Georgia’s accession to the bloc has ‘de facto’ been halted after the country’s authorities passed a controversial Russia-style ‘foreign agent’ law, EU leaders warned on Thursday (27 June).

EU leaders on Thursday also stated that “the law adopted on transparency of foreign influence represents backsliding” on steps Georgia took to become an EU candidate country in December.

Georgia’s authorities should “clarify their intentions by reversing the current course of action which jeopardizes Georgia’s EU path, de facto leading to a halt of the accession process,” a joint EU summit statement said.

The sharp rebuke came after the country’s ruling Georgian Dream party adopted a law against ‘foreign agents’ earlier this month that critics say is modelled on Kremlin-style legislation used to stifle dissent.

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Georgia’s Western supporters have widely condemned the move, but according to an internal document seen by Euractiv, the EU has drawn up a range of measures, including sanctions on top government officials, cutting financial assistance, and restricting visa-free travel, which it could take in response.

Based on that, EU foreign ministers earlier this week considered downgrading high-level contacts with Georgia and freezing financial aid to the Georgian Dream-led government.

As part of further backsliding, the Georgia Dream ruling party also put forward a series of other legislation that targets the country’s democratic foundations, including measures that foresee banning “LGBTQ propaganda” portrayals of same-sex relationships in films, television and advertising.

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In the letter, Orban said that he was not speaking for the entire EU during his visits but claimed his aim was to understand the Ukrainian and Russian positions.

However, despite the moves from the Georgian government, the country’s population—which has been partially occupied by Russian forces since a brief war in 2008—remains overwhelmingly in favour of closer EU ties.

According to various recent opinion polls, more than 80% of Georgia’s population supports its EU bid, which is enshrined in the country’s constitution.

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For two months now, the bill’s opponents have organized some of the largest protests in Georgia since its independence from Russia in 1991, with broad participation from all parts of civil society.

The daily protests saw police use tear gas and water cannons to disperse rallies, beating and arresting demonstrators.

The spat over Georgia’s European course also comes as the country prepares for decisive parliamentary elections on 26 October, seen as a key democratic test.

Fears have risen in Georgia that the Georgian Dream ruling party would use the new law to secure another victory in upcoming elections.

Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili told Euractiv amid last month’s protests that the controversial law profoundly changes the country’s relationship with its Western partners.

Zourabichvili, who had vetoed the bill but to no avail, has called on the country’s fractious opposition to unite and challenge the incumbent Georgian Dream party in the upcoming polls.

The EU should take the outcome of the upcoming elections as a basis to reassess its ties with Tbilisi, she said.

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