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Georgia is making progress, says Europe

By Etuna Tsotniashvili
Friday, May 14
Overall, Georgia progressed in its implementation of ENP Action Plan priorities throughout 2009, the EU Progress Report on Georgia’s ENP Action Plan published on May 12 reads.

The document specifies the areas where the country made progress, such as rule of law, reform of the justice system, the fight against petty corruption, trade facilitation and the improvement of the business climate. However, “Georgia will need to continue its democratic reform efforts and its consolidation of democratic institutions, especially political pluralism and media freedom. Other major future challenges include poverty reduction, employment and social policies, agricultural development, including sanitary and phyto-sanitary issues, and civil service reform,” the report reads.

The report mentions the mass demonstrations which took place in Tbilisi last spring and lasted more than two months. It says that the authorities kept a low profile and did not attempt to break up these demonstrations by force, marking progress since the similar events in 2007 when the authorities cracked down on a peaceful anti-Government demonstration in Tbilisi and hundreds of protestors were seriously injured. The report says that the Ombudsman’s Office and local NGOs reported several cases of opposition supporters being threatened and beaten during the demonstrations but “these acts of violence were not thoroughly investigated by the Government and no perpetrators were identified or brought to justice.”

The report also touches upon the conditions in prisons and states that detention conditions and overcrowding in prisons remain areas of concern and the use of parole or alternatives to imprisonment is not sufficiently widespread and this contradicts Council of Europe standards.

Regarding the draft of a new constitution being compiled by the State Constitutional Commission the report says that the ‘second wave of democratic reforms’ being enacted includes giving a stronger role to Parliament vis-a-vis the executive through constitutional changes, broader involvement of the opposition in decision-making processes, amendment of the election code, improved judicial independence and greater media freedom. The aim of the Constitutional Commission is to prepare a new constitution which would ensure a further clear separation of powers, an improved system of checks and balances, a more independent court system and better protection of human rights. A first draft of the constitution is now expected by autumn 2010.

In terms of the media the report says that the broadcast media remain an issue of major concern in Georgia, where the television environment is highly polarised and biased. The second major media-related problem the report identifies is the lack of transparency of media ownership. “Transparency of ownership is considered crucial in ensuring media pluralism, but the availability of information and documentation relating to the owners of media outlets and broadcasting licences still remains problematic in Georgia,” the report reads.

The 2009 report is the third annual ENP Progress Report for Georgia.