Saffron Restaurants reservation The Foreign Agents Bill and Tax Reform Endanger Georgia’s Freedoms

The Foreign Agents Bill and Tax Reform Endanger Georgia’s Freedoms

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On Tuesday, May 14, Georgia’s parliament approved the third and final reading of a bill on foreign agents, a Russian-inspired law that restricts the country’s political and civil rights. The law would require organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad to register as agents of foreign influence, imposing tough disclosure requirements and punitive fines for violations. Within Georgia, however, due to the pro-Moscow government led by the Georgian Dream (GD) party, Russian agents are interfering in political affairs, spreading disinformation and inciting violent sentiments against the democratic opposition and civil rights activists.

Opponents call the bill “the Russian law” and compare it to Russian legislation used to attack the president’s critics Vladimir Putin‘s Kremlin. The Georgian government says the bill is needed to promote transparency, combat “pseudo-liberal values” promoted by foreigners and preserve the country’s sovereignty.

The bill was passed and 84 of the 150 MPs voted in favor. In the current parliament, the ruling GD has 75 seats. Massive protests in the capital Tbilisi demonstrate society’s concerns about the future of democracy in Georgia. The EU, the US and the Council of Europe warned the Georgian government that this legislation will prevent the country from meeting EU standards and will ultimately lead to a review of relations with them.

After passing the third reading, the bill now goes to the president Salome Zourabichvili. She has said she will veto it It. But a new vote in Parliament, controlled by the ruling party and its allies, can reverse her decision.

Tens of thousands of people have been protesting in Tbilisi for weeks. The police used force against the demonstrators. Opinion polls show strong support for EU integration. Many Georgians are hostile to Russia because of Moscow’s support for the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. However, the European Parliament’s resolution of 14 December 2022 on the implementation of the EU Association Agreement with Georgia noted that Russia continues its ‘creeping’ process of annexation of the occupied territories of Georgia. It also highlighted the continued ethnic discrimination and serious human rights violations against Georgians in the Russian-occupied territories, the erection of barbed wire fences and other artificial barriers, the prolonged closure of so-called border crossings along the line of occupation, and the illegal detention and kidnappings of Georgian civilians by the Russian occupation forces, destabilizing the situation throughout the country.

The EU warns that the law will undermine freedoms

The European Council has granted Georgia the status of a candidate country, provided that Georgia takes the nine steps set out in the Commission recommendation of 8 November 2023. These steps include protecting human rights and allowing the free functioning of the civil society and the media. They also respond to the need for depolarization and the fight against disinformation.

“Nevertheless, and despite major protests and unequivocal calls from the international community, the ruling majority of the Georgian government adopted in its third reading the law “on the transparency of foreign influence” in parliament. The EU has clearly and repeatedly stated that the spirit and content of the law are not in line with core EU norms and values. It will undermine the work of civil society and independent media, while freedom of association and freedom of expression are fundamental rights that are at the core of Georgia’s obligations as part of the Association Agreement and of any EU accession path,” said the High Representative. Joseph Borrell declared today.

Borrell emphasized that the adoption of this law “will have a negative impact on Georgia’s progress on the EU path. The choice for the future lies in Georgia’s hands. We urge the Georgian authorities to repeal the law, maintain their commitment to the EU path and implement the necessary reforms outlined in the nine steps.”

The EU stands ready to continue supporting Georgians working towards a European future and supports the Georgian people and their choice for democracy.

“The intimidation, threats and physical attacks on civil society representatives, political leaders and journalists, as well as on their families, are unacceptable. We call on the Georgian authorities to investigate these documented acts,” said HR Borrell.

The US could impose financial and travel restrictions

The United States Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Jim O’Brienwho visited Tbilisi stated that Washington could impose financial and travel restrictions.

“If the law passes without conforming to EU standards and this kind of rhetoric and slander against the US and other partners continues, I think the relationship is in danger,” he said.

“If this legislation passes, it will force us to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Georgia,” the White House press secretary said Karine Jean-Pierre said.

On May 12, Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to the US President’s White House, posted on X: “The Georgian people are making their views known. Undeterred by intimidation tactics, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters turned out in rainy Tbilisi today to demand that Georgian Dream withdraw the legislation.”

The pro-Kremlin stance of the Georgian Dream

The Georgian Dream and its coalition partners have been in power in Georgia since 2012. The party also won a majority in the 2016 and 2020 general elections. The Georgian parliament has 150 seats, of which 76 seats are needed for a majority.

Founded by the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, a friend of Putin, the Georgian Dream lacks a clear ideology. Despite being labeled a ‘centre-left’ party by some European media, its leadership has adopted far-right ideas. Members of the party have expressed their opposition to ‘LGBTI ideology’ and press freedom. Gender-based violence and domestic violence, as well as discrimination against LGBTQI+ people, remain major concerns. Despite claiming to be pro-EU and pro-NATO, the party uses anti-Western rhetoric and has a solid pro-Russian stance, leading the country towards authoritarianism. Moreover, the party has close ties with the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

A new tax law for oligarchs?

However, such pro-Russian sentiments and anti-democratic actions may be driven by economic interests linked to Georgian oligarchs. In April, Georgia’s parliament quickly passed tax legislation that critics warn could be just as worrying. According to Radio Free Europe, opponents of the law claim that the changes to the Tax Code, which were approved by the GD Party majority on April 19, could not only attract illegal foreign funds but also allow Bidzina Ivanishvili to to avoid sanctions if relations continue to deteriorate. deteriorate. A 2021 report from Transparency International Georgia found that Ivanishvili owns 20 offshore companies and that his name was implicated in the Panama Papers. Moreover, the Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze recently announced that the US had frozen Ivanishvili’s $2 billion, effectively imposing sanctions on him.