Vano Chkhikvadze, EU Integration Program Manager
High levels of toxic chemicals were found in 165 out of 600 toys tested in Georgia under a 2016 study. In September alone of the following year, four workers died and five suffered injuries in construction accidents. Then in 2018, in the town of Tkibuli alone, 12 people lost their lives and nine sustained injuries in workplace accidents. Four died and 11 people were harmed last summer when a school-trip bus careened off the Gombori highway. Just a couple of months ago, one person described on Facebook how at a prestigious hospital an elevator fell through its shaft and then got stuck leaving its passengers, including children, stranded for an hour.
All these, seemingly unrelated and alarming accidents in Georgia had one thing in common: they all fall under the purview of regulations and rules that must be put in place under the Association Agreement between the European Union and Georgia.
On November 15, 2018, the European Parliament approved a report on implementation of the Association Agreement. The report, which was in the making for three months, assesses the progress of implementation of the agreement that has been in full force for almost three years now.
The Association Agreement is an action plan of modernizing Georgia. By signing it, the nation made a commitment to bring its laws in line with EU laws and to emulate European standards.
Proper implementation of the agreement means creation of concrete public good. It will guarantee that children in Georgia play with safe toys; it means that elevators will be safe in building in the country that is in the middle of a construction boom; it means that road transport will be safe and will not flip over because of a technical problem. Under this agreement, discarded tires will be collected and recycled instead of finding their final resting place on the bottom of a river.
This is the Association Agreement and it has an impact on all of us.
The implementation of this agreement is closely watched by the EU and specifically by the European Parliament, which brings together 751 lawmakers from the 28 countries of the bloc. Five hundred twenty-eight of them supported on November 15 the implementation report, which, in my view, is the most critical document that the EU has ever passed on Georgia.
These are the same criticisms that Georgia’s civil society often raised in recent years everywhere from Tbilisi to EU capitals like Brussels, Berlin and Hague. The civil society has been evaluating fulfilment of the Association Agreement commitments in the context of developments in the country and, of late, has grown increasingly disappointed with the pace and quality of the progress towards meeting these commitments.
Through their report, 528 members of the European Parliament (MEP) told us that elite corruption remains a serious problem in Georgia and called upon Georgian government to address cases of corruption properly. The MEPs also told us that prosecutorial independence and parliamentary oversight of the Interior Ministry’s work leave a lot to be desired; that the process of judicial appointments and accountability is not transparent. The European Parliament is also concerned that Georgia still has not met its commitment – made back in 2014 – to adopt a new law on access to public information.
This is a just a portion of concerns, observations and recommendations. The only good thing about the report is that once again we were given a diagnosis and were told to get started with treatment to make sure it is not too late. The Association Agreement may bring little to no benefit to a citizen of a particular EU country. All the public good meant to be created under the Association Agreement, be it safe toys, energy efficient buildings, health and safety at work regulations, safe transport, lead-free air, will first and foremost benefit us, the citizens of Georgia. We need all these to have a better life.
The EU never forced the Association Agreement on us. To the contrary, Georgia sought it and then eventually signed it. But putting a signature of an agreement is not enough. The most important part is to fulfill it. If there is a political will, coordinated work and vision in place, the Association Agreement can fulfilled.