EU proposes to cancel visa-free regime and impose other sanctions on Georgia over law on 'foreign agents' - FT

Demonstrators hold a rally to protest bill on “foreign agents” in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 14
Demonstrators hold a rally to protest bill on “foreign agents” in Tbilisi, Georgia, May 14

EU insists on imposing sanctions against Georgia, including suspension of visa-free travel with the bloc, in response to the law on “foreign agents” that was drafted under influence of Russia, the Financial Times reported on May 22, citing sources.

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It is noted that this happened after Georgia, an EU candidate country, ignored warnings from Brussels and months of protests, insisting on adopting a law similar to one already in force in Russia, which obliges media and human rights groups that receive foreign funding to register with the government.

According to two of FT's sources, Estonia, the Netherlands, Czechia and Sweden are taking initiative to discuss restrictive measures at a meeting of EU foreign ministers next week. Among possible options are the abolition of the visa-free regime for Georgian citizens, targeted sanctions and freezing of EU funds.

They also added that European capitals are considering “various measures of pressure on Georgian government.”

EU officials have warned that the law on “foreign agents,” if passed, would be a serious obstacle to Georgia's EU accession process, adding to domestic concerns that country is slipping deeper into Russia's orbit.

EU is likely to act more slowly than the US, as some countries fear that the suspension of visa-free travel could backfire, as tens of thousands of Georgians protested against the law.

Read also: White House urges Georgian PMs: Do not override veto on ‘Foreign Agents’ bill

“You have to be careful not to target the wrong people,” said one EU diplomat.

Hungary is supporting Georgian government, which could further delay any EU sanctions, which must be unanimously agreed upon by bloc's 27 countries. Budapest passed a similar law, creating a special agency that scrutinizes foreign funding received by opposition politicians, media, and NGOs.

Read also: U.S. to offer Georgia massive support package should it abandon its 'Russian law' and anti-Western rhetoric

Georgians enjoyed visa-free travel to the EU for more than seven years, as part of EU's program to expand cooperation with its eastern neighborhood.

A few weeks after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Georgia applied for EU membership and was granted candidate status the same year. However, accession talks have not yet begun until a number of reforms are adopted, which law on “foreign agents” contradicts.

The “Foreign Agents” bill and protests in Georgia

Mass protests swept through Georgia on April 9 following ruling Georgian Dream party leader Mamuka Mdinaradz's announcement that his party intended to reintroduce the 'Foreign Agents’ bill.

Security forces moved to disperse demonstrators in Tbilisi on April 16.

The Georgian legislature approved the bill in its first reading on April 17.

The measure mandates the registration of non-profit organizations and media receiving over 20% of their income from abroad as ‘organizations acting in the interests of a foreign state.’

The bill requires three votes for passage in the Georgian parliament to become law.”

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze stated on April 18 that the “Foreign Agents” bill aims to safeguard the country from “Ukrainization.”

In response, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that the real threat to Georgia is Russification, not “mystical Ukrainization,” warning that using Ukraine derogatorily harms Ukrainian-Georgian relations.

On the same day, members of the European Parliament voiced concerns that the adoption of Georgia’s controversial “Foreign Agents” bill could jeopardize the country’s Euro-Atlantic integration efforts.

The European Parliament passed a resolution regarding Georgia’s foreign influence transparency bill, casting doubt on the country’s EU accession talks while the law is active on April 25.

Clashes erupted between police and protesters near the Georgian parliament on April 30. President Zourabichvili urged an end to the protest dispersal in Tbilisi and held the government responsible for the unrest.

On May 1, the Interior Ministry announced that police had arrested 60 demonstrators, charging them with hooliganism and disobeying lawful police orders. Six police officers sustained injuries during the clashes.

Later that day, the Georgian parliament approved the “Foreign Agents” bill in its second reading.

Read also:

The legal committee of the Georgian Parliament considered and supported the law on "Foreign Agents" in the third reading in 67 seconds on May 13.

The Georgian Parliament adopted the draft law on "Foreign Agents" in the final third reading on May 14.

84 MPs voted for the adoption of the law; 30 opposition MPs voted against it. Also that day, security forces began to disperse protesters who had gathered near the parliament building.

The European Union may freeze Georgia's application for membership if the law on "Foreign Agents" comes into force, The Financial Times newspaper wrote on May 16.

NATO also warned the Georgian government that the law is incompatible with the country's membership in NATO and the EU.

Salome Zurabishvili vetoed the law on transparency of foreign influence on May 18.

The law contradicts the country's constitution and European standards and "in this way represents an obstacle on our European path," she said.

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