Sunday

23rd Sep 2018

Opinion

Georgia's EU visa waiver should not be politicised

  • The country is today more stable, democratic and prosperous than ever (Photo: wikipedia creative commons)

The EU is much in need of a success story. It is no secret that a string of recent events have seriously put the Union’s cohesion and external credibility to the test: Brexit (which is, of course, close to my heart), public disagreements over the response to migration and the EU’s response to terrorism and security concerns to name just three.

Against this backdrop, 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 EU should now embrace Georgia’s success.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The procedure for a third country to obtain visa liberalisation is on paper quite straightforward. Countries must meet a number of strict criteria, evaluated and assessed regularly through dialogues and reports.

The European Neighbourhood Policy supports this approach - more for more, rewards for reforms. It is the core of the EU’s much-discussed “soft power” approach to security and development.

In line with this, Georgia since 2012 has ratified seven international conventions as well as adopted eight national strategies, more than 60 legislative amendments and around 70 bylaws, instructions and regulations.

A reliable partner for the EU

While challenges remain, Georgia is today more stable, democratic and prosperous than ever - a reliable partner for the EU and a shining example of progress in a region which is strategically important for us.

Visa liberalisation is one of the most appealing “carrots” that the EU offers its neighbouring countries. It is something that 58 countries, from Albania to Venezuela, already enjoy.

It is not about being able to live, work or study in the EU; it does mean being able to travel freely to the EU’s Schengen zone for short stays for tourism, civil society and student exchanges and to do business.

This offers a tangible reward for reforms which are often costly and painful. Increasing people-to-people exchanges also cements stability as people internalise European values and build networks as part of the broader European family of nations. It is therefore clearly equally in the EU’s long-term interest.

The Georgian government is well aware of the significance of visa liberalisation and has unquestionably worked hard to not only meet but even surpass the EU’s stringent criteria.

With a political work programme which sets EU integration as the number one priority and a popular support rate of more than 75 percent for this goal, the government has a clear interest in delivering something more tangible that legislative texts and alignment of technical standards. Again, the EU should certainly share this goal.

Yet, the EU has repeatedly delayed the decision on visa liberalisation, firstly with the hope of granting similar privileges to Ukraine at the same time, then to prioritise concluding the deal for Turkey. Confusion with debates on migration and crime have not helped.

Georgia is an easy win

Visa liberalisation is a technical procedure. It should not be politicised. But if everything is in reality always political, then all the political arguments stand behind maintaining and strengthening our commitments and partnership with Georgia.

The country’s democratic credentials are sound, consistently climbing international rankings for free and fair elections, human rights, freedom from corruption and ease of doing business.

We in Brussels repeatedly describe the country as a “model student” and “frontrunner of the Eastern Partnership”. These are empty words if they are not matched by fulfilment of our commitments.

The EU is in desperate need of a success story in its neighbourhood. We most certainly cannot afford to alienate our friends or give any credence to those who claim all the EU offers is empty promises.

On the contrary. Through its determined - if not stubborn - quest for EU integration and rates of public support far higher than in any EU country, Georgia carries forward the vision of a Europe free, fair, and united, at a time when this vision is seriously put to the test.

The EU has rightly constructed its identity as a global power on its ability to project soft or normative power. Delaying visa liberalisation for Georgians, after the country has met and surpassed all the benchmarks the EU has set, would jeopardise our credibility as a soft power and could have consequences on the EU’s influence in the region as a whole.

Georgia is an easy win. By respecting its own side of the bargain the EU would gain far more than it risks losing.

Clare Moody is a member of the European Parliament for the South West England region for the Labour Party. She is co-chair of the EU-Georgia Friendship Group in the European Parliament

Germany blocks Georgia's EU visa bid

Germany has blocked Georgia's EU visa waiver, citing a crime spree. Critics say the political decision could undermine EU credibility in eastern Europe.

EU keeps former Soviet countries at arm's length

The EU kept former Soviet states at arm's length in the Riga summit, held in the shadow of Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Greece and the UK referendum gatecrashed the event.

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  2. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  3. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  4. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  5. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  6. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU
  7. Libya keeps coast guards rejected by the EU
  8. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us