The statement came 24 hours after the law passed its third reading in the Georgian parliament.

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Josep Borrell broke his silence on Wednesday and denounced Georgia for approving the so-called “Russian law” in a third and final reading.

In a statement co-signed with the European Commission, Borrell says the legislation goes against Georgia’s EU membership ambitions and should be removed in its entirety.

“The adoption of this law negatively impacts Georgia’s progress on the EU path. The choice on the way forward is in Georgia’s hands,” they write.

“We urge the Georgian authorities to withdraw the law, uphold their commitment to the EU path and advance the necessary reforms.”

The statement, however, does not outline any explicit reprisals or consequences for the accession process, which began in December after Georgia was declared an EU candidate country, fulfilling a long-coveted yet elusive goal.

“The EU stands ready to continue supporting Georgians working towards a European future,” the statement says.

The foreign policy chief initially intended to release a collective communiqué to denounce the legislation signed by the 27 member states right after the third reading on Tuesday afternoon. But according to diplomats in Brussels, the plan was hijacked by Hungary and Slovakia, whose prime ministers have adopted Russian-friendly policies and tend to resist overly critical statements against the Kremlin and its international allies.

“One was hiding behind the other,” a diplomat told Euronews.

With a lack of unanimity, the idea shifted to have Borrell release a joint statement with Oliver Várhelyi, the European Commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, as both did when the Georgian parliament approved the law in the second reading.

But that further delayed the initiative due to reported disagreements between the two.

In the end, the publication was done on Wednesday at 11:00 CET, almost 24 hours after the conclusion of the third reading. Instead of with Várhelyi, it was co-signed with the European Commission as a whole.

The delay was noteworthy given the serious situation on the ground and the fast condemnation voiced by the United States. The fact that Borrell sent messages on social media about his trip to Washington and the Israel-Hamas war only added to frustration over his protracted silence.

“The EU has clearly and repeatedly stated that the spirit and content of the law are not in line with EU core norms and values,” the statement says.

“It will undermine the work of civil society and independent media while freedom of association and freedom of expression are fundamental rights at the core of Georgia’s commitments as part of the Association Agreement and of any EU accession path.”

In the meantime, the foreign affairs ministers of Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and Iceland landed in Tbilisi to show support with protesters and meet with President Salome Zourabichvili, who has vowed to veto the law.

“The ‘foreign agents’ law is incompatible with EU standards. This law can’t be fixed, because it is fundamentally broken,” said Lithuania’s Gabrielius Landsbergis.

‘Unacceptable’ police action

Under the new law, media outlets and non-profit organisations in Georgia would be required to be publicly registered as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funds from abroad. They would also be obliged to declare the income received and submit an annual financial statement.

Georgia’s justice ministry would be empowered to monitor compliance with the obligations and slap fines for violations.

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Since the text was tabled, the opposition and civil society had said the law’s provisions would be exploited to expose, target and eventually muzzle independent voices that refuse to toe the government’s official line.

Many NGOs that operate in the country receive Western donations, a trend that dates back to the Soviet republic’s transition to democracy. Well-known groups such as Transparency International and Amnesty International would be labelled “foreign agents.”

Prime Minister Irakli Kobakhidze argues the law “creates strong guarantees of long-term peace and tranquillity” and will help overcome political polarisation. Controversially, Kobakhidze has linked foreign-funded NGOs to revolutionary attempts between 2020 and 2023, a point widely discredited by Brussels and Washington.

The text has been dubbed the “Russian law” as it has similarities with a bill that the Kremlin introduced a decade ago to silence critical voices.

Besides the legislative substance, the Georgian government has been criticised for its heavy-handed repression of protesters, who have taken to the streets en masse to demand the reversal of the project and the continuation of European integration.

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A poll released last year showed that 89% of the Georgian population support EU membership and 80% support NATO membership. In the same survey, 87% of respondents named Russia the greatest political and economic threat.

“The EU stands with the Georgian people and their choice in favour of democracy and of Georgia’s European future,” Borrell and the Commission said.

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

Before the third reading, a cross-party group of MEPs penned a joint letter asking Borrell to prepare sanctions against Kobakhidze and the lawmakers who supported the bill. They also asked Várhelyi to channel additional funding into Georgia’s civil society and refrain from opening accession talks as long as the contentious legislation is in place.

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