EU envoy to Georgia says foreign agent bill ‘incompatible’ with bloc’s values

By Thomson Reuters Apr 11, 2024 | 6:35 AM

By Felix Light

TBILISI (Reuters) – The European Union’s ambassador to Georgia said on Thursday that a bill on foreign agents reintroduced to parliament by the country’s ruling party this week is “incompatible” with the values of the bloc, which Georgia aspires to join.

The Georgian Public Broadcaster channel quoted EU ambassador Pawel Herczynski as saying at a press conference in Tbilisi that the draft law is “incompatible with EU norms and EU values”, and may stall Georgia’s EU membership application.

The bloc granted Georgia candidate status in December, but said that opening accession talks was conditional on Tbilisi making progress on reforms demanded by Brussels.

The ruling Georgian Dream party said last week it would reintroduce legislation requiring organisations that accept funds from abroad to register as foreign agents or face fines, 13 months after protests forced it to shelve the plan.

Critics of the bill have compared it to a law used by the Kremlin to crack down on dissent in Russia, dubbing it “the Russian law”, a potent charge in Georgia, where Moscow is widely disliked for supporting the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgian Dream has defended the law as necessary to combat what it says is harmful foreign influence in the South Caucasus country and promote transparency of funding.

According to the public broadcaster, Herczynski said: “In our view, concerns about transparency should not be used as an excuse to limit the space for civil society organizations, to limit the freedom of speech and the freedom of media”.

Though Georgian Dream says it wants to join both the EU and the NATO alliance, the party has been criticised in recent years for authoritarian methods at home, as well for Georgia’s deepening relations with Russia.

On Tuesday, several thousand protestors rallied outside the parliament, shouting slogans against what they called “the Russian law”.

(Reporting by Felix Light, Editing by Angus MacSwan)