July 20. 2024. 11:07

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Georgia’s pro-EU leader Zourabichvili to meet Michel after ‘foreign agent’ row

Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili is set to meet EU chief Charles Michel in Brussels Monday (13 March) after Tbilisi dropped its controversial ‘foreign agent’ law in the face of major pro-European protests.

The Georgian government last week scrapped the legislation, which critics said was reminiscent of rules in Russia after tens of thousands of angry demonstrators took to the streets.

The governing Georgian Dream party and its spin-off group People’s Power have dismissed opponents to the law as members of a “radical opposition” or an out-of-touch NGO sector, but after withdrawal of the bill said they would hold consultations to “better explain” the law’s purpose in the future.

The EU had condemned the proposed law as a “very bad development” for the country that ran counter to Georgia’s push to join the bloc.

Staunchly pro-European Georgian President Zourabichvili has been outspoken in her support for closer ties with the West and in her criticism of the country’s ruling party, but her powers are limited.

She hailed the role of protesters who forced the government to withdraw the legislation that would have labelled NGOs and media outlets that got funding from abroad “foreign agents” and had threatened to veto it.

Visit to Brussels

Zourabichvili is expected to meet European Council President Charles Michel, who has previously unsuccessfully sought to negotiate between Georgia’s feuding political factions, over dinner late Monday.

Georgia, which fought a brief war against neighbouring Russia in 2008, formally applied last year alongside Ukraine and Moldova to join the EU.

But while the other two applicants were granted EU candidate status last year, Georgia was told it needed to carry out further reforms to get on the long path to membership.

Zourabichvili’s visit to Brussels comes as the European Commission is expected to present an ‘oral interim assessment’ of progress on 12 reform priorities Georgia must fulfil to be granted candidate status.

For many years, Tbilisi was considered a frontrunner among the EU’s eastern neighbours in implementing European reforms.

While Ukraine outperforms Georgia in some important areas, the progress of Tbilisi is more evident compared to Moldova, EU officials say.

However, the country’s failure to be granted candidate status last year was widely attributed to persistent political polarisation and democratic challenges the country has been facing over recent years.

“This assessment will be ‘merit-based’ and, of course, the current situation is likely to feed into this and so it is not a surprise that the Georgian president is trying to mitigate the fallout from last week’s row having a negative overall impact,” an EU official said ahead of Michel’s meeting with the Georgian president.

Zourabichvili on Monday already met with France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna in Paris and held talks over the weekend with top US officials in Washington.