Georgia departs from the EU


Czech media outlet Lidovky has published an interview with Victor Kipiani, Chairman of Geocase



The Georgian parliament has given the green light to a law on foreign influence that has sparked mass demonstrations in the country in recent weeks. On Tuesday, the ruling coalition comfortably overrode a veto by the country's president, Salome Zourabichvili. She, like a significant part of Georgian society, opposes the legislation targeting NGOs and the media. 

On Tuesday, hundreds of people with Georgian and EU flags watched the approval of the law in the centre of Tbilisi, on a screen installed right in front of the legislature. When parliament speaker Shalva Papuashvili tapped his gavel, confirming the veto override, protesters began whistling and blowing their trumpets. He also signed the bill himself instead of the president. 

The Georgian Dream, the party ruling Georgia since 2012, has a strong supermajority in parliament along with the national populists with anti-Western tendencies from the People's Power party, and the president's decision to prevent the law from being passed while diverting from the path to the European Union has been thwarted.

The gist of the controversial law, reminiscent of the original Russian Foreign Agents Act, is that Georgian NGOs and media outlets would have to register as so-called organisations carrying the interests of a foreign power if they receive more than 20 per cent of their budget funding from abroad.

The Georgian government argues that the law is necessary because of alleged foreign actors interested in destabilising the country. At the same time, the act is also intended to bring order to the funding of NGOs.

"It is not clear what purpose the law, which has caused unrest in Georgia and concern among our Western partners, actually serves. Until a few months ago, before the law was reintroduced into parliament, the Georgian Dream went to the polls with consistently high support. The party had no obstacles in its way," Victor Kipiani, head of the Georgian think tank Geocase, explains in an interview with LN.

According to a poll conducted in mid-April this year commissioned by Georgia's private Mtavari television, the ruling party would have won 31.4 percent of the vote, with the opposition pro- Western coalition of the National Movement and Agmashenebeli Strategy coming in second with nearly 10 percent.

"Personally, I believe that this goes beyond the dimensions of the approved law and the transparency that is enforced on the civil sector. I think it's a much bigger dimension. The dimension of changing Georgia's foreign policy orientation," the expert believes.

The United States and the European Union have come out strongly against the Foreign Influence Act.

"The adoption of the transparency law by the parliament is a step backwards and moves Georgia further from its path to the EU," European Council President Charles Michel responded on the social network X, warning that the Council would take up the Transcaucasian republic. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell also expressed similar sentiments. He said that the situation in Georgia would be on the agenda of the June meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council.

The override of the presidential veto was also condemned by the United States. U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the Georgian government was ignoring the efforts of Georgians for Euro-Atlantic integration who have been protesting in the streets in recent weeks.

"When the law comes into force, Georgia's chances of starting the negotiation process for EU membership at the end of this year will be almost zero. Despite the statements from the West, no matter all the appeals, the leadership of the Georgian Dream and the parliamentary majority are going ahead with their actions anyway," Kipiani points out.

The political scientist points out that there are anti-Western tendencies in Georgia, a country part of which is occupied by Russia. "Statements about threats to Georgian identity, sovereignty and Georgian values emanating from the European or Western space, that the so-called global war party is behind everything, as Georgian Prime Minister Kobakhidze recently put it, point to very unpleasant tendencies.

Of course, we will not hear publicly, either from the representatives of the government or the parliamentary majority, that Georgia is changing its foreign policy orientation. But public declarations are one thing, but actions that clearly undermine Georgia's European integration are another," he says.

The political scientist has a clear idea why the Georgian government is turning its back on the European Union and facing Russia.

"The Georgian dream stands for the fact that the period of his rule is the most stable and peaceful in the entire existence of independent Georgia. Which is broadly true. Although it must be added that the creeping Russian annexation of our territory continues. At the same time, the Government is suggesting that its foreign policy is rational. Russia is our neighbour and our geographical location must be taken into account. The government also states that good trade and economic relations with Russia are primarily in the interests of Georgia itself. Imposing sanctions on Russia would mean that we would be shooting ourselves in the foot.

This is understandable to a certain extent. But when we talk about a balanced foreign policy, it means that both directions have roughly equal weight. But lately the government's perception seems to be that the Western direction is not so important," Kipiani thinks.

How further the rapprochement of the Transcaucasian republic with the European Union will develop now depends only on Brussels. Whether it will suspend the integration courtship or punish Tbilisi in other ways. There are voices, for example, that Georgians should be temporarily deprived of the right to visa-free travel with the EU, which has been in force since 2017. According to the UK's Financial Times, Sweden, the Netherlands, Estonia and the Czech Republic are pushing for this restriction.

"This is not just about the Foreign Influence Act, but also about a number of other laws that were previously passed despite the position of the European Union and the assessments we are receiving from Brussels. These normative acts contradict the EU criteria. It is also a matter of filling 9 out of 12 EU recommendations that are supposed to open the way for Georgia to negotiate its accession to the EU. Therefore, it is simply not possible now to talk about any high probability of starting the rapprochement process between Georgia and the EU," concludes Victor Kipiani.