Tbilisi has resurrected legislation that stymies a widespread desire among Georgians to move closer to the EU.

Recent legislative maneuvers by Georgia’s ruling party, Georgian Dream (GD), have ignited another firestorm of controversy, signaling a critical juncture in the country's democracy and quest for EU membership. 

The revival of the “foreign agent law” reflects a renewed government attempt to tighten control over civil society and free media. An updated bill, influenced by Russian legislation, replaces the term “agent of foreign influence” with “organization pursuing the interests of a foreign power” but otherwise retains the provisions of the original version. The modification allows the casting of a wide net that could ensnare many NGOs and media outlets in a web of bureaucratic scrutiny. GD supporters argue that the change offers safeguards against foreign meddling. Critics see it as a tactic to stifle dissent and consolidate authority, particularly ahead of parliamentary elections on October 26.

Brussels granted Georgia EU candidate status last December with an expectation of an improved climate for civil society and independent media. The bloc's condemnation of the latest legislative onslaught and its warning of dire consequences for Georgia's membership aspirations underscores the gravity of the situation. EU High Representative Josep Borrell and Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi said in a shared statement that the proposed legislation runs counter to EU norms and values and threatens to undermine the vibrant civil society that forms the bedrock of Georgia's democratic progress.

Kremlin voices defend GD’s reintroduction of the legislation. Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov argued that it is normal for sovereign states to reject foreign interference in their domestic affairs. Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman and former President Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the bill in the name of transparency. Moscow’s backing reflects the high stakes involved. It aims to exploit internal divisions to undermine Western influence in the South Caucasus. 

Tbilisi has a responsibility to adhere to Georgians’ aspirations and accede to the calls of its Western allies. The EU is signaling that an abrogation of democratic principles could leave Georgia outside the bloc.

In the midst of the turmoil, the resilience of the country’s civil society and media, and the public’s unwavering determination to pursue a path toward Europe are beacons of hope. Tens of thousands have already taken to Tbilisi’s streets for several days. They want a European future, not Kremlin-backed destabilization. For many of them, any reconsideration of the “foreign agent bill” sabotages Georgia's European aspirations, and they are willing to fight that.