EU responds positively to election law letter
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Thursday, April 26
European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy, Stefan Fule, has responded positively to a letter sent by Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum member Georgian National Platform on March 12.
The letter, which was sent to Fule, Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and Danish Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen, reflected on the pre-election situation in Georgia and expressed concern about changes to the Law on Political Unions of Citizens. Georgian National Platform wrote that the law deteriorates the election environment by limiting civic activity, property rights, freedom of expression and political action, while imposing severe and unjustified responsibilities on voters, resulting in what the group calls "a chilling effect on freedom of speech and civic engagement".
Recipients were also informed that the changes to the law have triggered protests by members of Georgian NGOs and political groups, through demonstrations and media campaigns united under the "It Concerns You" banner. That movement submitted a package of draft laws to improve the current law, which is under consideration in Parliament. "Hence, we appeal to you to support the initiative of civil society actors and encourage the government of Georgia to issue the respective invitation to the OSCE/ODIHR. We would like to once again thank you for your efforts to support the free and fair elections in Georgia and express our hope that the issue remains a priority on EU-Georgia communication agenda," the letter read.
The organizations also echoed the government's invitation of international organisazations to begin early election monitoring, that they hope will contribute to a democratic campaign.
In response, Fule expressed his pleasure that Georgian civil society is becoming active and noted that strong civil society action is required in order to transform and modernize societies and to build deep democracy. "That is also one reason why the EU fully recognizes the importance of the strengthening of the Civil Society Forum and its national platforms in the Eastern Partnership countries,” he wrote.
Fule noted that the EU is giving special attention to the Law on Political Unions of Citizens and have asked for clarifications from the government of Georgia on the potentially negative consequences of the law on freedom of expression and freedom of association. "I am encouraged to hear that the Parliament of Georgia has stepped up consultations with the civil society in this regard. On the issue of election monitoring, my understanding is that OSCE/ODIHR have received a request from the government of Georgia and that an assessment mission is being planned,” he said, hoping that before the election he will be able to meet with and listen to Georgian civil society representatives.
As the coordinator of National Platform, Ketevan Tsikhelashvili told The Messenger, the letter included very clear positive messages in support of a strong civil society in Georgia, which he said would be "an additional stimulus" to activists. As for concrete details, the letter included definite plans for election observers to arrive well in advance of the fall vote. "It is a very significant issue, as the election is not the election day, it is the whole election period,” Tsikhelashvili maintained, noting that Fule's visit could take place this summer.
Regarding the effectiveness of Georgian civil society, he stated that those amendments proposed by It Concerns You, which have been recently written into the law by Parliament, show the merit of the movement's activity.