GD Sends “Foreign Agent” Law for Venice Commission Review, Hedges Against Negative Conclusion

Speaking to journalists on February 27, Irakli Kobakhidze, chairman of the ruling Georgian Dream party, expressed confidence  “there may be certain remarks on details or recommendations” from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission but claimed that “we will definitely adopt one or the other draft; until then, we will wait for the Venice Commission’s opinion.”

Following the outcry from civil society and Georgia’s international partners, the ruling majority announced that it would send the drafts for review by the European Commission for Democracy through Law, an advisory body of the Council of Europe commonly known as the Venice Commission.

The majority said that both drafts currently tabled will be adopted in the first reading by the Parliament. The final decision to pass one or the other in the second and third readings will be taken after considering the Venice Commission’s opinion.

Civil society observers note that the passing of the law in the first reading already means its acceptance by MPs on the level of principles, while the second and third readings are supposed only to handle minor legal details. Legal experts note that the principles of the law are in themselves problematic, as evidenced by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling on a similar Russian law, which said it was not ‘necessary in a democratic society’ and that the legislation had created a ‘significant chilling effect’ on Russian civil society.

But Kobakhidze  argued “no one can say that transparency is not good,” indicating that the ruling party would only consider technical aspects of the potential Venice Commission criticism,

Appearing to further hedge against the Venice Commission’s expected conclusions, GD spokesperson and faction chair, MP Mamuka Mdinaradze, said that the party was ready to take “well-founded opinion” into account, but stressed that if the Venice Commission “writes ‘black instead of white'” the ruling majority will take “an appropriate decision” nonetheless. 

Opposition’s Remarks

MP Khatia Dekanoidze of the United National Movement said that the decision to send the bill for review “is an attempt at diverting attention” and pretending as if the ruling majority “were acting in agreement with the EU institutions.” She added that both tabled bills on foreign agents are “Russian laws” and their adoption will stop the EU integration process.

“It is nothing but a political trick and a confirmation that the government is disregarding the country’s national interests and is doing its best not to get the candidate status.” – said MP Ana Buchukuri of the For Georgia party.

The Lelo party also denounced the bills as “a clear sabotage” of the EU accession process. “All MPs who support this initiative will be acting against the Georgian constitution and will have to bear political responsibility,” – the party said.

“I am surprised that they are sending the bill to the Venice Commission because it would be better to send it to the [Russia’s State Duma] and the “Savet Federatsii” [Federation Council]… it is essentially a Russian law.”- MP Aleko Elisashvili of Citizens party told reporters.

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