Bills on “foreign agents” and European Integration
Malkhaz Nakashidze, Jean Monnet Chair, Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University
In the spring of 2023, a large protest was caused in Georgia by the initiation of draft laws on “foreign agents” in the Parliament of Georgia. 2 draft laws were submitted to the Parliament: the first – draft law of Georgia “On the transparency of foreign influence”, according to the first article of which, in order to ensure the transparency of foreign influence, the law regulates the registration of the subject as an agent of foreign influence and other issues related to the transparency of the activities of the agent of foreign influence.  Second – Law of Georgia “On Registration of Foreign Agents”.
According to the bill’s explanatory note, the purpose of the bill is to provide transparency on foreign influence. Therefore, it is necessary to adopt a legislative act that defines the concept of an agent of a foreign power and regulates the registration of relevant entities as an agent of a foreign power and other issues related to the transparency of their activities. In addition, it is important that this legislative act serves only the purpose of information and does not restrict the subjects registered as agents of a foreign power from carrying out their usual activities. The authors of the draft law indicated here that similar legislation and practice exist in such countries as, for example, the USA, Australia, Israel; In particular, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is in force in the USA; in 2018, Australia adopted the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act (FITSA) modeled after the US law; In 2016, the Israeli Knesset made a similar amendment to the 2011 law on the obligation to disclose entities supported by a foreign political party.
The initiation of the draft law had another purpose, although the government presented it as if its purpose was to ensure the transparency of the activities of non-governmental organizations. The first lie spread by the government and the media under its control is that the law they adopt is not Russian and such a law is valid in the USA. This is a lie with which the authorities are trying to make the public believe that they are not violating any Russian law. In fact, this law is precisely the Russian law, which is very different from the American law, which at the time was directed against the enemies, in particular, fascism and communism. The law initiated in Georgia is directed against the European Union and the USA, which are the main supporters of democracy in Georgia. For example, it would be better for Georgia to adopt a law on exposing Russian financing, which is clearly against the country’s interests and is carried out through a number of channels by the occupying, hostile state – the Russian Federation.
Another argument of the government is that the law aims to achieve transparency of the finances of non-governmental organizations. This is also a lie and damage to the reputation of non-governmental organizations, because their reports and funding are already transparent and they publish their reports periodically. Any person can learn about the finances of non-governmental organizations. Also, the relevant bodies of the state have the right to receive information about finances. Actually, the initiated law aims to demonize non-governmental organizations, the USA, the European Union and the West in general.
An important problem is that the law forces NGOs to register as agents of foreign influence, which is interference in the activities of NGOs. This law applies not only to registered non-governmental organizations, legal entities, but also to any organization engaged in scientific, academic or artistic activities. For example, Article 2 of the Law of Georgia “On Registration of Foreign Agents” specifies that the effect of Article 3 of this law does not apply to the following agent of a foreign power:
- a) diplomats and consuls, employees of the diplomatic service and consular institution;
- b) officials of foreign countries;
- c) a person engaged in charitable activities;
- d) a person who conscientiously engages in religious, educational, scientific, academic or artistic activities;
Let’s pay attention to the last point. Who should evaluate whether a person is engaged in academic activities in good faith? This will become the basis for different interpretations. That is, for example, when I implement the EU-funded Jean Monnet program, which many people benefited from, I act as a foreign agent, and this activity did not serve the interests of Georgia? According to these laws, any person from academia, whose position, publication, etc. will be different, critical, may be considered dishonest.
Supporters of the government spread another lie when they say that such laws exist in Europe. This is not true, because the legislation on lobbying activities is in force in Europe, which is completely different from the law that they are going to introduce in Georgia, and media outlets and non-governmental organizations are declared as agents. Actually, similar laws are valid only in Russia, Belarus and Azerbaijan. Hungary adopted such a law in the European Union, but it was canceled by the Hungarian government at the request of the European Union.
This law is a great threat to non-governmental organizations, media outlets and any free-thinking person who has a critical attitude towards the government. If this law is adopted, the Ministry of Justice can register such persons in the register of non-governmental agents, monitor them, including on the basis of anonymous statements, impose fines, seize accounts.
Most importantly, this law contradicts not only the Constitution of Georgia, but also all the agreements signed for Georgia’s integration into the European Union and prevents Georgia from being granted the status of a candidate country for EU membership. The laws are contrary to the basic principles of the European Union and, therefore, their adoption will violate Article 78 of the Constitution of Georgia, which obliges the constitutional bodies to “take all measures within their powers to ensure the full integration of Georgia into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”
The mentioned draft laws were harshly criticized by the European Union, the US Embassy, and all strategic partners of Titkm of Georgia. The EU’s external affairs service says that the draft law on “agents of foreign influence” contradicts the 12-point recommendations that Georgia must comply with in order to receive candidate status. The American Embassy in Georgia stated that “withdrawal of these laws will damage Georgia’s relations with strategic partners and undermine the important work that many Georgian organizations are doing to help their fellow citizens.” “Today is a black day for Georgian democracy. “Continuing consideration of Kremlin-inspired laws by the parliament is incompatible with Georgia’s clear desire to integrate with Europe and the country’s democratic development.” Despite the criticism, the Georgian leadership continued to consider the draft law in the parliament and it was passed in the first reading.
In Georgia, especially in Tbilisi, mass protests followed the first reading of the draft law “On transparency of foreign influence” by the parliament. On March 7, the authorities broke up the rally in Tbilisi using special means, including water cannons, tear gas and “pepper spray”. It started with a women’s march and the students joined in. After the protests, the government was forced to stop the discussion of the bill and put it in the second reading.
Such a decision of the government was only caused by mass protests. It is worth noting that this time the students of Shota Rustaveli State University of Batumi joined the protest action in the regions as well. A meeting was held in BSU regarding the initiated bill, which was attended by only a small number of lecturers. The government’s propaganda was so strong that there were students in the hall during the discussion, who thought that what is the problem, if this law introduces additional transparency mechanisms, it may be welcome.
I was impressed that a large part of the lecturers, who did not come to this meeting or to the next protest action, explain the content of this law to students exactly according to the government’s position. In fact, academic institutions can play an important role in such a situation. The only thing that was really remarkable was the unusually large number of students protesting against the bills. Students considered that this is against our European integration. This is really encouraging.
March 08, 2023 – Batumi, Georgia
 Georgia: Statement by the Spokesperson on the draft law on “transparency of foreign influence”, 24.02.2023 https://www.eeas.europa.eu/eeas/georgia-statement-spokesperson-draft-law-“transparency-foreign-influence”_en