy has deteriorated in 2020 compared to previous years. In particular, the rule of law component of the rating component in 2020 deteriorated by 0.2 points, while the stability component of the democratic institutions rating deteriorated by 0.5 points.  The rule of law in Georgia has deteriorated by 0.01 points and 1 position compared to the previous year, according to the 2020 Global Rule of Law Index. 
The European Union had such expectations last year, but the fact is that after the 2020 parliamentary elections, the country went into a political crisis. None of the opposition parties recognized the election results. One of the main reasons for their boycott of parliamentary activities is their distrust in election commissions and the courts. The European Union hoped that Georgia would successfully continue the process of European integration after the democratic elections. However, today it is very difficult to say how the Georgian government will be able to implement the presented plan in the direction of European integration with one-party parliament. In addition to internal political tensions, the country is in a severe economic crisis, population poverty and crime is rising. All these challenges are compounded by the covid-19 pandemic, foreign policy risks in the region and the situation requires serious government efforts to deal with this crisis. A particular concern is the country’s growing external debt, which is approaching the dangerous 60% limit. It should be noted that the EU also has a 60% debt-to-GDP ratio for the new and future member states of the Eurozone, and this should be taken into account by the Government of Georgia. To overcome the political and economic crisis, it is necessary to find some compromise between the ruling party and the opposition. This could be the implementation of electoral reform, the calling of early elections, and other mechanisms that should be in the common interest of all parties. If early elections are not scheduled, it will be the responsibility of opposition parties to convince their supporters in plan they have after rejecting to enter in the parliament. One thing is certain: the continuation of one-party governance poses a serious threat to Georgia’s European integration process, and it is difficult to say what is the basis for the government’s optimism that the country will apply for EU membership in 2024.
Jean Monnet Chair, Associate Professor
Faculty of Law and Social Sciences,
Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University