The Government should achieve de-oligarchization not by introducing a special law, but by carrying out fundamental reforms
On 13 March 2023, the Venice Commission published an interim opinion on the draft law on de-oligarchization. The document assesses the risks stemming from the draft law and suggests potential alternative ways to eliminate the excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political and public life. Taking into account the conclusion of the Venice Commission, we consider that the government should achieve the goal of de-oligarchization not by adopting a single special law, but rather by strengthening state institutions and implementing fundamental sectoral reforms.
The draft law has been developed by the ruling party and aims to address one of the recommendations of the 12-point plan proposed by the EU Commission to Georgia, namely, implement the commitment to “de-oligarchization” by eliminating the excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political, and public life.
According to the Venice Commission, the EU recommendations concerning the issue of de-oligarchization in Georgia did not specify whether de-oligarchization should be addressed by means of specific legislation and/or structural reforms to reinforce state institutions and the rule of law. Subsequently, the Venice Commission systemically assessed the challenges facing the country and noted that two approaches as to the means of de-oligarchization may be distinguished – systemic and so-called “personal”. The Venice Commission favors a more systemic approach.
Multi-sectoral approach and the need for reforms
The multi-sectoral approach implies the improvement of legislation in various sectors and the strengthening of state institutions. The objective of the multi-sectoral approach is to implement reforms for strengthening the resilience of state institutions and preventing the excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political, and public life.
In the view of the Venice Commission, de-oligarchization cannot be seen separately from the need for structural reforms of the judiciary to strengthen its independence and integrity. The Venice Commission underlines the importance of strengthening the National Competition Agency and the recently created National Anti-Corruption Bureau in their efforts to tackle high-level corruption and underscores the need for reforming tax and anti-monopoly legislation.
The multi-sectoral approach is certainly a better solution for Georgia since there is no tradition of strong institutions in the country, which increases the risks of selective application of the law. It is noteworthy that on 3 July 2022, 22 non-governmental organizations released an Action Plan, recommendations for the Government, which outlined an absolute minimum of critically important reforms, essential for granting the EU candidate status. According to this Action Plan, the achievement of de-oligarchization was proposed through multi-sector reforms and not through the adoption of a special law. Considering weak distribution and centralization of power and informal influence, the proposed law of de-oligarchization cannot ensure the achievement of the declared goal, especially when the agencies, civil servants and politicians responsible for the adoption and subsequent implementation of the law are subject to informal influence.
Personal approach and the risk of human rights violation
The Venice Commission considers that the “personal approach” envisaged by the draft law is rather punitive in character and it raises a series of questions regarding its compatibility with the guarantees of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The interim opinion indicates potential threats to respect for private and family life (Article 8 ECHR), the right to freedom of expression (Article 10 ECHR) and the right to freedom of assembly and association (Article 11 ECHR).
The presented draft law contains vague criteria, which could lead to its arbitrary application. There is a potential danger that the law will be used selectively against opposition forces and critical media outlets. Taking into account the public statements of politicians of the ruling power, the risk of these threats is even higher. Upon initiation of the law, members of the parliamentary majority targeted specific individuals and excluded the law from being extended to the informal ruler of the country, who has real influence on politics, economy, and other important areas. The Venice Commission unequivocally refers to a risk of selective application of the law.
We call on the Parliament of Georgia to begin systemically addressing the problem with fundamental reforms and strengthening the independence and efficiency of state institutions based on the conclusions of the Venice Commission. Otherwise, implementing the “de-oligarchization” law may not only fail to address the problem, but also exacerbate polarization, heighten the risks of human rights violations, stigmatization, and selective application of the law against political opponents. This will likely result in additional criticism from the European Union.