Thursday

22nd Feb 2018

EU visa brake becomes top priority

EU ministers delayed a decision to grant visa-free travel to Georgia in Luxembourg on Friday (10 June) as they wait for a so-called emergency brake to be introduced.

Member states would like to set up a mechanism to suspend visa waivers with third countries more easily and more quickly in case of mass-scale overstays or bogus asylum claims.

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"Many delegations consider the reinforcement of the suspension mechanism is a prerequisite to agreeing to any further visa liberalisation," Klaas Dijkhoff, the Dutch state secretary for security and justice, said during the meeting, which he chaired.

The legislation to ease suspension of visa-free travel is now awaiting a vote in the European Parliament's civil liberties committee, expected to take place in July.

The issue of granting visa free travel to Georgia will also come up at the foreign affairs ministers' meeting on 20 June, but it is unlikely that a decision to lift visa requirements will be taken.

Ministers from Germany, France and Italy on Friday repeated their opposition to lifting visas for Georgians because of an alleged crime spree by Georgian gangs.

They were reluctant to say why the crime issue was brought up at this late stage, however.

Kosovo, Turkey and Ukraine are also waiting for visa liberalisation.

Ukraine, like Georgia, has fulfilled European Commission technical demands, with initial talks by EU diplomats due on 14 June.

Turkey was promised a fast-track visa process under the EU-Turkey migrant deal. But its refusal to alter anti-terrorism laws, a Commission demand, could hold up its bid.

Nothing is free

Ministers on Friday also discussed the Commission's recent proposal on tackling the refugee crisis by making development aid and trade perks conditional on countries stopping people from going to Europe.

"We need to address the root causes of people leaving, mainly for economic reasons," Dijkhoff said.

He said the EU also needed to speed up returns.

The Commission’s proposed €8 billion fund for Middle Eastern and African countries in the programme is to depend on member states’ contributions. But these could be slow in coming, as many national budgets are under strain.

"Of course, no member state will enthusiastically come running with bags of money”, Dijkoff said.

But he added that it would be a “good investment” if it were to “solve bigger problems for [European] societies”.

Turkey is safe

The ministers pledged to proceed with existing agreements, such as relocating asylum seekers from Greece and Italy and resettling refugees from Turkey.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said 139 people had been relocated from Greece to France on Thursday alone in what he called “an example to follow”.

He said that 2,195 people have been relocated so far from Greece and Italy.

Dijkhoff said “we confirmed again that we think Turkey is safe for returning migrants”.

His comment was a message to Greece to press ahead with returns, despite objections from some Greek courts and from international NGOs.

Border guards

Member states are also in talks with MEPs on the European Border Guard - an initiative to pool EU resources in a single agency to help protect the bloc's external borders.

The Dutch EU presidency aims to conclude the process by the end of June so that the guards can be deployed in summer, a peak time for migrant arrivals.

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