Georgian citizens will be able to enter the Schengen area without a visa for short stays, under a new law passed by Parliament on Thursday.
The legislation still needs to be formally approved by the Council and will only enter into force once the visa suspension mechanism, which allows the temporary reintroduction of visas in the event of migration surges or risks to public security, is in place.
Parliament´s rapporteur for the proposal, Mariya Gabriel (EPP, BG), acknowledged the “broad and complex reforms” carried out by Georgia in order to get the visa waiver and thanked the country's authorities and citizens for their consistency and patience. She also congratulated them on the strength of their democratic conviction and noted that the visa exemption brings the country closer to the EU.
Under the visa exemption, endorsed in plenary by 553 votes to 66, with 28 abstentions, Georgians who hold a biometric passport will have the right to enter the EU visa-free for 90 days in any 180-day period, for business, tourist or family purposes, but not to work.
Tbilisi has complied with all the benchmarks of its visa liberalisation plan, the text notes, underlining that “continuous fulfilment by Georgia of such criteria, especially on the fight against organised crime, will be duly monitored by the Commission”.
The visa waivers apply to the Schengen area, which includes 22 EU member states (all except Ireland, the UK, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria), plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The legal change transferring Georgia from the list of countries whose nationals need a visa to enter the EU (the “negative” list) to the list of countries exempted from this requirement (the “positive” list) will have now to be approved by the Council of Ministers. Following its formal signature, the text will be published in the EU Official Journal.
The visa waiver for Georgia will enter into force on the same date as the revised visa suspension mechanism, approved by Parliament on 15 December but still pending finalisation of the official translation of the legal texts.
On 5 October 2016, the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) agreed, on behalf of the Council, a negotiating position on visa liberalisation for Georgia. It confirmed the Commission proposal to provide for visa-free travel for EU citizens when travelling to the territory of Georgia and for citizens of this country when travelling to the EU, for a period of stay of 90 days in any 180-day period.
The Council takes the view that the entry into force of visa liberalisation for Georgia should be at the same time as the entry into force of the new "suspension mechanism".
On the basis of this mandate, the Slovak presidency will start negotiations with the European Parliament.
"The Council has today demonstrated its strong commitment to visa-free travel for Georgian citizens, taking into account Georgia's reforms. The Presidency believes that the path of credible reforms is the right one and should be encouraged. We count on the European Parliament's support in finalising the related process so that the citizens of Georgia can enjoy visa-free travel as soon as possible", said Peter Javorčík, Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the EU, and President of the Permanent Representatives Committee.
The proposal for visa liberalisation for Georgia was published by the Commission on 9 March 2016. The Commission concluded that the country had met all the benchmarks for the exemption of the visa requirement.
Once the new visa regime for Georgia is agreed with the Parliament and formally adopted, it will move the country from Annex I of Regulation 539/2001 (countries whose nationals need a visa to enter the Schengen area) to Annex II of the same regulation (visa free countries), thus providing for visa-free travel for EU citizens when travelling to the territory of Georgia and for citizens of this country when travelling to the EU, for a period of stay of 90 days in any 180-day period.
In the context of the current migratory situation in the European Union and taking into account the Commission's proposals for visa liberalisation of Georgia, Ukraine, Turkey and Kosovo and the discussions with member states, the Commission decided on 4 May 2016 to present a proposal to amend Regulation 539/2001 to revise the current suspension mechanism.
The main objective of the revised regulation is to strengthen the suspension mechanism. It does this by making it easier for member states to notify circumstances which might lead to a suspension, by enabling the Commission to trigger the mechanism on its own initiative, and by tasking the Commission to send an annual report to the European Parliament and Council on the extent to which visa-exempt third countries continue to meet the necessary criteria.
The possible grounds for suspension have been extended and the use of the mechanism will also be facilitated by shortening reference periods and deadlines in order to allow for a faster procedure. The discussions between the Parliament and the Council on the visa suspension mechanism are still ongoing.
Ireland and the United Kingdom will not be subject to the application of these measures, in accordance with the protocols annexed to the EU treaties. The visa regime of these member states remains subject to their national legislation.
TBILISI, DFWatch–In a vote on Monday, a majority in the EU Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) supported giving visa-free access to the Schengen area for Georgian citizen.
44 voted for raising visa rules for Georgian citizens, while five voted against. Germany was among the countries that voiced strong reservations, according to Reuters.
It was Germany that took the initiative in June to put the brakes on further visa liberalization in the EU, after a migrant crisis brought more than a million people into Europe last year.
At the same meeting Monday, the “LIBE” committee also supported offering visa-free travel to citizens of Kosovo.
After the vote, the proposal still needs to go through further rounds of negotiations within the EU’s complicated decision-making procedures before a final decision can be made.
EU enlargement czar Johannes Hahn recently told Radio Liberty that he thinks this procedure may be completed in October or November.
Georgian people highly relies on the decision of the Council of the European Union, scheduled for June 10, 2016 in Luxemburg, where the ministers of Justice and Home Affairs of the EU member states will make a decision on visa liberalization regime for Georgia.
Visa liberalization will enable Georgian citizens to travel freely in the Schengen area countries and will promote people to people contacts and bring Georgian citizens ever closer to the European values. Moreover, the decision is crucial shortly before the parliamentary election in Georgia to be held on October 8, 2016. The positive decision, on visa liberalization will strengthen Georgia’s commitment to European choice and will demonstrate to the citizens of Georgia tangible benefits of this choice.
According to the European Commission, Georgia has fully complied with the commitments of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan. Therefore, we call on the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs of the EU member states:
- To take into account the Fourth Progress Report prepared by European Commission, dated December 18, 2015, and its recommendations on the abolition of short-term visas for Georgia.
- Not to delay a decision on lifting the visa requirements to the next meeting.
- To discuss the case of Georgia based on an individualized approach, taking into account Georgia's fulfillment of the visa liberalization requirements and commitments, Georgia's forthcoming parliamentary elections and the effect of growing Russian “soft power” pressure on Georgia's European choice.
- To conduct its decision-making process according to the requirements and methodology defined by the Visa Liberalization Action Plan.
Link for signing the petition is here.
The European Commission has offered the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union to cancel visas for Ukrainian citizens. A relevant document with the proposal on abolishing visas for Ukrainians has been posted on the website of the European Commission. This proposal comes after the Commission gave a positive assessment last December, confirming that Ukraine successfully met all benchmarks under the Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP).
"Once the proposal will be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports will no longer require visas when travelling for short stays of up to 90 days to the Schengen area. The visa-free travel will apply to all EU Member States except for Ireland and the UK, as well as the four Schengen associated countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland). The exemption concerns only short-stay visas valid for up to 90 days of travel in any 180-day period for business, tourist or family purposes. The visa exemption does not provide for the right to work in the EU," the European Commission said in a press release.
Other entry conditions for accessing the Schengen area will continue to apply, including the need to be able to prove sufficient financial means and the purpose of the travel, the commission said.