A fresh attempt to pass the legislation has triggered mass protests, as well as drawing criticism from the West Protest held against a “foreign agents” bill outside the parliament in Tbilisi, Georgia on April 15, 2024. © AFP / Vano Shlamov

The Georgian parliament adopted a controversial ‘foreign agents’ bill in its first reading on Wednesday, despite opposition protests and warnings from the EU that the legislation could jeopardize the country’s ambitions to join the bloc.

The legislation, officially known as the bill ‘On the Transparency of Foreign Influence’, was backed by 83 members of the 150-strong body, while the opposition boycotted the vote. Several dissenting MPs were expelled from the chamber after becoming unruly during the hearing.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili has condemned the outcome of the vote, vowing to veto the legislation altogether, should it pass the second and third readings. The president claimed the bill jeopardizes Georgia’s EU aspirations and imposes “obstacles” to fair elections in the country.

“I’m going to veto this law, as I’m vetoing all the other laws… that go against the recommendations of the European Union,” Zourabichvili told the BBC. She admitted that her veto would likely be overridden by the parliament, but insisted that the step was necessary to express the “voice of people.”

Protest against ‘foreign agent’ law in Georgia turns violent (VIDEO) Protest against ‘foreign agent’ law in Georgia turns violent (VIDEO)

The Georgian parliament first attempted to pass the ‘foreign agents’ legislation last year. The original bill would have required organizations and individuals with more than 20% foreign funding to register as “agents of foreign influence” while disclosing their donors. The legislation faced strong criticism from the Georgian political opposition, which branded it a “Russian law” and accused the ruling party of modeling it on legislation introduced in Russia in 2012.

The ruling party, however, has insisted the law drew inspiration from the US Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, arguing that the Georgian version was significantly more lenient than the original American one. The initial bill nonetheless sparked rioting in the capital Tbilisi, as well as a storm of criticism from the West, and ultimately ended up being shelved after passing the first reading.

The new version of the legislation bears only cosmetic changes, including the designation of “agents of foreign influence” being replaced with “an organization facilitating the interests of a foreign power.” The new attempt to pass it has already faced similar trouble, including street protests, a mass brawl on the parliament floor, and mounting criticism from the West. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has warned that the adoption of the bill could “compromise Georgia’s EU path.”

WATCH violent brawl erupt in Georgian parliament WATCH violent brawl erupt in Georgian parliament

“Georgia: the ‘transparency of foreign influence’ law is not in line with EU norms and values. If adopted, it would limit CSO and media work and freedom of expression,” Borrell wrote on X (formerly Twitter) shortly after the bill was passed in the first reading.

Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze, however, appears adamant that the ruling party will not cave in to foreign and domestic pressure. Speaking on Wednesday, Kobakhidze rejected criticism of the bill, arguing it would actually bring Georgia closer to the EU by making the country more transparent.

US and European politicians who have criticized the legislation have not provided any actual arguments against it, he claimed. “In such circumstances, [these] statements will not become a reason to review our decision,” Kobakhidze stated. (RT)