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23rd Jan 2021

Germany blocks Georgia's EU visa bid

  • Margvelashvili (l) with EU Council chief Donald Tusk in Brussels on Wednesday. The Georgian president went home empty-handed (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Germany has delayed Georgia’s bid to get EU visa-free travel in a political decision to be closely watched in Ukraine and beyond.

Germany, supported by France and Italy, said No to the move at an EU ambassadors’ meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (8 June). They did it the same day that Georgian president Giorgi Margvelashvili was in the EU capital to lobby for a Yes.

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Berlin said the German public was worried about a recent spate of home burglaries by Georgian criminal groups in Germany, diplomatic sources said.

It said Tbilisi must take action and the European Commission must report to what extent the problem exists in other EU countries before it can approve the visa waiver.

It also said the European Parliament (EP) should first ratify a new “suspension mechanism” that would let EU states freeze waivers in future if lots of visitors overstayed their 90-day limit or claimed asylum.

Home affairs ministers will discuss visa issues in Luxembourg on Friday. Foreign ministers will also discuss them on 20 June.

But Wednesday’s decision makes it all-but impossible for Georgia to get the waiver, which must also pass an EP vote, before the summer break.

It comes despite the fact Tbilisi had fulfilled all the EU commission’s technical demands.

“Every time we tried to get agreement [on the Georgia waiver], something different came up. This time it was crime. But could that really be the reason?”, an EU diplomat said on the German objection.

Ukraine

The Georgia case will be closely watched in Ukraine, which has also fulfilled EU commission demands.

EU diplomats will discuss Ukraine’s visa-free bid on 14 June.

But a diplomatic source familiar with Germany’s position on Ukraine said “the time’s not yet mature” for a positive decision because of the turbulent “political environment” in Kiev and because “a lot of [Ukrainian] people are coming over” to Europe.

Margvelashvili, the Georgian head of state, told EUobserver on Wednesday he was optimistic that the EU would grant the waiver before Georgia holds elections in October.

He said most Georgian people remain staunchly pro-EU. But he said the country’s small pro-Russia parties could gain ground if EU visas stayed in place. “The whole pro-Western bloc [in Georgia] needs this before the elections”, he said.

He dismissed the German crime spree allegation. He said Germany's own figures showed that Georgian nationals were second last in the list of foreign offenders.

Asked why Germany blocked the EU visa move, he said: “There are lots of questions, but no clear answers. I can honestly tell you I don’t understand it.”

He said that if EU states break their promises on visas, it would harm trust more broadly in EU offers of political association and free trade.

“You can hardly imagine how this would echo in other countries [in the region] when they are looking at the Georgian case. What will be their conclusions about the credibility of European processes?”, the president said.

Another rift

EU diplomats said Germany, France and Italy also risked creating another internal EU rift.

“According to a large majority … visa liberalisation for Georgia needs to go ahead. However, the member states that expressed doubts are among the largest, so their word carries weight,” one contact said.

A second EU diplomat said: “Eastern European countries, especially the Baltic states, want the visa issue to be cleared up as soon as possible.”

“They’re saying that if we don’t give the visa waiver to Georgians, then they will look to Russia instead”.

The 25 other ministers will ask France, Germany and Italy to clarify “what’s wrong” at Friday’s home affairs council, an EU official added.

EU visa-free travel entitles people to enter the 26-state Schengen travel zone without a permit. This does not include Ireland or the UK.

Turkey is also demanding a visa waiver by October.

But this is linked to an EU-Turkey deal on slowing the flow of migrants and Turkey has not yet fulfilled EU commission technical demands.

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