Tbilisi, DFWatch – Joseph Daul expressed his support for the United National Movement and made comments on EU visa liberalisation process.
President of the European People’s Party (EPP), Joseph Daul paid a visit to Georgia in order to meet with representatives of the opposition party United National Movement (UNM) and express his support for the party.
EPP is one of the largest political parties at European level, which holds most seats in the European Parliament. President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker is a member of EPP. The party’s ideology can be described as Christian democracy and liberal conservatism.
Members of EPP include France’s The Republicans chaired by Nicolas Sarkozy, Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) chaired by Angela Merkel, Hungary’s Fidesz chaired by Viktor Orbán, Italy’s Forza Italia chaired by Silvio Berlusconi, or Poland’s Civic Platform which until recently was chaired by Donald Tusk.
Joseph Daul visited leaders of UNM and former top government officials, Vano Merabishvili, Bacho Akhalaia, and Gigi Ugulava, who are currently serving their prison sentences.
‘This is politics, I’m criticized, but I can answer them. I want Georgia to be judicial, free and European state, it will never forget this and I have to say one more thing — I will continue to work with the National Movement, which protects these three people and the European future of Georgia’, Mr Daul told journalists after his visit sparked critical comments in the media.
In 2014, Mr Merabishvili was sentenced to three years in prison for a murder cover-up. Mr Akhalaia was sentenced to seven years for prison abuse. Mr Ugulava was sentenced to four and a half years for embezzlement.
Mr Daul also made comments about EU visa liberalisation, reaffirming his support, yet pointing out that there are still procedural obstacles ahead.
‘I see that my statement on visa liberalization caused great reaction. It was our party that worked so much with Georgia in terms of visa liberalization. As for visas, I sincerely said what I said. The European Commission made a decision on the visa issue, but the Council and the European Parliament have yet to make their decisions.
‘I will be the first who supports Georgia’s visa liberalization; I just don’t want people to be disappointed. I will remind you that the final decision has not been made yet and the citizens must be ready for the fact that the procedures are continuing; this is normal. This rule applies not only to Georgia, but other countries as well’, Mr Daul said.
Earlier this week, Mr Daul told Rustavi 2 that EPP would support visa liberalisation in case Georgian parliamentary elections are conducted in a free and fair manner.
‘The upcoming parliamentary elections have not been a precondition for the visa liberalization process at any stage’, Speaker of the Parliament, Davit Usupashvili told journalists following the statements made by Mr Daul. ‘The recent statements of representatives of some European parties were their personal opinions, which have nothing to do with the position of the European Parliament’, he added.
A coalition of 47 nongovernmental organisations, including Transparency International, Open Society Foundation, and Georgia Young Lawyers’ Association, published an open letter to Mr Daul, in which they wrote that despite shortcomings, Georgia is moving forward in its democratic development.
DF Watch publishes an excerpt from the letter:
‘As you are aware, the civil society of Georgia remains vigilant against any undemocratic developments in the country. We usually highlight all the drawbacks and try to pressurize the governments, including with the support of the international community, to make relevant actions or achieve certain shifts in state policies. But in this case we would like to use this channel to a different end. Obviously, we are fully aware of the problems which exist in the country, we see and encounter those problems every day and we do not tend to turn a blind eye on them. We have numerously publicized and brought them to the attention of the international community, including European Parliament. Among those, were the particular instances that you, Mr. President, often mention with regards to Georgia – including the politically motivated trials of the former officials, attacks on the free media and civil society leaders.
‘However, notwithstanding this, we believe, that general tendencies and developments in Georgia are overall positive for the last several years, and the country is still moving forward. We are also confident that getting Georgia closer to Europe will greatly restrict this or any incumbent government against such kind of wrongdoings, and it will be more difficult to anyone in the Office to sway from democratic principles of governance.
‘Therefore, we firmly believe, that it is very important that Georgia gets visa-free travel to Schengen area as soon as possible without putting any additional preconditions on this path.
‘President Daul, we are confident, that you are a true friend of Georgian people, which you and European People’s Party have numerously demonstrated over the recent years. Therefore, we greatly rely on your support in sharing our message across the decision-makers in European capitals to support granting Georgian people the right to travel to Europe more easily. We believe, that it will further improve the attitude of Georgian public towards Europe, it will decrease chances for the success of Russian propaganda and it will straightjacket the Georgian government against undemocratic developments.’