EU warns Georgia: "foreign agents" law could derail accession process

Demonstrators hold a rally to protest the bill on
Demonstrators hold a rally to protest the bill on "foreign agents" in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 14, 2024

The European Union might freeze Georgia's accession application if the controversial "foreign agents" law comes into effect, The Financial Times reported on May 15, citing three unnamed EU officials.

The decision to start accession talks is likely to be postponed indefinitely if the bill becomes law.

Georgia applied for EU membership in March 2022, shortly after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The country was granted candidate status in December 2022. The next step is for the European Commission to recommend to EU governments to start negotiations on Georgia's membership, which depends on a series of reforms.

Brussels has made it clear that if the "foreign agents" law is passed, the Commission will not make such a recommendation, FT writes."The adoption of this law negatively impacts Georgia’s progress on the EU path, as the bloc has clearly and repeatedly stated that the spirit and content of the law are not in line with EU core norms and values," said one of the unnamed European officials.

The law would "undermine the work of civil society and independent media," putting Georgia on a collision course with the bloc's treaties guaranteeing freedom of association and freedom of expression, the European Commission added.Protests Against the "Foreign Agents" Bill in GeorgiaMass protests erupted across Georgia on April 9 after the ruling Georgian Dream party proposed reintroducing the controversial “foreign agents” bill, dubbed the “Russian law,” which had sparked widespread opposition in 2023.

On April 16, security forces dispersed demonstrators in Tbilisi. The Georgian legislature passed the bill in its first reading on April 17. The legislation requires non-profit organizations and media receiving more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources to register as “organizations acting in the interests of a foreign state.”

Read also: Mass brawl and protests in Georgian parliament over controversial 'foreign agents' law – video

The bill must pass three votes in the Georgian parliament to become law. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has vowed to veto the bill.Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze stated on April 18 that the bill aims to prevent the “Ukrainization” of the country. In response, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry countered that the real threat to Georgia is Russification, not “mystical Ukrainization,” and emphasized that derogatory references to Ukraine damage Ukrainian-Georgian relations.

Members of the European Parliament expressed concerns that the bill could hinder Georgia’s aspirations for Euro-Atlantic integration. On April 25, the European Parliament adopted a resolution indicating that the “foreign agents” bill could impact Georgia’s EU accession discussions while the law is in effect.Clashes broke out between police and protesters near the Georgian parliament on April 30. President Salome Zourabichvili called for an end to the dispersal of protests in Tbilisi and blamed the government for the unrest.

The Interior Ministry reported that 60 demonstrators were arrested on May 1, facing charges of hooliganism and failing to obey police orders. Six police officers were injured during the clashes.Later that day, the Georgian parliament passed the “foreign agents” bill in its second reading. The legal committee of the Georgian parliament considered and supported the law on "foreign agents" in the third reading in just 67 seconds on May 13.

The Georgian parliament passed the bill on "foreign agents" in the final third reading on May 14. Eighty-four MPs voted in favor of the law, while 30 opposition members voted against it. On the same day, security forces began to disperse protesters who had gathered near the parliament building, detaining people on the spot.

The decision to start accession talks is likely to be postponed indefinitely if the bill becomes law.Georgia applied for EU membership in March 2022, shortly after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The country was granted candidate status in December 2022. The next step is for the European Commission to recommend to EU governments to start negotiations on Georgia's membership, which depends on a series of reforms.Brussels has made it clear that if the "foreign agents" law is passed, the Commission will not make such a recommendation, FT writes."

The adoption of this law negatively impacts Georgia’s progress on the EU path, as the bloc has clearly and repeatedly stated that the spirit and content of the law are not in line with EU core norms and values," said one of the unnamed European officials.

The law would "undermine the work of civil society and independent media," putting Georgia on a collision course with the bloc's treaties guaranteeing freedom of association and freedom of expression, the European Commission added.

Protests against the "Foreign agents" bill in Georgia

Mass protests erupted across Georgia on April 9 after the ruling Georgian Dream party proposed reintroducing the controversial “foreign agents” bill, dubbed the “Russian law,” which had sparked widespread opposition in 2023.

On April 16, security forces dispersed demonstrators in Tbilisi. The Georgian legislature passed the bill in its first reading on April 17. The legislation requires non-profit organizations and media receiving more than 20% of their funding from foreign sources to register as “organizations acting in the interests of a foreign state.”The bill must pass three votes in the Georgian parliament to become law. Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has vowed to veto the bill.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze stated on April 18 that the bill aims to prevent the “Ukrainization” of the country. In response, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry countered that the real threat to Georgia is Russification, not “mystical Ukrainization,” and emphasized that derogatory references to Ukraine damage Ukrainian-Georgian relations.

Members of the European Parliament expressed concerns that the bill could hinder Georgia’s aspirations for Euro-Atlantic integration. On April 25, the European Parliament adopted a resolution indicating that the “foreign agents” bill could impact Georgia’s EU accession discussions while the law is in effect.

Clashes broke out between police and protesters near the Georgian parliament on April 30. President Salome Zourabichvili called for an end to the dispersal of protests in Tbilisi and blamed the government for the unrest.The Interior Ministry reported that 60 demonstrators were arrested on May 1, facing charges of hooliganism and failing to obey police orders. Six police officers were injured during the clashes.Later that day, the Georgian parliament passed the “foreign agents” bill in its second reading. The legal committee of the Georgian parliament considered and supported the law on "foreign agents" in the third reading in just 67 seconds on May 13.

The Georgian parliament passed the bill on "foreign agents" in the final third reading on May 14. Eighty-four MPs voted in favor of the law, while 30 opposition members voted against it. On the same day, security forces began to disperse protesters who had gathered near the parliament building, detaining people on the spot.

Read also:

We’re bringing the voice of Ukraine to the world. Support us with a one-time donation, or become a Patron!

Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine