Georgia's EU hopes fade as parliament approves 'Russian law' on foreign agents

Georgia's EU hopes fade as parliament approves 'Russian law' on foreign agents

Georgia's parliament has passed a controversial foreign agent law that could jeopardise its path to EU membership.

The new law requires media organisations and NGOs to register as foreign agents if they receive at least 20% of their funds from abroad, imposing hefty fines on those who fail to comply.

Georgia's governing authorities claim the new measure, which they have dubbed the "transparency law", will curb alleged foreign attempts to sway domestic politics.

However, critics warn that it could significantly restrict freedom of speech and sabotage Georgia's application to become an EU member.

Brussels has repeatedly urged Georgian lawmakers to ditch the law and remain "on the road to Europe". Washington has voiced similar concerns.

The EU offered Georgia candidate status last December while making it clear that Tbilisi needs to implement key policy recommendations for its membership bid to progress.

Responding to the law's passage, the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the passage of the law would negatively affect the country's path to membership.

"The European Union deeply regrets that the Georgian Parliament decided to override the President's veto on the law on transparency of foreign influence, and to disregard the Venice Commission's detailed legal arguments leading to a clear recommendation to repeal this law," he wrote in a statement.

"We urge the Georgian authorities to reverse this trend and to return firmly to the EU path. There is still time to change the dynamics — but a strong commitment by the governing authorities is needed."

"The EU and its member states are considering all options to react to these developments," concluded Borrell.

The legislation's critics have dubbed it the "Russian law" because they say it mirrors similar legislation adopted by the Kremlin to target, discriminate and ultimately outlaw political opponents.

The opposition United National Movement has described the bill as part of Georgian Dream's efforts to drag the country into Russia’s sphere of influence — claims it vehemently denies.

Georgian Dream was founded by Bidzina Ivanishvili, a former prime minister and billionaire who made his fortune in Russia.

Georgia's President Salome Zourabichvili is among the bill's critics. She vetoed it less than two weeks ago, warning that the foreign agents law "contradicts our constitution, European standards, and therefore represents an obstacle to our European path".

But a parliament committee overrode her move on Monday, clearing the way for Tuesday's final approval.

Over the past month, tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Georgia to try to dissuade lawmakers from bringing forward the bill in parliament.

Ahead of Tuesday's final reading, hundreds of protesters gathered outside parliament in Tbilisi, some of them wrapped in European flags.

Dozens were detained in clashes with the police including media personalities.