EU launches mediation of Georgia crisis

The European Union on Monday initiated talks between Georgia’s government and opposition to defuse a spiralling post-electoral political crisis that deepened with the arrest of an opposition leader last week.

The nation in Europe’s extreme southeast has been in the grip of a crisis since parliamentary elections in October, which the opposition has denounced as rigged.

Last week’s violent police raid on the headquarters of largest opposition force, the United National Movement (UNM), and the arrest of the party leader Nika Melia, further exacerbated the tensions.

In a surprise diplomatic win during a visit to the capital Tbilisi, European Council President Charles Michel initiated talks between Georgia’s government and opposition parties.

Negotiations under Michel’s mediation were held late in the evening between Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and leaders of all opposition parties.

“Tonight, I am proud because a good step, an important step in the right direction has been taken… the political dialogue has been relaunched,” Michel told journalists after the talks.

“That doesn’t mean that everything was solved,” he said, but both the government and opposition demonstrated “political will to find together solutions.”

Michel added that the negotiations will continue and the progress will be evaluated in two weeks’ time during the next EU-Georgia Association Council meeting.

Prime Minister Garibashvili said an agreement was reached that “this dialogue will go on.”

A leader of opposition Lelo party, Badri Japaridze, told AFP that “intense work is to be done and significant progress is to be achieved over the next two weeks.”

“I am confident, that President Michel’s personal role and efforts, the EU’s high-level engagement will help us to find a way out political impasse.”

– ‘Undermines democracy’ –

Earier on Monday, Michel said he was “deeply concerned” about the crisis which “undermines Georgia’s hard-won young democracy.”

“I have called on all parties to de-escalate and come together to relaunch the political dialogue and I’ve invited them to (a) meeting tonight.”

The time had come for the EU to moderate the talks, he said at a joint news conference with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on Monday morning.

Melia, who has united Georgia’s opposition forces, has been charged with organising mass violence during anti-government protests in 2019 — a prosecution he says is politically motivated.

He is in pre-trial detention after refusing to pay an increased bail fee. 

His arrest has sparked mass anti-government protests and strong condemnation from the United States and EU.

In an apparent reference to Melia’s detention, Michel said “any politicisation of justice is unacceptable and we all know that some concrete cases should be addressed.”

Opposition parties have refused to enter the new parliament, tarnishing the legitimacy of the ruling Georgian Dream party’s government.

They have announced a series of rallies in the near future and vowed to stage a protest outside parliament building on Tuesday.

In power since 2012, Georgian Dream has seen its popularity fall over a failure to address economic stagnation and perceived backsliding on commitments to democracy.

The Georgian government has announced plans to apply for EU membership in 2024.