Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Five EU states push for Georgia visa waiver

  • Georgians had hoped to enjoy their first visa-free summer holidays in the EU this year (Photo: Curt Smith)

Five EU states have urged the bloc to grant visa-free travel to Georgia at the earliest opportunity for the sake of EU “credibility”.

Interior and foreign affairs ministers from Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania issued the appeal in a letter, seen by EUobserver, on Thursday (9 June) to the Dutch presidency of the EU Council and the EU foreign service.

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The letter said they hoped that an agreement could be reached at a home affairs ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on Friday or a foreign ministers’ meeting on 20 June.

They spoke out after France, Germany and Italy, at an EU ambassadors’ meeting on Wednesday, blocked the move.

Germany, which led the rebellion, cited domestic public concern over an alleged crime spree by gangs of Georgian nationals.

The letter said that since Georgia had fulfilled all EU conditions for the visa waiver “we need to deliver on our side as well”.

“Any further postponement to take a decision will undermine our credibility and might have adverse effects on European integration-related reforms in Georgia as well as in other partner countries,” the five countries added.

Ukraine has also fulfilled European Commission visa-free conditions, with EU diplomats to discuss its waiver on 14 June.

However, Germany has indicated that it might delay the Ukraine decision as well.

One EU diplomat said Germany delayed the Georgia move because it wanted to grant the waiver to Ukraine at the same time. The diplomat said Germany might delay Ukraine to use the waiver as leverage on the Minsk ceasefire accord.

“Some member states would slow down visa liberalisation for Georgia in order to appease Ukraine,” he said. He added that EU visa policy “should help in keeping Ukraine fully on board in the Minsk process”.

The Minsk deal, which was brokered by France and Germany last year, obliged Russia to pull out of Ukraine and Ukraine to devolve power to what are today Russia-controlled regions.

The EU diplomat said if things go well, both states should get the visa perks in September.

The European Parliament must ratify the move, but that process would be hard to complete before the summer break even if EU states gave the green light to MEPs, the diplomat said.

Speaking to EUobserver in Brussels on Wednesday, Georgian president Giorgi Margvelashvili said he received “strong support” from MEPs when he visited Strasbourg on Tuesday.

He said the visa move would help “pro-Western and pro-European” parties retain support in Georgia elections in October.

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