President Salome Zurabishvili delivered a speech on 1 September to address the European Commission’s 12 recommendations and the country’s European aspirations, her decision to veto the controversial surveillance law amendments, the appointment of the new Georgian Ambassador to the United Nations, and nominations for the Central Election Commission’s (CEC) chairperson.
European Commission’s Recommendations, PM’s Trip to Brussels
During her speech, President Zurabishvili highlighted Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili will be traveling to Brussels in one week for the Association Council’s meeting which will be “the first such important meeting after the summer and after the [European Commission’s] recommendations [were issued].”
“This will be the first opportunity to have a serious conversation with our European partners, and this moment cannot be lost, the steps for the Prime Minister, the government, and the majority to take here are very clear,” the President emphasized.
In that context, she urged the Prime Minister to distance the ruling Georgian Dream party and himself from the GD dissenters who have accused Georgia’s strategic partners like the U.S. of interfering in the country’s affairs and wanting to drag the country into war.
“Let it be stated very clearly, nobody wants us to be involved in a war, and no one needs us to be involved in a war,” the President stated and stressed that “no one has heard such an invented lie since the end of the Soviet propaganda machine.”
The President explained that “it is necessary for all the doubts that have been created because of all this… which are very incomprehensible to everyone who looks at us from the outside” to be dispelled because they are having “a negative impact on our country, reputation, and the trust placed in us.”
The President also remarked that besides dispelling such doubts, the Prime Minister must present a plan for how the country is fulfilling the Commission’s recommendations which will “show Georgia’s political will to start on this path and really reach the end.”
“This is what we should prove to our partners in Brussels,” she said.
The Georgian President also pointed out the Prime Minister’s decision to attend the upcoming UN General Assembly in three weeks, where “the main issue will be Ukraine” and emphasized that he must dispel any doubts about Georgia’s support for Ukraine.
President Zurabishvili underscored that showing solidarity with Ukraine does not mean opening up a second front in Georgia or supporting additional sanctions against Russia, but that the country stands “where it belongs, [in line] with our past, dignity, and friendly relations for years with a country that is occupied like ours…”
The President concluded by stating that “it should be clear today that the choice is very easy… We want to be perceived as a country that is a part of the European family, of [European] values, a country that is a participating unit of the civilized, democratic, free world.”
Vetoing the Controversial Surveillance Law
Addressing her decision in June to veto the controversial amendments which would expand reasons for wiretapping individuals, the President emphasized that until now she had been careful not to use her right to veto but that in this case, the changes “concern the [political] system, and our current and future system.”
“There is a dividing line here, whether we are still in the Soviet heritage or whether we are moving into a truly European system, whether our private lives are protected from eavesdropping or not,” President Zurabishvili underscored.
The President accentuated that “we still live in a country” where eavesdropping is a serious concern, “but this is not the European [way of]] life, this is not the protection of human rights, this is another system, and we must get out of this system.”
She emphasized that this was the reason for her veto and that the attempt to adopt these amendments in a rushed, non-inclusive manner, “raises new doubts that these are rules adopted for the consolidation of power, that eavesdropping will once again become a powerful lever of power, as we are used to in this country.”
President Zurabishvili pointed out that at a time when the country seeks to gain EU candidate status in the near future, “this is not possible.”
“I am very happy and glad that the Venice Commission shared the reasons for this veto,” the President denoted and added that while some might question her competency, it is “embarrassing for some people” to accuse the Commission of incompetence especially when those very same people once relied on their reports.
New Ambassador to the UN
Regarding her decision to approve former Georgian Ambassador to the U.S. Davit Bakradze as the country’s new Ambassador to the United Nations, the President explained that the reason she chose to appoint him despite questioning his competency is the upcoming UN General Assembly where having a full-fledged Ambassador is in the country’s interests.
While on the subject, the President brought attention to the overall process of Ambassadorial appointments which she said first take place through private consultations and are then submitted publicly.
“I received 7 submissions without any consultation, those private consultations… which I would say is a kind of answer from the government to this decision of mine,” President Zurabishvili said.
In light of how this violates established practices for appointing Ambassadors, the President called on the Constitutional Court to consider this issue because “the signature of the President [for approving Ambassadors] can’t be just a facsimile, especially in this field.”
Central Election Commission’s Chairperson
In reference to her decision to not nominate the acting chairperson of the CEC, Giorgi Kalandarishvili, for the post, President Zurabishvili reiterated that she refrained from nominating him because she had done so twice before but he never received the necessary 2/3 of the votes from Parliament to be elected for a full term.
Instead, she chose to nominate candidates who were selected by the Commission through competition “in the hope that one of them will collect 2/3 of the votes that is the requirement, and in general, the European Union’s requirement for such important positions.”
In that context, the President highlighted that the election of candidates to important posts like the CEC Chairperson and the Public Defender, among others, must take into account that “we are being asked for more solidarity [and] consensus…”
“…It was this, and only this, no political or personal thoughts, which led to the fact that I presented the selected candidates…,” the President said.