Georgia’s government has hired Brussels-based public affairs and government relations consultancy Cambre Associates.
The government is paying EUR 40,000 per month for the services provided by the firm, according to a six-month contract signed by the Georgian State Ministry for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration in February and made public by the Georgian government on March 6.
According to the contract, services provided by Cambre include “supporting and advising government of Georgia and its agencies on foreign developments, which affect the interests of Georgia, formulating strategies and policy initiatives in the pursuit of these interests, lending personal support to senior officials or the Government of Georgia in fulfilling their duties in the field of foreign policy, supporting Georgia's EU and NATO aspirations, relations with media and opinion makers, facilitating arrangement of relevant events and meetings and educating Europe about developments in Georgia.”
Cambre Associates, which is based in Brussels, also has an office in Madrid.
Also in February the new government hired Patton Boggs, an influential Washington lobbying and law firm, which last year was providing services to Bidzina Ivanishvili and his Georgian Dream coalition. Government is paying USD 90,000 per month to the firm, under the six-month contract.
The U.S. lobbying disclosure requirements are more stringent than in Europe, which makes tracking of lobbying efforts in Washington easier than in the EU; as a result, lobbying efforts from Georgia in Europe have remained less accessible for public scrutiny than such efforts in the United States.
Release of the contract with Cambre marks the first time when the Georgian government made details of its lobbying efforts in Europe public.
Tamar Beruchashvili, deputy state minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, told journalists on March 6 that “80 percent of contracts” with lobbying firms under the previous government were classified as secret.
These contracts were mainly made by the National Security Council (NSC). Beruchashvili said that GEL 32 million had been spent on these contracts by the previous government over the past two years.
President Saakashvili’s administration and NSC have been a frequent target of criticism over recent years for spending taxpayers’ money on lobbying efforts, in particular opponents were accusing them of using state funds for lobbying specifically for Saakashvili’s UNM party. NSC was responding that lobbying efforts were aimed purely on promoting national interests, mainly related to NATO and EU integration.
“Number of measures under these contracts really served protection of country’s interests, but [purpose of] large part of [those contracts] is a source of suspicion,” Beruchashvili said on March 6.
After the new government, led by PM Ivanishvili, significantly cut NSC’s annual funding from last year’s GEL 21 million to GEL 1.8 million in 2013, NSC had to drop lobbying contracts, including with Podesta Group and Gephardt Group Government Affairs in the United States. President Saakashvili’s administration now has a ten-month contract worth USD 200,000 with consultant Gregory Maniatis of Ithaca Group “as a government relations and communications consultant in the United States.”
In her remarks with journalists Tamar Beruchashvili, the deputy state minister, tried to stress that “100 percent” of lobbying efforts by the new government “will serve the interests of our country” and these efforts would be made “with use of much less budgetary funds” and “under the condition of maximum transparency.” She also said that “the main purpose” of the contracts with Patton Boggs and Cambre Associates was “supporting Georgia’s integration with NATO and the European Union.”