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The issue of Georgia’s European integration and Russian interests has become so active that it perhaps might become a decisive factor for the elections. This is because the necessary procedures for inserting an amendment about Georgia’s non-bloc status into the Constitution have been launched, on the one hand, and there is a counter initiative to make a constitutional amendment about Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, on the other.

The leader of Democratic Georgia, Nino Burjanadze, seeks to push forward the idea of Georgia’s non-bloc status through the Parliament of Georgia. To this aim, she has addressed the Parliament of Georgia in order to obtain permission for collecting signatures of support. Ms Burjanadze’s initiative, in fact, means that Georgia has to reject NATO membership and EU integration on its own.

At a special briefing organised at the end of last week, the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia from the Republican Party, Davit Usupashvili, stated that "he cannot be in the role of a passive observer." Mr Usupashvili came forward with the initiative to end the controversies about Georgia’s foreign policy course and introduce a constitutional amendment about Georgia’s aspiration “to find our place and full value in the security and cooperation among the Euro-Atlantic system of democratic nations.”

Some political commentators believe that both attempts to amend the Constitution are parts of the election campaign. They are of the opinion that, in this way, Nino Burjanadze seeks to establish herself as a major anti-Western political party. At the same time, Davit Usupashvili tries to portray the Republican Party as a unifying party amongst the country’s pro-Western political entities and put its erstwhile ally and present opponent, the Georgian Dream, before a decision. If the ruling party approves Mr Usupashvili’s initiative, this will bolster the Republican Party’s potential status as the principal consolidator of the country’s pro-Western political entities. If the Georgian Dream refuses to lend support to Mr Usupashvili’s idea, however, this will to some extent put the credibility of the ruling party’s loyalty to the pro-Western political course under question.

The leaders of the ruling party have already alluded in their statements that they are not going to join Davit Usupashvili’s initiative.

Of note, too, is that not so long ago, the United National Movement demanded enacting the same constitutional amendment which is now advocated by Davit Usupashvili. However, at that time, neither Mr Usupashvili personally nor the ruling party has backed this initiative.

What Does Burjanadze Demand?

International law does not recognise the term “non-bloc status” as offered by Nino Burjanadze. However, this term actually means so-called ‘neutrality.’ There are certain reasons why Ms Burjanadze did not opt for the term neutrality.

For example, a country’s declaration of neutrality requires the combination of certain factors both outside and inside. First of all, neutrality is declared during a large-scale war. At the same time, neighbouring countries should not engage their neutral neighbour in any of their conflicts. Most important is that a country should possess strong defence capabilities and a robust economic system with the surrounding countries dependent upon that system. Therefore, this would engender the interest on the part of the neighbours to have the other country’s territory untouched.

To present an example, during World War II, the bank deposits in Switzerland served the financial interests of its neighbour countries. Today, an international consensus is required in order to declare neutrality which has been the responsibility of the United Nations since the end of World War II.

Notwithstanding the fact that several countries have for centuries been trying to obtain a neutral status and that some of them formally do have it, neutrality has actually only worked for Switzerland. This happened owing to a myriad reasons which are the subject of political science research. The most important is that in the case of Switzerland, there was a convergence of domestic factors and foreign interests.

Obviously, in the case of Georgia, neutrality is practically impossible precisely because it does not depend upon the wishes of the population alone. There are no respective internal conditions or environment in order to create an international demand for Georgia’s neutrality.

Therefore, it is understandable that Nino Burjanadze could not demand neutrality. However, the introduction of the so-called “non-bloc status” into the Constitution does not require international recognition and is, therefore, more dangerous because with this amendment Georgia will no longer have the opportunity to become a NATO or an EU member which is the only perspective for the country’s development, considering the requirements of the civilised world.

However, if Nino Burjanadze’s constitutional amendment is enacted, it will serve the Kremlin’s goal of having Georgia under its influence and depriving it of any other opportunity. Russian leaders have stated that goal multiple times in the past and do it even today.

One Lesson from History

In Article 3 of Georgia’s Act of Independence adopted on 26 May 1918, there is a phrase which reads: “Georgia will pursue a neutral course during international conflicts.”

Even though the Act of Independence is not the same as the Constitution, according to constitutional law any founding document of the country has the same power as the Constitution. This means that the aforementioned phrase about neutrality had constitutional power.

The most important point is that the said amendment was made upon the demand of Russia and, in exchange, it recognised Georgia in 1920. However, it is a fact that in three years after the adoption of the Act of Independence, Russia occupied Georgia.

Today, Russia demands the same from Georgia – not to become a member of any international bloc. It is not unlikely that if Nino Burjanadze’s initiative gets a thumbs-up, the events of 1921 might occur again.

Who Will Jump Ahead or Why the Speaker of the Parliament is Concerned?

Nino Burjanadze has already started the procedures for making the constitutional amendment and, as stated by the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, the Parliamentary Bureau will start working on the issue.

According to the existing legislation, the right to initiate a constitutional amendment is granted to more than half of the MPs (76 MPs) or at least 200,000 citizens. However, in the case of a citizen involvement, the procedure is even more complicated. The initiator has to address the Parliament of Georgia in order to obtain the right to collect signatures of support, gain approval for the signature document and determine the dates for collecting the signatures.

After the expiration of the date, the collected signatures will be transferred to the Committee of the Procedural Issues and Rules of the Parliament of Georgia which will verify the authenticity of the signatures and make a conclusion about whether or not the group is eligible to address the Parliament with the initiative of making a constitutional amendment. If the conclusion is positive, the discussion of the constitutional amendment will be launched which itself is also a complicated and protracted process.

Also according to the existing legislation, the adoption of the constitutional amendment requires the votes of 113 MPs and, at the same time, the amendment has to be approved at two sessions (the Parliament of Georgia has two sessions per year). The reality is that before the upcoming Parliamentary elections, a constitutional amendment cannot be confirmed at any session because there is not enough time before the Parliamentary elections and the ruling party does not have a constitutional majority.

Most probably, this issue will be discussed by the new Parliament. Therefore, everything depends upon the results of the election and who will manage to gather the constitutional majority. Even though we have the results of recent sociological surveys, it is hard to predict the outcome of the upcoming election. However, the probability of any of the major parties gaining the constitutional majority is very low.

Therefore, it is not unlikely that this topic will become the subject of a covert agreement or a political bargain; especially, if we take Davit Usupashvili’s very harsh statement into account. Due to the fact that until recently he was part of ruling team’s leadership, it is possible that Mr Usupashvili has specific information in regard to the aforementioned bargains or agreements. It is a fact that his last statement is both harsh and radical.

At the extraordinary briefing summoned at the end of last week, Davit Usupashvili stated the following:  “I would like to say that speculation on such topics, including the ones pertaining to Georgia’s fundamental state interests, is unacceptable and unwelcome. As an MP and the Speaker of the Parliament, I cannot remain in the role of a passive observer. Therefore, I decided to address my colleagues to present a new initiative to the Parliament of Georgia in regard to amending the Constitution of Georgia. This is an amendment which is needed for Georgia’s security, future and prosperity. Namely, in the preamble of the Constitution which states the wish of the Georgian people, we should add the sentence:  ‘To find our place and full value in the security and cooperation among the Euro-Atlantic system of democratic nations.’ This would be an adequate response to every political party which has the similar attitude to this issue as that of the members of this initiative group.”

The Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia calls upon every political entity which signed the declaration on Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration one month ago to support his initiative in regard to the constitutional amendment.

Davit Usupashvili signed his initiative himself at the briefing and declared that 75 more votes of the MPs is required to transform his proposal into an initiative.

The declaration mentioned by Davit Usupashvili was adopted by the Parliament of Georgia in the wake of the NATO Warsaw Summit in order to demonstrate the unity of Georgia’s political spectrum on fundamentally important issues for the country. The document declares the choice of the Georgian people to become a NATO member, highlights the fact of Russia’s occupation of Georgia and the absolute necessity of the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration in this situation.

The declaration was signed by the Georgian Dream, United National Movement, Free Democrats, Republican Party, National Forum and the Conservatives. The document also has the signatures of the Speaker of the Parliament and the President and Prime Minister of Georgia.

Of those parties, only the Georgian Dream and the Conservatives will not support Davit Usupashvili’s initiative. The important point is that whether or not these parties will support Nino Burjanadze’s initiative. Thus far, there is no specific answer from either the Georgian Dream or the Conservatives whilst they assert that Mr Usupashvili needed to make his statement for his own campaign purposes.

Facts In 2008, a plebiscite was held on the territory controlled by the Government of Georgia and in response to the question "Should Georgia pursue integration into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)?," 77% of the voters voted in favour (in total, there were 1,355,328 voters in the plebiscite). Even though Russian propaganda has strengthened throughout the past years and the Government of Georgia is not very actively opposing it, the attitude of the public has not changed significantly. According to the National Democratic Institute’s last public opinion survey, 72% of interviewed respondents support Georgia’s EU membership whilst 64% supports Georgia’s NATO membership. Only 6% of the interviewed population openly supports the pro-Russian course.