Orange piece of paper on a photo of people with one hand raised. "Protecting Civil Society and Civic Spaces in Georgia. ESN’s reaction to the introduction of the “Law of Transparency of Foreign Influence".

On the 14th of May 2024, the Georgian Parliament approved legislation to increase “transparency of foreign influence”, a law first proposed in March 2023 as “foreign agents” legislation. In both instances, the introduction of the law has led to large-scale peaceful protests in Tbilisi and other cities across Georgia. Currently, protests are still ongoing, largely led by student movements, and the President of Georgia has vetoed the legislation, identifying it as an obstacle to the path to European integration. Unfortunately, regardless of the many indicators that Georgian citizens, Georgian civil society and European stakeholders are against the law, the Georgian Parliament overturned the veto and adopted the law on the 28th of May 2024

Ever since Georgia joined the Erasmus Student Network in 2011, countless Georgian volunteers have contributed to building bridges between Georgia and the EU by welcoming international students and supporting their socio-cultural integration to Georgia. ESN Georgia promotes study-abroad opportunities in Europe for Georgian students to increase their competencies abroad, increase intercultural understanding of the continent and foster European citizenship. They play an important role in strengthening Georgia’s pathway to join the European Union.

The introduction of this legislation is not aligned with EU principles. It jeopardises the work of civil society organisations funded by the EU, which aim to facilitate accession to the European Union. These organisations should operate independently, without excessive scrutiny, heavy government oversight, or putting individual volunteers at risk. It is already showing negative effects on civil society organisations, causing a sentiment of distrust from governmental institutions and state-funded organisations such as universities and schools towards NGOs that work towards this goal. NGO leadership is at risk of becoming targets of online campaigns, and under the new legislation, they will be held personally liable.

ESN stands with its volunteers, students, young people and all Georgians who have peacefully protested to protect civil society and civic spaces in Georgia. Moreover, ESN requests Higher Education Institutions respect the rights of young people to unite and protest, without threat to their education. 

ESN endorses the motion approved by the European Youth Forum on Protecting Civil Society and Civic Spaces in Georgia and believes it is a significant step to ensure that civic spaces are provided to young people and civil society organisations. 

ESN supports the demand from High Representative Josep Borrell at the European Commission towards the Georgian authorities to withdraw the law and uphold their commitment to the EU path. Given the demonstrated ineffectiveness of the presidential veto in Georgia, we urge the European Commission to maintain pressure on the Georgian government to withdraw the legislation. This action is crucial to ensure the safety of civil society and uphold essential values such as the rule of law, democracy, and human rights.