Remarks by EU Ambassador Carl Hartzell following the appointment of two members of the High Council of Justice

Published in Politics
Monday, 08 November 2021 12:43

On 31 October, the Conference of Judges of Georgia elected two new judge members of the High Council of Justice. These appointments took place on the day after local elections and only four days after the publication of the Conference’s agenda. The appointees’ predecessors, two women, had unexpectedly resigned from their mandates whose terms had not expired. No announcement of candidates was made in advance of the appointments.

The appointments were hasty, non-transparent and non-competitive. They were therefore at odds with Georgia’s commitments aimed at increasing the independence, accountability, quality and trust in the Judiciary, in line with the EU-Georgia Association Agreement.

This is a fifth setback in the area of the judiciary and rule of law in Georgia, within only four months. It follows the further appointments to the Supreme Court on 12 July which lacked “integrity, objectivity  and credibility” according to the OSCE/ODIHR, the failure to fulfil the necessary judicial conditions to receive an extra 75 million EUR in EU macro-financial assistance by September 2021, the non-adoption on 7 September of the constitutional amendments on the Prosecutor General’s appointment and the lack - so far - of credible investigation and prosecution of the organisers of the 5 July violence targeting over 50 journalists and activists.

These developments demonstrate yet again the urgent need to launch an ambitious judicial reform through a broad, inclusive and cross-party reform process, to which the Georgian political parties committed.

The European Union calls once more on the Georgian authorities to uphold their reform commitments, including in the justice sector, in the interest of Georgian citizens and of the future of EU-Georgia relations.

The European Union reiterates that, while it remains fully committed to support Georgia’s reforms in line with the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, the EU’s assistance to Georgia remains conditional on progress on key reforms.

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  • Ambassador Carl Hartzell visits EU Projects in Kakheti

    On 11-12 October, Carl Hartzell, Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia travelled to Kakheti to highlight the EU’s support to the region. He visited various sites in Kvareli, Telavi and Pankisi valley, and met with diverse groups of people. The visit focused on energy efficiency, support for businesses, and outreach to Georgia’s youth.

    As a first stop, Ambassador Hartzell visited Kvareli Lake Resort, which has been renovated and refurnished according to EU standards in energy efficiency, health and safety within the EU4Business-EBRD Credit Line. The Resort spreads over 300 hectares of natural landscape in Kvareli. The support of the European Union and EBRD helped the company gain full compliance with Georgian regulation and with the applicable EU Directives.

    The visit continued with EuroClub Kvareli, where Ambassador Hartzell opened the Club’s second anniversary event. EuroClub Kvareli was established within the EU’s Young European Ambassadors initiative in November 2019. Its main goal is to promote education and development among young people in Kvareli, and to provide access to non-formal education. Over the past two years, EuroClub Kvareli reached 1200 people through 100 activities, like film clubs, English lessons and other events.

    On the same day, Ambassador Hartzell visited two other companies, which had received support through the EU4Business EBRD Credit Line. The winery and distillery Askaneli Brothers exports products internationally, including to EU countries like Lithuania, Estonia, Germany, and Poland, making full use of the DCFTA. Thanks to the EU’s and EBRD’s support, the company invested in state-of-the-art production facilities and equipment, improved food safety management, as well as energy efficiency, waste management and health safety, making both products and the workplace safer for people.

    The first day concluded in the Holiday Inn in Telavi, which has been made more energy efficient through the EU4Business-EBRD Credit Line. Besides a substantial loan, the company also received technical support from a team of international experts, helping the hotel upgrade its business practices as well as energy use.

    In the morning of the second day, Ambassador Carl Hartzell visited Ikalto village in Telavi municipality and officially opened a local Kindergarten, which has been renovated and thermo-rehabilitated within an EU-funded project, implemented by Energy Efficiency Centre Georgia. Thanks to biomass energy technology created from vineyard waste products, the kindergarten will now be fully heated in winter, while also saving 60% of electricity costs. The opening event took take place within the EU’s ongoing campaign on energy efficiency “Doing More with Less”(link is external).

    Ambassador Hartzell then visited the Learning and Employment Support Center in Telavi, observed entrepreneurial skills training and met with local youth. The Center is part of the EU’s Skills4Jobs programme and run by the Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia (CSRDG) in partnership with the Young Pedagogues’ Union and Georgian Civil Development Association. Through the project, young people in Kakheti, Guria and Kvemo Kartli can increase their potential through formal and informal education. Up until now, 6 Learning and Employment Support Centres have been established in Georgia, including the one in Telavi. To date, over 1,000 job seekers have received support.

    The visit continued in Pankisi valley, where the Ambassador opened a workshop for teachers on media literacy, organised and conducted by the Communications Commission with support from the European Union. Part of the audience were teachers from Pankisi, who had travelled to Brussels on a study trip a few years ago. The workshop is part of a longer training programme, designed to help teachers fight disinformation and teach students how to read and evaluate media.

    Finally, Ambassador Hartzell met with the Women’s Council of Pankisi and the Local Action Group Akhmeta (LAG), which has been established within the EU’s ENPARD programme. The Women’s Council includes 15 local women of Pankisi Gorge and assists local women in resolving disputes, provides them with access to legal and social aid, and works on women’s rights. Over the past three years, the Akhmeta LAG has helped the Pankisi community through a variety of local development initiatives, including direct support to the Women’s Council.

  • Two years, 1,200 beneficiaries, and counting: Kvareli EuroClub marks second anniversary

    The Kvareli EuroClub in Georgia marks its two-year anniversary today, with a special event attended by EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell, as well as the Ambassadors of the Netherlands, Austria, France, Turkey and Norway, and the Attaché of the Spanish Embassy in Georgia.

    The Kvareli EuroClub was founded by Young European Ambassador Nika Gurini in November 2019, with the support of the EU NEIGHBOURS east regional communication programme. In the two years since then, more than 1,200 young people have benefited from the different projects and activities organised by the EuroClub.

    The main mission of the EuroClub is to promote education and development among the general population and young people in particular, to raise civic awareness and to provide access to non-formal education and to spread European values. 

    As part of the activities organised by the EuroClub, local people have been able to take advantage of free English language courses, vocational training courses, and open libraries, among others. 

    In the long term, the EuroClub aims to expand and further develop its activities, reaching more people across the region and other parts of Georgia. 

    To take part and find out more about ongoing and upcoming activities, check out the document below or visit the Kvareli EuroClub Facebook page.

  • Statement of EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell to mark World Car Free Day

    In the midst of everything else that is going on these days, I would like to remind you that today is Car Free Day – an annual event organised in numerous cities all around Europe!
    The idea of this day is to take a moment and reflect on the future of our cities and towns, and how to make them greener, calmer and more healthy places to live in.
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    We will also continue to invest in more sustainable transport alternatives, all with a view to allow all of us to breathe cleaner air and lead healthier lives.
    I hope you will join us!
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  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia started preparations for the elections as early as in April and sent invitations to all international observers - David Zalkaliani

    According to the Georgian Vice Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani, the local self-government elections scheduled for 2 October will be monitored by international observation missions.
     
    The Vice Prime Minister said that the Georgian government started preparations for the elections as early as in April. Formal invitations were sent to all international observer missions, including the OSCE/ODIHR EOM, as well as to all international organizations and partner countries. "Two invitations were sent, one in April, before the election date was announced, and the other – immediately after the election date was officially announced" - Zalkaliani added.
     
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  • Georgia: Reform for elections, political associations and parliament rules should be “reconsidered”, according to Venice Commission

    Strasbourg, 24.03.2021 – In a joint opinion, requested in December 2020 by the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia and adopted at the latest plenary of the Venice Commission (19-20 March 2021), the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission call on Georgia to reconsider several amendments to the Election Code, the Law on Political Associations of Citizens and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Georgia.

    With regard to the Election Code, proposed changes would infringe the rights of political parties to equal opportunities by denying them free airtime if they do not receive public funding. The denial of free airtime to those parties is both “disproportionate and unfounded”, as it is exactly these parties with less funds at their disposal that would need access to free airtime in order to voice their opinions and present their programmes to the electorate, according to the opinion.

    Furthermore, not only is there no evident connection between allocating free airtime and receiving state funding that would justify such a step, but also such a restriction is not in the public interest, as it would reduce access to information that the public needs in order to make an informed choice in elections.

    The Venice Commission also is concerned by proposed amendments to the Law on Political Associations of Citizens that would deny state funding to a political party or electoral bloc that did not take up at least half of the parliamentary mandates that it won, and would deprive the party or bloc of state funding for the next six months, if half of the members of parliament of any party or bloc did not attend without good reason more than half of the regular plenary sittings.

    Sanctioning political parties – and not individual MPs – by depriving them of funding, if the respective MPs do not attend most sittings during a parliamentary session, appears “disproportionate” and at odds with the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, which already regulate such matters in a clear and balanced manner, according to the opinion.

    Similar considerations apply to the proposed amendment to the Rules of Procedure of Parliament, which would result in the full deduction of the salary of an MP who does not attend without good reason all plenary sittings during a calendar month of the regular session, both for the period of the parliamentary session and for the ensuing recess period. This latter proposal also likely would not be compliant with the Constitution of Georgia, which makes salaries for Members of Parliament mandatory.

    The opinion proposes considering “more proportionate and appropriate means” to achieve the goal of the amendments, which could involve imposing direct consequences on individual MPs for their actions. This would be more in line with the Georgian Constitution and international standards, the Venice Commission notes. “Such broad sanctions against parties not taking part in the Parliament’s work were not found in any other Venice Commission or OSCE/ODIHR member/participant states,” the opinion reads.

    In a separate joint opinion, also requested last December by the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR call on Georgia to reconsider adopting a proposed new provision – Article 791 – to the country’s electoral code, as related to the participation by an alien acting as party leader in pre-election campaigning. Adopting this amendment could lead to an unduly restriction of political pluralism, the Venice Commission warns, listing several concerns.

    The proposed amendment does not clearly define which criteria would be used to determine who is considered to be an electoral list’s or party’s political leader. Besides, while the right to vote and stand for election may be subject to some conditions, including the respective individual’s nationality, restrictions of aliens to participate in domestic political life should be limited to the establishment of political parties, but not to their membership. Furthermore, the sanction of deregistering a party list due to the foreign nationality of a person acting as its political leader seems a disproportionate measure that targets the party rather than the alien in question. 

    The appeals process regarding such deregistration as defined by the proposed amendment is "worrying" because deregistration of a party or electoral block can be made up to two days after elections: a decision may be taken after votes have been cast and voters might in good faith vote for a party which may then end up being deregistered.

    Finally, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR believe that the amendment could be perceived, in the strict sense, as ad hominem legislation, i.e. directed against a particular individual, a legislative technique previously criticized by the Venice Commission.

    The opinions were prepared under the Quick response Mechanism in the framework of the EU/CoE joint programme Partnership for Good Governance”, co-funded by the Council of Europe and the European Union and implemented by the Council of Europe.

    COE MEDIA RELEASE

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