EU Diplomats Help Opposing Parties Reach Settlement Amid Georgia’s Political Crisis

European Union (EU) brokers helped Georgia’s ruling party and opposition reach a deal to help stem the political crisis in the country of Georgia on Monday, according to European Council President Charles Michel. This development follows a two-month period of strife as a result of the detention of opposition politician Nika Melia. The agreement demands that Georgia institute an amnesty law within one week of the agreement’s signing that would release June 2019 protestors from jail, and that stipulation in the agreement could potentially culminate in the release of Nika Melia and other detained opposition leaders.

Al Jazeera reports that the agreement also includes judicial and electoral reforms seeking to prevent the country from further backsliding on democracy as concerns suggest. In addition, the agreement means that the opposition would re-enter Georgia’s parliament and that the ruling party would hold new parliamentary elections if its municipal elections fail to garner more than 43% of the votes, Emerging Europe notes.

Council President Michel cited the new agreement as a “starting point” in front of the signing ceremony’s participants, emphasizing the need for intraparty cooperation to strengthen Georgia’s democracy and to improve its relationship with European and Atlantic alliances, according to Barron’s. He advocates for these goals at the same time Georgia plans to formally apply for EU membership in 2024.

The U.S. Department of State released a statement two days before the agreement’s signing, calling on members of Georgia’s parliament to sign and respect the agreement brokered by the EU. Politico reports that Nika Melia’s opposition party United National Movement (UNM) refused to endorse the agreement, but enough members of Parliament, including those from UNM, signed it, ending the parliamentary boycott in its large-scale form as government activity realizes normalcy. After meeting with Michel, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and President Salome Zourabishvili expressed gratitude towards Michel, the EU, and American embassies in Georgia, according to the Georgia Journal. 

The struggle for an agreement to resume normal government activity while also ensuring electoral fairness and amnesty for those who dissented indicates a strong existing reverence for democracy in Georgia. The agreement’s potential to diffuse high tensions in a country with a turbulent political history is also worthy of praise because it promotes peaceful solutions. The European Union has done the right thing by taking an active role in brokering an agreement for the welfare of Georgia, and it is noteworthy that, as Michel mentioned, this is only a beginning stage in the normalization of Georgia’s politics from within and outside. Thus far, however, only a part of the opposition signed the agreement. This means that going forward there must be further dialogue and cooperation surrounding the question of how to reconcile all political groups to engage constructively with one another in an effort to bolster peace and stability. The European Union and the United States should maintain an active role.

The need for an agreement in the first place comes from rising tensions, large protest blockades in Tbilisi, parliamentary boycotts, and generally a political environment that is not sustainable when it comes to facilitating a functionally effective government. Nika Melia, the UNM’s former leader, was detained two months ago following a police raid on his party’s headquarters, which he said was politically motivated, according to Reuters.

The outrage and backlash by citizens in and out of the government were strong to the point where former Prime Minister Giorgi Ghakaria resigned because of disagreement with his own team about Melia’s detention. He stated concern that the detention would worsen political fallout. Historically, Georgia had found itself under Russian influence and domination. Given the occasion of the EU-brokered argument that may reduce the degree of persistent political polarization, Georgia may be inching closer towards a peaceful reconciliation with the European Union and away from Russia’s sphere of influence on the South Caucasus. 

The political conflict in Georgia will not be coming to a full close as a result of the April 19 agreement, but after a period of tension, it is important to introduce a settlement that can find some peace. To further ensure a peaceful society, Georgia’s citizens must be prioritized over political rhetoric and division. It is vital for Georgia’s leaders and representatives to cease rhetoric that further increases political strife, and it is as important for international actors to pursue further dialogue as to how the country’s situation can improve. Georgia is at a pivotal point in the development of its own democracy; therefore, an effective government is of the utmost importance to allow divisiveness to abate, especially amid an assertive Russia. Nika Melia’s release is a subject that also needs to be prioritized in the ongoing effort to reconcile political parties, as the UNM has yet to offer their full approval of the agreement brokered by the EU.

Benjamin Fikhman