Hungary and Poland were criticized by the European Commission for their violation of the so-called rule of law.
The report, released this week, examines the justice system, media freedom and institutional systems of checks and balances across all 27 EU member states.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has received particular scrutiny over his bill to ban the portrayal of LGBTI + people in schools and the media.
Poland, meanwhile, has been criticized for reforms that critics say diminish the independence of its judiciary.
But it would be prudent for the EU to include Georgia, an EU aspirant applying for membership in 2024, in its ongoing discussions on the rule of law.
Georgia has long sought to establish close relations with Europe. He is currently in an Association Agreement with the EU and is seeking to join NATO.
But recent violence in Tbilisi against the planned gay pride parade and some of the journalists covering the event, one of whom has already died, show how far Georgia still has to go to embrace the values of the EU and the UK.
Last Thursday, the embassies of the EU member states in Tiblisi issued a joint statement condemning the violence against LGBT activists and other negative developments.
In September, the European Parliament called on the authorities to “refrain from initiating politically motivated cases” against the opposition. [in Georgia] and to carry out long-overdue reforms of the judicial system.
This has usually been ignored by the Georgian government, which continued to influence court cases and recently hastily appointed Supreme Court justices, contrary to an agreement between the government and the opposition, mediated by the EU.
Only 2% of Georgians fully trust the courts, as evidenced by the 80th place in the rating of the independence of the judiciary of the World Economic Forum. Amnesty International also emphasizes that “concerns remain about politically motivated prosecutions”.
While Georgia has undoubtedly made significant progress over the past fifteen years and stands out from other countries in the region, it is clear that some old habits are more difficult to break than others.
During elections last November, international observers noted “widespread accusations of pressure from voters” and “blurring of the boundaries between the ruling party and the state.” Opposition leader Nika Melia was later arrested and the opposition was persuaded to take their seats only after months of mediation from the EU, which eventually bailed Melia. There are now growing fears that such violations will occur during the national elections to be held in October this year.
Repression extends to media and businesses that do not maintain close enough relations with the state. Journalists and opposition media outlets are regularly subjected to direct and indirect political pressure. Violence against journalists covering a gay pride parade is just the latest in the aftermath of serious violations of the editorial independence of TV channels such as Mtavari Archi and Adjara TV, which were threatened by politically motivated investigations and the dismissal of senior officials.
In another condemnation that has been completely ignored, the Council of Europe, of which Britain remains a member, recently released a report through the Venice Commission condemning new laws in Georgia allowing the government to take over the management of electronic communications companies that do not honor their wishes. Despite widespread protests about the infringement of media and business freedom, this right has already been applied in the case of the Kavkaz Online network provider.
The overwhelming majority of Georgians support EU membership and generally look outside the world. But the population is also heavily influenced by the Orthodox Church, which has limited, reactionary views and opposes Georgia’s western trajectory. The church is closely associated with its Russian counterpart, a country where it is virtually illegal to be gay. Overall, Russian influence remains an ongoing problem for Georgia. Although he later condemned the attacks on journalists, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili also stressed that the gay parade “is unacceptable for a large part of Georgian society.”
Public confidence in Georgia’s democracy and political institutions remains extremely low. Religious institutions, on the contrary, enjoy the greatest public support – 84%. These represent two historical relics that Georgia will have to overcome if it still wants to forge closer relations with Europe. The political class must show that it can uphold European values of judicial independence and democracy, as well as distance itself from the often reactionary views of the church. Although the UK is no longer a member of the EU, it remains a member of NATO and the Council of Europe and, as such, plays a role in encouraging urgent reforms.
Mary Honeyball was a Labor MEP from 2000 to 2019, where she was Vice Chair of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee. She regularly writes and campaigns on human rights in the context of women’s rights, religion and politics.