Venice Commission urges Georgia to improve proposed judiciary and de-oligarchisation reforms

 Venice Commission urges Georgia to improve proposed judiciary and de-oligarchisation reforms
Demonstrators against the "foreign agents' bill outside the Georgian Parliament last week. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelIiNews March 15, 2023
The Council of Europe's Venice Commission has issued opinions on two key Georgian reforms, including its de-oligarchisation proposals, calling on the government to make significant improvements.
 
The announcement is a considerable blow for Tbilisi as it struggles to regain its footing on the path towards EU accession. It comes as the government was forced by demonstrations to back down on a proposed bill, inspired by Russian legislation, to force non-governmental organisations and media to declare themselves "foreign agents" if they received funding from abroad.
 
The Georgian Dream government has been using referrals to the Venice Commission as a way of defusing domestic anger against its reforms, which critics say threaten to damage the rule of law and narrow the space for opposition parties. However, the Venice Commission's opinions have just added to the government's problems by confirming the objections from opposition parties and the EU Commission.
 
In an opinion on Georgia's proposed de-oligarchisation bill, the Commission noted that the government's "personal" approach to reducing the influence of oligarchs on the economy, politics, and public life poses a high risk of human rights violations. The Commission recommended a more systematic approach to strengthening institutions and the legal framework, and called for the criteria used to identify oligarchs to be narrowed and clarified.
 
The Commission also highlighted potential violations of the European Convention on Human Rights in the de-oligarchisation bill, including the right to private life, freedom of expression, and assembly. The Commission noted that although the mentioned rights are not absolute, the vagueness of the criteria used to define oligarchs makes it difficult to justify such restrictions.
 
In a separate assessment on proposed reforms to Georgia's judiciary system, the Commission noted the changes were "of limited scope" and failed to provide the "holistic reform of the judiciary" required for EU membership. The Commission reiterated the importance of achieving an independent, impartial, and well-functioning judiciary, and urged the government to address key recommendations, including issues of judicial corporatism and self-interest.
 
In light of these concerns, the Commission urged Georgia to review and improve the proposed legislation to ensure the fulfillment of its goals without violating human rights or using them against the opposition.
 
After Georgia was snubbed in its application for EU candidate status in June 2022, Brussels handed Tbilisi a list of 12 reforms that it needs to fulfill in order to continue along the EU accession path, including reform of the judiciary and the deoligarchisation bill. The European Commission is expected to report on the progress of these reforms before the end of this year. 

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