EU moves towards visa facilitation for Georgians
The European Commission recommended on Thursday (25 September) that the bloc's justice and home affairs ministers open negotiations on facilitating visa issuing procedures for Georgians, who currently face tougher travel conditions than Russians.
"Easier access to visas will certainly improve co-operation and exchanges between the EU and Georgia," Jacques Barrot, the block's justice commissioner said, stressing that ordinary citizens will find it easier and cheaper to travel, study and do business in the EU.
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He called the proposal a "balanced" one since it also includes a re-admission agreement between the EU and Georgia, "ensuring the return of those who illegally stay in the EU to their home country."
The commission's move follows a decision taken by the European Council on 1 September, announcing visa facilitation measures with Georgia. The EU's executive body has now drafted a mandate for the member states to develop a visa facilitation agreement with Georgia, "providing facilitation for Georgian citizens equivalent to those granted to Russian citizens" a commission press release states.
The commission is proposing to the member states a list of ideas that include fewer documents required to obtain a visa, multiple-entry visas with a long period of validity, waiving or reducing fees for specific categories yet to be defined and setting deadlines for processing visa applications, as well as a possible exemption from the visa obligation for holders of diplomatic passports.
Neither the commission nor the Council spokespeople could confirm to EUobserver whether the visa facilitation agreement with Georgia will be on the agenda of the next meeting of European justice ministers.
A similar EU visa facilitation agreement with Russia has already been in place since 1 June 2007, with several European politicians noting that it is easier for a South Ossetian or Abkhazian person - many of whom hold Russian passports - to travel in the EU than it is for Georgian citizens.
In the common declaration issued on 9 August by the presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, following the Russia-Georgia conflict, they claimed the current visa facilitation programme with Russia was "pointless," since Moscow issued passports to "foreigners" and then used this "EU-given privilege to claim intervention rights" in order to "protect Russian citizens."
Under the current visa facilitation agreement with Russia, EU visa fees are fixed at €35, the issuing period is cut to 10 days and the number of required documents is reduced. Students, schoolchildren and disabled people are exempt from visa fees, while businessmen and people visiting relatives in the EU find it easier to travel.
A re-admission agreement with Russia is also in place, designed to facilitate the expulsion of clandestine migrants originating or transiting this country on their way to the EU.
Georgia lifts visa restrictions for Russians
Meanwhile, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has lifted the visa restrictions on Russians imposed during the military conflict over South Ossetia.
Russians are now able again to obtain Georgian visas at any checkpoint on a shared border for $20 (€14).
But diplomatic ties between the two countries remain on ice, after Moscow recognised the independence of Georgian breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia.