Check against delivery!
Dear President, Honourable Members,
The European Union has a longstanding and clear position on Russia's “foreign agents” law. The newest amendment to this law, signed by President Putin on 2 December, widens the scope of the foreign agent media law to include individuals. Many of you have expressed your strong concerns about that, and I think rightly so. Because this has the potential to affect independent journalists and bloggers, and it is another step towards restricting media freedom and freedom of expression in Russia.
Since 2012, when the “foreign agents” law was first introduced in Russia, enabling non-governmental organisations to be branded as foreign agents, over 150 NGOs have had this label imposed on them. They have been subject to fines, inspections and stigmatisation. The impact has been to restrict fundamental freedoms in Russia, consume the scarce resources of NGOs and inhibit independent civil society in the country. In 2017, “foreign agent” legislation expanded so that any media organisation receiving foreign funding, either directly or indirectly, could be labelled as a "foreign agent". It has again reduced the space for free and independent media, as well as independent voices.
“Foreign agent” legislation goes against Russia's human rights obligations and commitments. The EU has repeatedly condemned this legislation, most recently in a statement by the External Action Service Spokesperson on 23 November. The extension of the law to include private individuals is yet another move to curb freedom of expression.
We will continue to call on the Russian authorities to respect their international obligations on freedom of association and freedom of speech. It is essential that Russian citizens are able to exercise freedom of association, including the right to join and participate in non-governmental organisations, which promote the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The European Union will continue to support Russian human rights activists and civil society, as we do worldwide, because this is a fundamental principle of the European Union. Our support is important, be it public statements, attending trials, supporting or meeting with them. We will keep monitoring developments in Russia, calling the authorities to account when they do not respect fundamental rights enshrined in their Constitution. We will insist on the need to respect the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and, in general, the Council of Europe conventions on democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.
Link to video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-182375