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Venice Commission President visits Georgia

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, January 23
Gianni Buquicchio, the President of the Venice Commission, visited Georgia after the country’s Georgian Dream ruling team announced there would be “no changes” in the country’s Constitution if they are disapproved of by the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law.

During the visit Buquicchio met the Parliament Speaker of Georgia, Irakli Kobakhidze, the President of Georgia Giorgi Margvelashvili as well as experts and representatives of various NGOs to gain information over the planned amendments to the country’s main laws which were changed under the United National Movement leadership in 2010.

Buquicchio stated that the Venice Commission had “critical approaches” to several issues in the Constitution in 2010, and hoped the topics would be addressed by Georgia’s 73-member Constitutional Commission that was tasked to prepare the draft amendments in the Constitution over a four-month period before April 30, 2017.

The head of the Commission, Parliament Chair Irakli Kobakhidze, who has a legal education in the field of the Constitution, vowed no changes would be introduced in the Constitution if they were disapproved by the Venice Commission.

Buquicchio stressed that the Commission was ready to provide its recommendations in this direction.

Members of different NGOs stated they raised various issues with the head of the Venice Commission, focusing on amendments in the country’s election code, the rule of electing the president, specifying the meaning of marriage, setting down the country’s foreign course, court independence and similar.

Head of Transparency International Georgia Eka Gigauri stated after the meeting that the four-month period for elaborating the constitutional changes might be too short.

She also said there might be a risk that the views of the Commission members would be ignored and Parliament would adopt changes that were in the interests of the ruling team, as the Georgian Dream party holds a constitutional majority in Parliament, sufficient to approve the changes without the support of the opposition.

Georgia’s ex-Parliament Speaker David Usupashvili was also invited to the meeting. He said the presence of the Parliament Chair as the head of Commission and other figures “gave him hope” that the process would be carried appropriately.

He stressed Georgia should remove the majoritarian elections and fully move to a proportional model.

He also stated that the Constitution must clearly state that Georgia has a pro-Western course.

The current Government of Georgia stated the amendments adopted in the Constitution under the United National Movement were fitted to the personal plans of ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who “wished to become the Prime Minister after his two terms as the President of Georgia expired in 2013”.

After coming to power in 2012, the Georgian Dream leadership initiated a Constitutional Commission to “make the Constitution balanced, in line with high, European standards.”

However, the Commission failed to provide any major changes.

Usupashvili, who chaired the Commission that time, stated that the reason of this was the lack of a constitutional majority, i.e. at least 113 lawmakers in the 150-member legislative body.

On December 23 2016, a new Constitutional Commission was approved, consisting of 73 members, among them experts and representatives of seven political parties, government agencies and non-governmental organizations.