EP Resolution: Accession Negotiation Shouldn’t Open Until Foreign Agents Bill is Dropped

On April 25, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the Foreign Agents bill with 425 votes in favour, 25 against and 30 abstentions. The joint resolution is based on the five draft resolutions proposed by MEPs on April 22 and encompasses five amendments, including the ones calling for sanctions against the Honorary Chairman of Georgian Dream, Bidzina Ivanishvili and the withdrawal of the proposed anti-LGBTQ+ Constitutional amendments.

The resolution stresses that the draft law is contrary to Georgia’s democratic values and EU aspirations and emphasizes that “EU accession negotiations should not be opened as long as this law is part of Georgia’s legal order.” The resolution emphasizes the threat the law poses to civil society organizations and human rights in general, which “runs counter to the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership,” and calls on the European Commission to provide an interim assessment of Georgia’s implementation of the EU’s nine conditions.

The adopted amendments include calls for sanctions against Bidzina Ivanishvili; for the release of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (two amendments); for the European Commission to immediately assess the impact of Georgia’s draft ‘foreign agents’ law on Georgia’s continued fulfilment of the visa liberalization benchmarks; calls on the Commission and the Member States to assess the impact of this draft law on the EU’s role as a donor in Georgia; and for the government to withdraw the anti-LGBTQ+ constitutional amendments.

On April 3, the parliamentary majority leader of the ruling Georgian Dream party, Mamuka Mdinaradze, announced the reintroduction of the draft law on foreign agents, which was dropped last year after the massive rallies on March 7-9. According to Mdinaradze, the content of the bill remains the same; the only change is in the title: the word “agent” in it has been removed and replaced with “Organization Pursuing the Interests of a Foreign Power”. The decision has drawn sharp criticism from the civil society and opposition within the country and from Georgia’s international partners. The bill was passed at the first hearing.

Draft Resolutions

There were five draft resolutions prepared for the vote, the authors of the resolutions are MEPs from the European People’s Party; Socialists and Democrats; Renew Europe; Verts/AL; and European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

Resolution One

The first resolution against the reintroduced Foreign Agents Bill called on the Georgian government to reject the bill, stating that it is contrary to democratic values and Georgia’s European commitments, and emphasizing that “adoption of the bill will be detrimental to the starting of accession talks with the EU”.

The resolution expressed solidarity with Georgia’s civil society, noting that almost all NGOs are funded by the West, which means that “the proposed bill as a deliberate action by the Georgian Dream party to limit the engagement of Western democratic world in Georgia, thereby making the country more open to Russian influence”.

The resolution expressed concern about the excessive use of force by the authorities against peaceful demonstrators and urged GD to withdraw the law unconditionally “once and for all”. The resolution also stressed the role of Bidzina Ivanishvili in creating the political crisis by attempting to bring the country closer to Russia and “reiterate[d] its call on the Council and the EU’s democratic partners to consider imposing personal sanctions on Ivanishvili for his role in the deterioration of the political process in Georgia and in working against the interests of its people.

MEPs also called on the President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, to use her constitutional right to resolve the issue of former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s release on humanitarian grounds. Finally, the resolution called on international observation missions to closely monitor the upcoming elections in Georgia.

Resolution Two

The second resolution also talked about the threats posed by the proposed law on Foreign Agents, however the text of the resolution was much harsher. This resolution stated “that as long as such legislation is part of the Georgian legal order, any decisions leading to recommending the launch of accession negotiations should be permanently suspended,” because the draft-law puts Georgia on the path towards Russia.

In addition, the resolution considered “that, if the legislation is adopted, the EU should sanction all members of the Georgian Parliament who voted in favour of it,” alongside Bidzina Ivanishvili, and called “on the [European] Commission to make all financial assistance to Georgia conditional on eliminating this law from the Georgian legal order, should it be adopted.”

The resolution also called on the Commission to prepare a mid-year report on Georgia’s implementation of EU’s nine conditions and present it exceptionally in October.

Resolution Three

The third resolution of the MEPs was much softer, again fully denouncing the Foreign Agents draft law but refraining from calls for sanctions. The resolution once again emphasised the threats the law will pose for Georgian watchdogs and the European future and called “on the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement and the President of the Commission to remind the Georgian Government of the commitments it made and the values and principles it subscribed to when it applied for EU membership”.

The resolution also called on the Commission to provide an interim update on Georgia’s implementation of nine conditions, reiterated the European Parliament’s “unwavering support” for the European aspirations of the Georgian people and urged the government to return to its European path.

Resolution Four

The fourth resolution condemned both the draft law on Foreign Agents, as well as the anti-LGBTQ+ Constitutional amendments proposed by the ruling party. The resolution highlighted “that the constitutional amendments on so-called LGBT propaganda are not only an attack on the LGBTIQ+ community, but also against freedom of speech, against a free civil society as a whole and against European values, and are an obstacle for the EU accession efforts,” and condemned “the planned ban on gender reassignment measures as a human rights violation against trans people and their physical autonomy and health,” as well as urged “the initiators to withdraw the proposed constitutional amendments.”

In addition with the demands from the Georgian government to return to its European path and calls to release ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, the resolution called “for the EU funding provided to the Georgian Government to be frozen until this illiberal law is repealed and for strict conditions to be placed on the disbursement of any future funding to the Georgian Government,” and asked “the Commission to redirect any available funding to Georgian civil society.”

At the same time, the resolution called on the Commission to “promptly assess the impact of Georgia’s planned ‘foreign agent’ law on Georgia’s continuous fulfilment of the visa liberalisation benchmarks”, and urged the EU Member States to “consider imposing travel bans on Georgian individuals who finance and organize propaganda campaigns against the EU and its values” and asked the Commission to prepare an interim report on Georgia’s implementation of the EU conditions.

Resolution Five

The fifth resolution deplored the Foreign Agents bill, emphasized the threats it creates for Georgian CSOs and the European future and condemned “the broader campaign of attacks targeting civil society organizations and reputable international donors who pursue the support of democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights in Georgia.”

The resolution urged the government not to restrict the citizens’ right to protests and reconsider the re-introduction of the draft law, and called “on the authorities not to undermine the will of the Georgian people but rather to strive towards depolarisation and societal reconciliation for the benefit of all Georgians.”

This resolution also denounced the anti-LGBTQ+ Constitutional amendments, calling it anti-European. The MEPs stated that the Foreign Agents bill “if adopted and implemented, violate the Council of Europe’s rule of law standards as interpreted by the Venice Commission, that the Council may adopt a decision regarding sanctions on individuals involved in any future adoption of this law.”

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