Venice Commission advises Georgia to scrap 'foreign influence' law

Venice Commission advises Georgia to scrap 'foreign influence' law

Georgia should repeal its divisive "foreign influence" law, according to the Council of Europe's Venice Commission.

The law, which the Georgian parliament approved in the final reading last week, would require media and NGOs to register as "foreign agents" if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad.

It has sparked mass protests amid fears the law could curb press freedom and opposition voices. The Kremlin used similar legislation to stifle opposition voices, leading critics in Georgia to dub it "the Russian law."

The Venice Commission said on Tuesday the government's adopting of the law "left no space for genuine discussion and meaningful consultation, in open disregard for the concerns of large parts of the Georgian people."

"This manner of proceeding does not meet the European requirements of democratic law-making," it added.

Georgia's government says the bill is necessary to stem what it deems as harmful foreign influence over the country’s politics and to prevent unspecified foreign actors from trying to destabilise it.

Protesters have reportedly been met with heavy violence from police in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

The EU has consistently denounced the law, saying it could jeopardise Georgian ambitions to join the bloc, which became an EU candidate in December.

However, the union has stopped short of outlining any explicit reprisals or consequences for the accession process.

A poll released last year showed that 89% of the Georgian population support EU membership, and 80% support NATO membership.

In the same survey, 87% of respondents named Russia the greatest political and economic threat.

The Council of Europe (CoE) and its Venice Commission — also known as the European Commission for Democracy Through Law — have no legal recourse to reverse Georgia's decision on the law.

However, if the law is brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), Georgia will be technically bound by its decision as a CoE member state.