Lithuanian parlt committee calls for EU sanctions against Georgia, more visits

  • 2024-06-05
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – The Lithuanian Seimas Committee on Foreign Affairs has called for EU sanctions against Georgia, adding that EU politicians should be encouraged to visit the country.

"The committee called for an unequivocal response to the retaliatory measures imposed by the United States i.e. sanctions, and to seek those sanctions in Brussels," Zygimantas Pavilionis, the committee chair, told journalists on Wednesday.

The committee made such a decision after it was briefed by Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis on the situation in Georgia on Wednesday.

In May, Georgia adopted a "foreign influence" law despite mass protests and calls from foreign countries to repeal it. The new legislation drew strong reactions from the West, including Lithuania. The law was signed on Monday by the country's Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili.

The law requires non-governmental organizations and media outlets that receive more than 20 percent of their funding from abroad to register as "agents of foreign influence".

For his part, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in May visa restrictions for "individuals who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia".

"We called for continued visits. The Georgian government (...) is doing its utmost to make sure that no one pays attention to what is actually being achieved by these measures. (The goal is – BNS) to close most NGOs, to clean up the space before the election and then to have an election they want. Well, this should not be allowed," Pavilionis said.

Georgia will elect a new parliament in October.

Having visited Tbilisi in May together with his Baltic and Icelandic counterparts, Landsbergis told journalists that the adoption of the "foreign influence" law was an extremely serious violation, adding that the EU must send a "clear signal" that Georgia's path to the EU is blocked.

"I told you about the mood in the EU and what position we could take. (...) A report was presented to EU ministers on how the passed law and the veto affects Georgia's EU path. So, a single provision, and out of the nine recommendations that are conditional on the granting of candidate status, three of them are violated by one law and one third is violated by one law," the minister said.

In May, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili vetoed the "foreign influence" law, but her veto was overridden by the parliament.

Critics have condemned the law, saying it is similar to the one in Russia and aimed at silencing critics of Moscow. Brussels argues that the law is incompatible with Georgia's long-standing ambition to become an EU member.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said last week that the EU and its member states were "considering all options to react to these developments".

Pavilionis points out that not everyone in Brussels wants to see the deteriorating situation in Georgia.

For his part, Landsbergis notes that Hungary has for the time being suspended "any assessment of the situation".

"All we can do now is to put the words of Europe in Borrell's mouth. But there is no European word. So I think that any sanctions or anything like that, if there was a political attempt to assess the situation, they would be blocked," the foreign minister said. 

Hungary itself has encouraged other EU member states to adopt "foreign influence" legislation similar to the one in Georgia

The ruling Georgian Dream party is increasingly being accused of steering the country away from a Western trajectory towards Russia. However, the party, in power since 2012, claims to be committed to Georgia's European goals and defends the law as an effort to increase the transparency of NGO funding.

Many NGOs in Georgia have vowed to resist and oppose the law.

Activists, independent journalists and opposition politicians in Georgia have accused the government of a concerted campaign of violence and threats against NGO leaders.

"There have been multiple violations of human rights. Numerous people, both from opposition and NGOs, the media, have been subjected to physical violence, harassment, and their family members are still being harassed. This is again a gross violation of human rights which could be condemned by the EU," Landsbergis said.

"The political processes taking place in the parliament are one path, but next to that there are people on the streets who face violence, and that violence, for example, I probably don't have that information, but I wouldn't be very surprised that somebody is ordering it. The EU has instruments to track and find people and they could be put on the sanction list," he noted.

For their part, the opposition parties in Georgia on Monday started signing up to a pro-European political platform.

Pavilionis also called on Lithuania President Gitanas Nauseda to take initiative and express solidarity with the Georgian president.