EU Parliament condemns the reintroduction of Georgia's foreign agent bill

Image by Mariam Nikuradze, used with permission

Two weeks since Georgian citizens took to the streets to protest the reintroduction of the controversial foreign agent bill, the European Parliament has adopted a resolution condemning the bill and calling for sanctions against the ruling Georgian Dream Party's founder, Bidzina Ivanishvili. Ivanishvili is a key figure in Georgian politics known for having close ties with Russia. Despite staying out of the political limelight after publicly resigning from politics in 2021, many suspected he was calling the shots behind the scenes and perpetuating autocratic trends in the country.

The draft bill requires all media outlets and non-governmental organizations in Georgia receiving more than 20 percent of foreign funding to register as “foreign agents” and report on their annual income and donor sources. This, according to local civil society, “would entail monitoring from the government, which could compromise organizations’ internal communications and confidential sources.”

On April 24, 425 European Parliament members (MEP) voted in favor of the document, with 25 against and 30 abstained votes. The resolution is a testament to growing concerns in the EU of the Georgian government's increasingly pro-Russia stance. The ruling party denies such claims and has argued that the law is compatible with similar EU and US laws.

Continued protests

Since the reintroduction of the bill on April 3, scores of Georgians have taken to the streets under the rallying call “Yes to Europe, No to Russian Law.” The protests culminated on April 28 in Georgia's capital Tbilisi, with thousands of people taking over the main avenue.

By some estimates, 20,000 people showed up to voice their opposition to the bill.

The bill on foreign agentswas first introduced last March 2023, and was was met with outspoken public outcry and international criticism, which forced the ruling party to drop the bill. On April 3, Georgian Dream's parliamentary leader, Mamuka Mdinaradze, announced their decision to reconsider the bill.

Following the ruling party's announcement daily protests have been reported.

On April 17 the draft bill passed its first round of readings. The bill must go through two more parliamentary readings. This week, a second reading is expected.

Russia or Europe?

Members of the ruling party claim the law is based on similar US and EU legislation. However, analysis of the draft text shows this is not the case. In an assessment published last year, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) said the draft bill was “fundamentally different” with “very distinct purpose and scope.”

Instead, the proposed bill is strikingly similar to Russia's 2012 “foreign agent” law, which has infamously been used to crush dissent and opposition in Russia since it came into force.

The criticism from the EU culminated in a scathing resolution that was adopted on April 24. The resolution “strongly condemned the reintroduction of the controversial draft law” and maintained that the bill was “incompatible with EU values and democratic principles,” that it ran “against Georgia’s ambitions for EU membership,” and that it was damaging, “Georgia’s international reputation,” and endangering, “the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration.”

The resolution is a clear warning to the ruling Georgian Dream: Lest the government drop the bill from the parliamentary discussion, the country's EU accession negotiations will stall.

Georgia's path toward EU membership

The country formally applied for EU membership in March 2022. In June 2022, Georgia's candidate status was declined, instead giving Georgia a list of 12 conditions the country had to fulfill before their application could be reexamined.

Among these conditions were reducing political polarization, reforming the judiciary, ensuring functioning state institutions, strengthening anti-corruption measures, including de-oligarchisation, and others, as per the November 2023 press briefing by the EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell. While the de-oligarchisation clause did not mention any specific names, it was widely understood to refer to the Georgian Dream founder and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili.

The resolution adopted on April 24 includes an amendment this time, with a clear reference to Ivanishvili in which it “deplores the personal role played by Georgia’s sole oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili,” in undermining “the western-oriented course of the country in favour of pivoting towards Russia” and “reiterates its call on the Council and the EU’s democratic partners to consider imposing personal sanctions on Ivanishvili for his role in the deterioration of the political process in Georgia and in working against the interests of its people.”

In her speech at the parliament on April 24, MEP Viola von Cramon was clear where the EU stood, and that was together “with the brave people of Georgia and their fight for their and our European future.” The MEP also criticized the Georgian Dream, saying:

When 83 MPs unanimously vote for the Russian law, it is no longer a democracy it is a puppet show. And the puppet master of these 83 button pushers is Ivanishvili. And the puppet master’s puppet master sits in the Kremlin. To please Putin, Ivanishvili and his puppets will do anything — violate the Constitution, beat up the people, betray their country.

Ivanishvili made his fortune in the pre-Putin era in Russia and founded the Georgian Dream party in 2012. After a brief stint as the country's Prime Minister from 2012–2013, Ivanishvili largely exercised his power and influence through his chairmanship of Georgian Dream.

In December 2023, the former PM announced his decision to return to the political scene and shortly after was appointed as the “honorary chair” of the ruling Georgian Dream party. The Georgian billionaire announced his decision just one month after the European Commission recommended that the EU grant Georgia candidate status, paving the way for the bloc to begin the country’s accession process with a caveat that the government meets remaining conditions.

Despite domestic political rifts and a lack of progress on meeting the criteria, the country was finally granted its candidate status in December 2023 during an EU Council meeting.

At the time, Georgia's Prime Minister Gharibashvili and the leading members of the ruling Georgian Dream party insisted the state has fulfilled the necessary requirements.

EU disagrees as the resolution adopted on April 24, 2024, also notes the criteria and invites “the Commission to submit an interim assessment of Georgia’s progress related to the implementation of the [remaining] nine steps indicated in the Commission recommendation of 8 November 2023.”

Days ahead of the EU resolution, Prime Minister Gharibashvili told journalists that Georgia was “not ready to become a member country,” changing the tune of his earlier statements. He also said the EU was “not ready for enlargement.”

Georgian opposition leader reiterated how the draft bill, “Dangerously mirrored Russian foreign media law,” “stigmatizing international non-governmental organizations, the civil society organizations, and the critical media outlets.”

Gvaramia also noted that the foreign agent bill was not the only legislative document threatening the country's EU aspirations and that the legislation on taxes granted “advantages to wealthy Russian oligarchs,” including Ivanishvili, and therefore allowed for “Russian capital influence in [Georgia] making Georgia Russia's grey zone for money laundering and hiding sanctioned Russian oligarchs assets.”

As such, the protests on April 28 were not only about opposing the foreign agent bill, but also this recent tax code amendment, according to reporting by

One thing is clear — while the Georgian government is waffling between Russia and the EU, Georgians no doubt support the country's EU membership as per a December 2023 poll by the National Democratic Institute, which found 79 percent of Georgian respondents were in favor.

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