The European Commission for Democracy through Law (the “Venice Commission”) published today its new draft opinion on the draft Constitution of Georgia as adopted in the second reading in June 2017, as well as on the letter submitted by the Georgian authorities to the Venice Commission on 20 September 2017, in which they committed themselves to consider new amendments.
The Venice Commission in its draft opinion reiterated its previous positive assessment of the draft Constitution, but once again underlined that any major constitutional reform must reach the widest possible consensus.
A major obstacle to reaching consensus, the report says, is the postponement to October 2024 of the entry into force of the proportional system for election of the Parliament. The Venice Commission called it “undoubtedly highly regrettable” as the passage to the proportional system is “the most important aspect of the reform”. “However, the commitment of the parliamentary majority in the letter of 20 September 2017 to consider allowing party blocks, together with the reduction of the election threshold to 3% at the 2020 elections is to be welcomed, since those amendments aim to alleviate the negative effects of the postponement.”
The new complex system for the distribution of unallocated mandates adopted in the second reading reduces the effects of the bonus for the winning party, but still very much favours the strongest party in the country. The bonus system is also a main obstacle to the acceptance of the Constitution by opposition parties and civil society, and the Venice Commission therefore strongly welcomes the commitment of the parliamentary majority to consider abandoning the bonus system altogether and adopting the full proportional distribution system as from 2024. “Such a system would favour pluralism in parliament and be fully in line with European standards. The Venice Commission expects that this step will not only be considered but immediately adopted,” the document says.
The Venice Commission has also welcomed, inter alia, the introduction of the requirement of a qualified majority of 2/3 of the votes of the Election Board in a presidential election; the lifetime appointment for the judges of the Supreme Court; the abolition of probationary periods for judges as from 31 December 2024; and the election of the Public Defender for a longer term (6 years instead of 5) by a qualified majority in parliament.
Additional recommendations provided by the Venice Commission include removing the prohibition of “creation of political parties on territorial grounds”, reconsidering the rules limiting the role of the Constitutional Court in reviewing electoral legislation; and modifying the process of the appointment of Supreme Court judges to better guarantee their independence.
The Venice Commission members, serving the visit to Georgia, were hosted by the Chairman, Mr. Irakli Kobakhidze. “They accepted the new project very positively the Commission develops at this stage”, - the First Deputy Chairperson and the Secretary of the State Constitutional Commission, Tamar Chugoshvili stated after the meeting. The parties discussed the details of the draft developed by the SCC.
As T. Chugoshvili stated, Venice Commission have the positive estimation to almost all the issues. The recommendations on some issues will be introduced by the Venice Commission after the meetings.
As she noted, after the meeting today, the issues related to restriction of the Presidential functions have been canceled. “We in details considered the draft developed by the SCC. So far, it’s early to hear their recommendations. Mainly, they gave the positive estimation to the new draft. There are the issues they will introduce their positions after the meetings. So far, we had a very interesting and positive meeting and they accepted the new draft positively. They were misinformed about restriction of the Presidential functions and we explained the process of regulation of the issue, so the questions were covered. We also touched the changes on human rights protection. They expressed no remarks or concerns about election rule”.
The Venice Commission Delegation headed by the Secretary, Thomas Markert, visited Georgia on March 30. Today, the meetings are scheduled with all working groups of the SCC. The expert group is composed of: Thomas Markert, Michael Frendo, Nicos Alivazatos, Josep Maria Castella Andreu and Caga Tanyar.