Transparency Law essential amid emerging threats, Georgian Parliament Speaker notes in reply to EU Speakers
Transparency Law essential amid emerging threats, Georgian Parliament Speaker notes in reply to EU Speakers

In a reply letter to the Speakers of the Parliaments of seven EU countries, Georgian Parliament Speaker Shalva Papuashvili expressed gratitude for their correspondence concerning the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence. Papuashvili assured them of Georgia’s unwavering commitment to its democratic and European future and provided further details on the issue.

Papuashvili emphasized that concealed foreign interference poses significant threats to the national interests of many countries worldwide, and Georgia is no exception.

“Dear Colleagues, I am thankful for your letter on the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence. I am glad to provide you with more details on the issue and to assure you in Georgia’s continued commitment in my country’s democratic and European future.

Much like in all your respective countries, concealed foreign interference poses threats to national interests of many countries around the world. In response, they are desperately trying to find solution to this ever-increasing challenge and secure integrity of their political, economic and security systems. This is the case in France, this is the case in the UK, this is the case in the U.S., this is the case elsewhere.

Georgia is no exception. Georgia’s geographic location and complex regional setting further aggravate the situation and leave my country and society vulnerable. We cannot afford to be disarmed in the crosswinds of these emerging threats. It is not an either-or situation but rather the absolute necessity in face of threats.

If non-profit organizations (NPOs) in Georgia are to engage in decision making at all levels and enjoy influence over public life, they must provide basic standard of transparency – population must know who stands behind any actor. This is true to state institutions, this is true to political parties, this is true to civil servants, and this must be true to non-profit organisations too. Financial transparency of all these key actors of decision-making circle is a basic principle,” the letter reads.

Papuashvili mentioned the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), which is financed by the taxpayers of the EU member states. According to him, the EED is not transparent to the citizens of Georgia and EU member states.

“Dear Speakers of Parliaments, this issue has been the problem in Georgia from all corners of the world. But since you represent the EU member states, let me highlight one of the related examples – the case of European Endowment for Democracy (EED). The organisation is funded by money of European, including French, Czech, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuania, Dutch and Polish, taxpayers.

Despite my multiple attempts since last year to persuade European Union representatives and local recipients to voluntarily ensure transparency to the public, these efforts have been futile. Despite recognising the flaws and legitimate concerns, no practical steps have been made to improve the transparency. To the contrary, we continue to discover numerous shadow schemes that fuel polarization, fund political parties and radical groups by money of such organisations. Such practice is in blatant contradiction to the very values of Europe and the guiding principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.

The discussion on the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence has produced loud statements and heated emotions, but nobody has ever demonstrated the only true need in this process – readiness for transparency. My discussions with relevant EU representatives allow me to conclude that the EED lacks transparency to citizens of both Georgia and your respective countries. Thus, the lack of transparency in spending in Georgia of EU’staxpayers’ money is problem for all of us.

Since it concerns your taxpayers’ money too, I would therefore welcome your readiness to use your parliamentary tools to inquire on theissue and spending purpose,and shed light on this problem. This would have been a demonstration of genuine readiness for responding to the problem of lack of transparency.

Faced by the inability to solve the problem by other means, the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence addresses this problem of non-transparent foreign funding in a streamlined and proportionate way, fully respecting fundamental human rights and political freedoms,” the Speaker wrote.

Papuashvili continued, “What continues frustrating us, is the stigmatization of this Law by internal and external actors as well as their tendency for jumping to quick conclusions. From the very beginning, the law was labelled as “Russian.” “Russian law” is a discrediting political metaphor to stigmatize legislation and cause public outcry.

In fact, other international analogues are much stricter since their legal provisions are stricter than the Georgian version. Moreover, there is no mention of a “foreign agent” in the Law but the “organization pursuing the interest of a foreign power”. It resembles the European Union’s wording “organization carrying interest representation on behalf of third countries” suggested in European Commission’s proposal for a Directive.

We have studied the practice of the European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights and this law is compatible with international human rights standards; it imposes no restriction on foreign funding or prohibition on accessing foreign funds whatsoever; it does not require prior authorization of financial transactions; it does not envisage funding controls or administrative dissolution; and it does not envisage criminal liability. The law, by no means, restricts NPOs from seeking, receiving and using foreign funding, nor does it restrict their legitimate activities such as human rights and democracy promotion. In Georgia, NPOs are free and will be free after the adoption of this Law.

In turn, the law introduces a single, simple and non-burdensome obligation for non-profit organisations to declare annual finances if their foreign funding is more than 20%. Natural persons are not subject to the law.

This is the absolute minimal and proportionate interference. There is no other lesser obligation on transparency in any other legal jurisdiction across the globe.

Dear Colleagues, the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence will raise level of responsibility and accountability of NPOs and their donors. These improvements will improve the integrity of the political and electoral system in Georgia and allow more inclusive participation of non-profit organizations in public policy-making.

I am confident that the time will show only one thing about the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence (attached to the letter) – its only purpose is to maintain integrity of political, economic and security systems and to strengthen resilience of Georgia in face of threats,” Papuashvili wrote in his letter.

The Speakers of the legislative bodies of the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Poland had addressed the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia, Shalva Papuashvili, with a joint letter regarding the law “On Transparency of Foreign Influence”.