This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine constitute the “Associated Trio” within the European Union (EU)’s Eastern Partnership program, having signed Association Agreements with the EU in 2014. In reaction to Russia’s full-scale military invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, all three countries submitted applications to join the EU. In June 2022, the European Council endorsed EU candidate status to the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, while deferring granting candidate status to Georgia until after the country meets certain conditions.
All three countries received recommendations to pursue deoligarchisation in economic, political, and public life; ensure transparency and integrity in the justice sector; and strengthen the fight against corruption, particularly high-level political corruption. Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine have used their past OGP action plans to address some of these policy areas the EU has identified.
Here, we look at how they could leverage their future action plans as they pursue EU membership. We also highlight the recommendations these countries have received from previous IRM reports, and past OGP commitments where they pursued the reform areas now recommended by the European Commission. It is based on information found in past IRM reports and it is not a comprehensive study of how each country should address each recommendation from the European Commission. National OGP stakeholders will consider if and how their future action plans might address European Commission recommendations.
All three countries are scheduled to submit their next action plans in late 2022 and early 2023. This affords them an opportunity to leverage OGP to address the recommendations from the European Commission. Previous recommendations to these countries by the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) can offer additional guidance as they develop their next action plans.
Georgia and Ukraine have made efforts in past OGP action plans around limiting the influence of vested interests in public life, by publishing financial declarations of political parties (Georgia) and beneficial ownership transparency (Ukraine). In the upcoming action plans, the countries could further address deoligarchisation by improving the transparency of beneficial owners of companies, in line with the EU’s Anti-Money Laundering Directives. Here are a few recommendations:
- Georgia: Establish a registry of beneficial owners of foreign companies that hold assets in Georgia and participate in public procurement. See the IRM’s 2018-2019 Design Report.
- Republic of Moldova: Ensure that information on the companies register meets global transparency standards, particularly theBeneficial Ownership Data Standard. See the IRM’s 2022 Co-Creation Brief.
- Ukraine: Fulfill past OGP commitments to implement a verification mechanism for the data on its beneficial ownership, including clarifying the tools for developing the verification system and the additional scope of information to be made publicly available. See the IRM’s 2018-2020 Design Report and 2021-2022 Action Plan Review. In addition, ensure transparency in the information to be made available in the register of oligarchs, under the 2021 Anti-Oligarch Law.
Improve Judicial Transparency and Integrity
The European Commission recommended the three countries to pursue reforms of their judiciaries to ensure transparency, independence, and integrity. For the upcoming action plans, they could commit to the following:
- Georgia: Build on the efforts by the High Council of Justice from the previous action plans by publishing more data on court decisions, such as statistics on guilty judgements by different courts and judges, and the length of times these trials have taken.
- Republic of Moldova: Publish detailed information on the selection, promotion, and dismissal procedures for judges, including of the Superior Council of Magistracy. In addition, improve the transparency and independence of the prosecution service, particularly around cases of alleged political corruption. See the IRM’s2019-2020 Design Report and 2022 Co-Creation Brief.
- Ukraine: Establish an independent committee to oversee the selection of heads of judges of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, and publish detailed information on the vetting of candidates for the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine.
Strengthen the Fight Against Corruption, Particularly High-Level Corruption
The three countries still need to address high-level political corruption. There are several areas of opportunity to pursue this goal in the forthcoming action plans, including:
- Georgia: Conduct an objective and politically neutral comprehensive assessment of the country’s anti-corruption needs and the effectiveness of current institutional frameworks, including the Anti-Corruption Council. Also, revisit the persistent ask from civil society to form a new, independent anti-corruption agency. See the IRM’s 2018-2019 Design Report.
- Republic of Moldova: Ensure the transparency and independence of the work of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office and the anti-corruption prosecutor, particularly around high-profile cases of alleged political corruption. Also, involve its National Anticorruption Centre in the next action plan to address its recommendations as potential commitments.
- Ukraine: Work with the National Agency on Corruption Prevention and National Anti-Corruption Bureau to publish detailed information on corruption investigations and convictions. In addition, in preparation for future reconstruction aid, develop a mechanism for the public to monitor and report potential wrongdoings, conflicts of interest, or problems with the delivery of this aid, similar to DoZorro for public procurement.
The European Commission has provided Georgia with 12 recommendations to prioritise to be granted EU candidate status, after the European Council deferred the decision.
Four of these recommendations have been the subject of Georgia’s previous OGP commitments: increasing judicial transparency, establishing independence of anti-corruption institutions, implementing deoligarchisation, and involving civil society in decision-making processes.
Below, we look at how the country has dealt with these four topic areas in previous action plans:
Commission Recommendation: Adopt and implement a transparent and effective judicial reform strategy and action plan post-2021 based on a broad, inclusive and cross-party consultation process; ensure a judiciary that is fully and truly independent, accountable and impartial along the entire judicial institutional chain, also to safeguard the separation of powers; notably ensure the proper functioning and integrity of all judicial and prosecutorial institutions, in particular the Supreme Court and address any shortcomings identified including the nomination of judges at all levels and of the Prosecutor-General; undertake a thorough reform of the High Council of Justice and appoint the High Council’s remaining members. All these measures need to be fully in line with European standards and the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
During Georgia’s third action plan (2016-2018), the Supreme Court began publishing phone tapping data by the nature and geographic distribution of crimes. The data included the Criminal Code articles that suspects were charged with, the number of requests by the Prosecutor’s Office to grant the motions for phone taps, and the number of motions that were granted, partially granted, or not granted at all. In Georgia’s fourth action plan (2018-2019), the High Council of Justice developed a unified registry of court decisions, integrating decisions from the common and supreme courts. The registry allowed for easier access to different types of data, such as court decisions and final documents, public announcements, and the schedule of court sessions.
Commission Recommendation: Strengthen the independence of its Anti-Corruption Agency bringing together all key anti-corruption functions, in particular to rigorously address high-level corruption cases; equip the new Special Investigative Service and Personal Data Protection Service with resources commensurate to their mandates and ensure their institutional independence.
The fourth action plan included a commitment to elaborate a corruption risk assessment methodology for the Anti-Corruption Council (ACC). The commitment also required the submission of annual reports of the ACC’s work to Parliament and trainings for persons engaged in the investigation of corruption and criminal prosecution. While Georgian civil society advocated for a new, politically independent anti-corruption agency, arguing that the existing institutional framework did not provide effective mechanisms for investigating and preventing high-level corruption, the government argued the existing institutions were performing. During implementation, the ACC prepared the corruption risk assessment methodology with the support of the EU and based on international best practices. Various agencies conducted the corruption and criminal prosecution trainings, but the ACC did not perform the corruption risk assessments or institutionalise annual reporting to Parliament during the action plan’s timeframe. The creation of an independent anti-corruption agency remains a priority for civil society as Georgia co-creates its fifth action plan this year.
Commission Recommendation: Implement the commitment to “deoligarchisation” by eliminating the excessive influence of vested interests in economic, political, and public life.
During Georgia’s first action plan (2012-2013), the State Audit Office (SAO) began publishing financial declarations of all political parties and information about their election campaign contributors. It also created standardised forms for political parties to provide different types of data on their income, expenditures, and financial transactions. Building on these efforts during the second action plan, the SAO started publishing regular reports on income and expenditures of political parties and the names and ID numbers of individual contributors. Since then, Georgian civil society organisations have used the SAO data to monitor political party financing for any violation of the legislation and to advocate for reforms. For example, based on the SAO’s data, Transparency International Georgia launched its own portal allowing users to find information on all donations made to Georgian political parties since 2012 and on the business interests of political party donors.
In the third action plan (2016-2018), the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) introduced a formal verification mechanism for public officials’ asset declarations to improve the accountability of public officials and mitigate the risks of corruption. The CSB’s verification mechanism entailed randomly selecting declarations through the unified electronic system and allowing external stakeholders to report suspicious information. During the action plan period, the CSB found irregularities in 224 of 284 randomly selected declarationsand consequently fined their authors or referred them to the Prosecutor’s Office. In 2021, CSB verified the asset declarations of 296 public officials and found over half (56%) of the declarations violated the law. However, TI Georgia noted that, for four consecutive years, only one asset declaration is forwarded to the Prosecutor’s Office for investigation per year, even though civil society organisations and journalists have identified tens of alleged cases of incompatibility of duties, conflict of interests, and corruption in the declarations over these years.
Commission Recommendation: Ensure the involvement of civil society in decision-making processes at all levels.
Georgia has made several commitments to involve civil society and citizens in decision-making. Georgia’s first action plan included a commitment to add a module to the Legislative Herald allowing anyone to comment on any article of draft or enacted laws and bylaws, but it was only partially implemented. During the third action plan, the SAO established budgetmonitor.ge, which allows citizens to select budget priorities to be audited and to report cases of corruption. By September 2018, the SAO had submitted 29 reports to the Prosecutor’s Office for further investigation. Also during the third action plan, the Ministry of Environment Protection and Agriculture adopted the Environmental Assessment Code in 2017, which requires consultations with citizens in the scoping process for environmental projects.
In addition to national-level commitments, Georgia has made commitments to involve civil society at the local level. For example, during the fourth action plan, the municipality of Batumi created the idea.batumi platform, which allows citizens to propose and vote on projects to receive funding. In 2019, more than 2,000 citizens participated in the voting to select three winning initiatives. Following the success of the initiative in 2019, Batumi increased the allocated budget by four times in 2020 and increased the number of proposals it implemented in 2021 from three to eight.
The European Council has endorsed EU candidate status to the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.
The European Commission gave the Republic of Moldova nine recommendations and Ukraine seven recommendations to address as their EU candidate status progresses towards full membership. Four of these recommendations have been the subject of the Republic of Moldova’s previous OGP commitments: implementing public service reforms, improving public procurement, enhancing the involvement of civil society in decision-making, and strengthening the protection of human rights (especially for socially vulnerable groups). Two EU recommendations have been the subject of Ukraine’s previous OGP commitments: in regards preventing money laundering and implementing deoligarchisation (through commitments on beneficial ownership transparency).
Below, we look at how these two EU candidate countries have dealt with these topic areas in previous action plans:
Republic of Moldova
Commission Recommendation: Increase the capacity to deliver on reforms and provide quality public services including through stepping up implementation of public administration reform; assess and update the public administration reform strategy.
Public service delivery and public administration reform have been areas of focus in the Republic of Moldova’s previous action plans, particularly with the involvement of the E-Government Agency. The third action plan (2016-2018) included a commitment to modernise social protection services, develop an online submission system for subsidy files in agriculture, and introduce a mechanism for interacting with economic agents (businesses, companies). However, this commitment only saw limited implementation. Under a commitment in the fourth action plan (2019-2020), the E-Government Agency trained citizens on using modernised public services, began digitising key public services, and improved the call centre of the Public Service Agency to provide better information to the public.
Commission Recommendation: Complete the reform of Public Financial Management including improving public procurement at all levels of government.
Public procurement transparency has been covered in previous action plans. During the third action plan, the Ministry of Finance launched the MTender system, which allows for public monitoring of the entire procurement cycle and the viewing of all operations and transactions in real time and in open format. As of September 2022, almost 2,900 authorities have initiated public procurement on MTender.
Commission Recommendation: Enhance the involvement of civil society in decision-making processes at all levels.
Several commitments have sought to improve particip.gov.md, the central platform to consult citizens on bills put forward by public authorities. In the third action plan, the Ministry of Justice committed to developing a public commenting function to particip.gov.md, but it was only partially completed. In the fourth action plan, the State Chancellery committed to modernise particip.gov.md, but it did not result in practical changes to the platform by the end of the action plan.
Commission Recommendation: Strengthen the protection of human rights, particularly of vulnerable groups, and sustain its commitments to enhance gender equality and fight violence against women.
During the fourth action plan, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection conducted activities to promote equal rights and the access of persons with disabilities to employment, including a nationwide campaign to fight gender-based violence. The ministry informed citizens on changes to social benefits laws and regulations through its webpage, while local-level social workers informed beneficiaries of their social rights. In the same action plan, the National Legal Aid Council extended the coverage of the national paralegal network in rural areas of the country. Paralegals provided 9,537 consultations by the end of 2020.
Commission Recommendation: Ensure that anti-money laundering legislation is in compliance with the standards of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF); adopt an overarching strategic plan for the reform of the entire law enforcement sector as part of Ukraine’s security environment.
Commission Recommendation: Implement the Anti-Oligarch law to limit the excessive influence of oligarchs in economic, political, and public life; this should be done in a legally sound manner, taking into account the forthcoming opinion of the Venice Commission on the relevant legislation.
Ukraine has included commitments in its past action plans around developing a verification process for its beneficial ownership transparency regime. However, these commitments were implemented only partially. By the end of the fourth action plan (2018-2020), the register displayed separate fields for founders and ultimate beneficial owners, but it was unclear whether, or to what extent, new and accurate information was available at that time. Also, database registrars and government entities responsible for ensuring the veracity of submitted data did not have updated guidelines for verifying data. Ukraine carried this commitment forward into its fifth action plan (2020-2022), but no institution or public body appears to have the responsibility for implementing the verification process. The new commitment also called for trainings and an independent audit process.