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Posted on: 13 Jul 2015

Political forum on EU integration issues

NGOs Engage Authorities in Discussion of Challenges and Solutions Concerning Implementation of EU-Georgia Association Agreement

On July 10th, the Advancing CSO Capacities and Engaging Society for Sustainability (ACCESS) project organized a policy forum that gathered representatives from Georgian Non-government Organizations (NGOs), think tanks, business unions, international organizations, central government, and the Parliament. Representatives discussed challenges identified throughout the first year of the European Union-Georgia Association Agreement: participants considered respective solutions and debated alternatives.

The First Deputy State Minister of Georgia for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and representatives from leading NGOs—Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC), the Media Development Foundation (MDF), and Georgia Reforms Associates (GRASS)—hosted a discussion titled "Making it Happen: Managing the Implementation of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement.”

Georgian NGOs identified the following challenges to implementing the Association Agreement: (1) the government is not communicating or coordinating with the public sufficiently; (2) state authorities are not coordinating their announcements, which has resulted in contradictory official messages; (3) government authorities are not consulting with various stakeholders; (4) government does not conduct preliminary impact assessments of legislative initiatives envisaged under the agreement; (5) government is attributing painful reforms to European integration; and (6) local government officials lack in-depth expertise and knowledge of the issue.

The First Deputy State Minister, Archil Karaulashvili, began the discussion by welcoming inputs from the third sector. Mr. Karaulashvili provided an in-depth outline of existing mechanisms for vertical and horizontal government coordination. The deputy minister also briefed the audience on newly planned projects, which include the development of long-term planning documents prepared by line ministries as well as regular compatibility assessments by government administration of the legislative initiatives with the Association Agreement.

The Executive Director of the EPRC, Nino Evgenidze, discussed the positive economic trends associated with Georgia’s entry into the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), which has increased the European Union’s share of Georgian exports by thirty percent. Ms. Evgenidze went on to discuss prevailing problems with the government’s approach to implementing the Association Agreement. She noted that authorities have not clearly prioritized the agreement’s various commitments. She also highlighted that authorities have not presented the public with any analysis on the economic impact of proposed regulations. Ms. Evgenidze emphasized that there must be a close and efficient dialogue between the public and private sectors.

The Chair of the Board of the MDF, Tamar Kintsurashvili, noted that there is a trend in the Georgian media to promote irrational and baseless criticisms of European integration. Ms. Kintsurashvili noted that national media outlets tend to avoid anti-western propaganda, in contrast to critical private media outlets. The mainstream media is not providing the public with content-oriented information, positive representations of the European integration, or practical, down-to-earth messages. According to Ms. Kintsurashvili, the Office of the State Minister is the only government authority that consistently makes an effort to communicate with the public on European integration. Ms. Kintsurashvili claims a consolidated, whole government approach is necessary to ensure effective public reporting on European integration.

Co-Founder of GRASS, Sergi Kapanadze, gave an informational presentation on Visegrad countries’ mechanisms for successfully coordinating European integration policies. Mr. Kapanadze discussed the prospects of adopting similar mechanisms in Georgia. Despite the different approaches taken by Visegrad countries to coordinate European integration (e.g. in Hungary the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was the principle integration authority, as compared to Poland’s Committee on European Integration), Mr. Kapanadze emphasized that Visegrad countries’ approaches became more centralized as they got closer to obtaining European Union membership. Internal coordination became more centralized, and the Prime Minister’s office assumed an increasing leadership role. Mr. Kapanadze also noted that the success of European integration in these countries hinged on the decisiveness of the government’s pro-western orientation and the consensus that existed across a broad political spectrum.

In the post-panel discussion, participants characterized the lack of communication between the government and the public as the most acute problem with European integration. According to participants, poor communication is particularly problematic in Georgia’s regions, especially those regions densely populated by ethnic minorities. Participants have observed that the general population does not have enough information regarding the content of the Association Agreement to understand the benefits and expected outcomes of implementation. Some speakers mentioned that authorities, while communicating with the public, were more focusing on the pragmatic benefits of the EU membership rather than on general democratic values associated with this process. Consequently it is recommended to inform the society more about the democratic values and individual liberties that EU integration entails.

Participants identified poor coordination between various government bodies as an important challenge to integration. Specifically, speakers noted that the implementation of the DCFTA was inefficiently managed. Some participants believed government agencies should decisively support Georgian entrepreneurs and foreign investors to act on opportunities afforded by the DCFTA.

Speakers and participants frequently asked government representatives questions relating to the timing and content of various regulations (e.g. the laws on migration, land ownership, advertisement, tobacco and beer excise tax, commercial banks oversight). Commentators stressed the importance of conducting regular ex ante policy analysis of bills, by implementing a reform of the government’s policy planning system. Proposed reforms included introducing Regulatory Impact Assessment tools and encouraging cooperation between the government and Civil Society Organizations while performing assessments.

In addition, participants stressed that the government has been misattributing certain reforms to requirements laid out in the Association Agreement, which risks public resentment.

ACCESS will summarize the main points and recommendations discussed during the forum in a single document and send to relevant government bodies. The document will also be published online.

Through ACCESS, East-West Management Institute plans to hold regular discussions of the similar format under the Policy Forum Series. ACCESS supports Georgian think tanks and watchdog NGOs in effectively monitoring, analyzing, and influencing key government policies and processes.

ACCESS is a five-year, $5.5 million USD civil society development initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development and implemented by the East-West Management Institute (EWMI). USAID administers U.S. foreign assistance programs providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide.

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