23rd Mar 2018

MEPs back visa-free travel for Georgians

  • Georgia is first on the list of countries hoping to get visa-free Schengen travels for their nationals. (Photo: Gill M L)

Members of the European Parliament's civil liberties committee (Libe) have broadly backed the idea to lift visas for Georgian citizens travelling to the EU.

The committee voted in favour of the deal with Georgia on Monday (6 September) by 44 votes to five, and EU officials will now continue negotiations to finalise the agreement.

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EU governments had delayed visa liberalisation for Georgia this summer after Germany said Georgian gangs were responsible for a crime wave in the country.

Berlin insisted that visa waivers should be delayed until the bloc agreed easier rules to suspend visa-free travel, a process that is now under way.

Georgia’s president Giorgi Margvelashvili told EUobserver in June that if the visa deal failed, pro-Russian parties could be boosted in parliamentary elections to be held in October.

Claire Moody, a British Labour MEP, said the waiver is important not only for Georgia, but also for the EU.

"Georgia’s bid to gain visa-free travel to the Schengen zone has suffered numerous delays, despite the country having been recognised as 'ready' in December 2015,” the MEP, who is the co-chair of the EU-Georgia friendship group in the European Parliament, wrote in an op-ed for EUobserver on Monday.

"The EU should now embrace Georgia’s success."

Meanwhile, the Libe committee also suggested granting visa waivers to Ukrainians, but stalled on a similar proposal for Kosovans.

The European Commission said last year that Georgia and Ukraine had fulfilled all the technical benchmarks to grant their citizens visa-free travels, adding Kosovo and Turkey to that list in May.

But all of these projects have since stumbled.

The committee is due to vote on the Ukraine deal later this month. Ukraine’s visa deal, however, is marred by the country’s failure to fight corruption.

MEPs endorsed the Kosovo deal but did not give their negotiator a mandate to open talks with other EU institutions.

The process is left in limbo after Kosovo failed to solve a border dispute with Montenegro, which was one of the conditions for its waiver. The parliament also wants the country to more on the fight against organised crime.

Turkey was promised a fast-tracked visa process under the EU-Turkey migrant deal. But Ankara's reluctance to change its anti-terrorism legislation, which is one of the EU criteria, has obscured the prospect of the deal happening before October, which was the target date.

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