How the 2020 Parliamentary Elections may affect Georgia’s European future – opinions of Members of the European Parliament
On June 29, the Parliament of Georgia adopted draft constitutional amendments with the third reading. According to these amendments, the upcoming 2020 parliamentary elections will be held under the system close to the proportional system. Based on the agreement reached between opposition parties and the ruling force on March 8, at the 2020 parliamentary elections 120 MPs will be elected from the proportional list and 1% electoral threshold will apply, while 30 MPs will be elected under the majoritarian system. Another novelty is that a party with less than 40% of votes will not be able to form government independently.
Change of the election system reflects the will of the Georgian population to live in a more democratic and stable country. Change of the election system will allow to reflect the votes in the legislature in a more fair and proportional manner, which will in turn contribute to formation of representative and pluralist parliament and strengthen quality of democracy in the country.
Having a fair electoral environment and holding elections according to democratic standards is an important prerequisite for the advancement of Euro-Atlantic integration of Georgia, since free and fair elections hold a fundamental place among values of the European Union.
EU constantly follows and observes developments in Georgia. Members of the European Parliament often react topolitical and democratic developments in the country. They use different rhetoric about Georgia at different times – they constantly support and commend successful implementation of reforms by the country and harshly criticize actions and decisions directed against democracy, the rule of law and other fundamental values of the EU.
Therefore, what influential MEPs think about the 2020 parliamentary elections and how they evaluate importance of the elections for prospects of the advancement of Georgia’s European integration is important. To find out what Members of the European Parliament think, ISFED interviewed MEPs that work on issues of Eastern partner countries. They welcome Georgia’s move to a new electoral system, talk about possible scenarios that may unfold and identify important challengesaffecting Georgia.
Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, a German politician and a member of Greens/European Free Alliance believes that the 2020 parliamentary elections are fundamental both for the process of European integration as well as for internal development of the country. Markéta Gregorová, another MEP from Greens/European Free Alliance states that the 2020 parliamentary elections are important for Georgian citizens, in order to live in a more stable country with democratic values, as well as for the EU, in order to see the direction in which the country is headed. Andrius Kubilius, a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament from European People’s party said that for integration with the EU the country should observe fundamental democratic values, which first and foremost include the rule of law and free and fair electoral environment – „The 2020 parliamentary elections provide an opportunity for Georgia to prove to the EU and its Member States that the country is ready for integration.“
MEPs also addressed the importance of the 2020 parliamentary elections in the context of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit. According to them, it may be up to the parliamentary elections whether or not the country receives an ambitious political agenda from the EU at the 2021 EaP Summit and whether the three associated countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova) will be offered a differentiated approach. According to Andrius Kubilius, Georgia has all the resources it needs to receive an ambitious policy from the EU at the 2021 Summit. As proof, the MEP recalls evaluation of the EaP countries and the Western Balkans in 2018 by the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) expert, Michael Emerson about which country is more prepared for integration with the EU. As it turns out, Georgia holds the first place. According to the Lithuanian MEP, „these elections will give an opportunity to Georgia to prove that it deserves a prospect from the European Union. However, until then Georgia must show progress in the fields of elections, the rule of law and independent judiciary.“
MEPs also spoke about possible scenarios on Georgia’s path toward the European integration if any irregularities are found in the election process. Viola von Cramon and Markéta Gregorová believe that in an event of significantirregularities during the elections, Georgia will lose the status of a „leading country“, there will be a mistrust from the EU and the country will only be viewed an Eastern partner for a long time: „In case of election irregularities, Georgia will no longer receive an ambitious policy form the EU and the union may view Georgia next to countries like Azerbaijan, Belarus and Armenia“ – said Gregorova. According to Andrius Kubilius, the European Union operates according to the following principles: „more for more“ and „less for less“ – if a country ensures quality of democracy and development of democracy, as well as strengthening of the rule of law, it will receive ambitious offers from the European Union, while a country that shows regress in these areas will only be viewed in the context of sectoral integration.
Representatives of the European Parliament also spoke about the March 8 agreement, addressed the importance of the Constitutional amendments and their impact on Georgia’s European future. According to all three MEPs, the Constitutional changes ensure development of democracy in the country, a fair electoral system and multiparty representation in the legislature, which will promote formation of Georgia into a state with European values. Even though the MEPs commend these changes, they believe that it is not the best option for the country. In particular, Viola von Cramon recalls the initial pledge of the Georgian Dream, saying that they were ready to move to a fully-proportional electoral system, however, according to her, the ruling force went back on its word and it was only after a lengthy protest of the opposition and civil society, as well as harsh reactions from international society that it agreed to compromise. As a result, we received a 120/30 electoral system, instead of a fully proportional one – „This is not what we demanded. However, it is certainly important for the EU to see Georgia’s progress on the one hand and on the other hand, for Georgian citizens to receive an electoral system that’s far more free, transparent and fair.“
MEPs highlighted attempts of using administrative resources for influencing election outcomes, vote buying, offer of financial incentives to voters and pressure on opposition media as the most important challenges related to elections. In addition, Viola von Cramon spoke about threats from the Russian Federation: „I believe that while Russia’s actions go beyond the internal policy of the country and entail violation of the idea of territorial integrity, in order to raise awareness, Georgia should be voicing this issue more actively and the international community should be more involved in solving this problem.“
According to Markéta Gregorová, one of the most important challenges for Georgia is disinformation campaign, which she mostly associates with Russia and China, underlining that the Government of Georgia should ensure coverage of real news to ensure that population has correct information on elections, voting, political parties and their election platforms. She also noted: „opposition should continue to compete against each other within ideological context, however they should work together and prevent their constituents from becoming objects of manipulation from various internal or external actors.“
Andrius Kubilius believes that generally, ruling parties constantly strive to remain in power, which is why he believes it is crucial for the Georgian Dream to understand the importance of transparent and democratic elections for Georgia’s European future – „in the history of Georgia, 10-20 years later no one will remember who got how many votes at the elections but everyone will see where and how the country has developed. Therefore, it is very important right now to think about building Georgia’s European future, while if the country misses this opportunity, it will only be a step backwards on Georgia’s path toward development.“
Considering opinions of the MEPs, with the March 8 agreement and by implementing the constitutional changes, Georgia has already made important steps on the path toward bolstering democracy. This year Georgia is facing important internal and external threats, and it will be up to the country how it will address the existing challenges, how it will ensure the conduct of fair and democratic elections, what results it will get at the 2021 EaP Summit and how its Euro-Atlantic future will change. So far it is ambiguous how the parties will act, how the votes will be distributed and what the outcome of the elections will be but the one thing is clear – the 2020 elections will be one of the most important tests and an opportunity for Georgia to prove that by transforming into a country with fair, free, stable and democratic values, it truly deserves more integration in the EU.