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European Union/Georgia: Negotiations on Visa-Free Travel

(Nov. 11, 2016) The European Parliament, in the final stages of the integration process of Georgia into the European Union, called on the Council of the EU to start negotiations on a visa waiver for Georgia “without any further delay.” (Press Release, European Parliament, EP Urges Council to Open Talks on a Visa Waiver for Georgia “Without Any Further Delay” (Oct. 26, 2016).)

At present, Georgia belongs to the list of states whose citizens need a visa to enter the Schengen zone. (Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 of 15 March 2001 Listing the Third Countries Whose Nationals Must Be in Possession of Visas When Crossing the External Borders and Those Whose Nationals Are Exempt from That Requirement, 2001 OJ (L 81) 1, EUR-LEX.) The Schengen zone includes 26 member countries (most of the EU States, except for Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania, and the United Kingdom), sharing common travel and movement rights; their citizens are free from passport checks and border control within the zone. (Schengen Area Countries List, SCHENGEN VISA INFO (last visited Nov. 8, 2016); Schengen Area, European Commission, Migration and Home Affairs website (last updated Jan. 29, 2016).) When the visa liberalization process for Georgia is finalized, it will allow visa-free travel between the two jurisdictions for both EU and Georgian citizens, for a period of stay of 90 days in any 180-day period. (Press Release, European Commission, European Commission Proposes to Lift Visa Obligations for Citizens of Georgia (Mar. 9, 2016), EUROPA.)

According to the Council, the entry into force of visa liberalization for Georgia is expected to occur at the same time as the entry into force of the European Commission’s new “suspension mechanism.” The suspension mechanism will, in the future, allow EU states to re-impose visa restrictions and end visa-free travel as a matter of urgency, such as in cases of sudden and substantial increases in irregular migration, unfounded asylum applications, and similar situations. (European Commission, Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council, Amending Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 Listing the Third Countries Whose Nationals Must Be in Possession of Visas When Crossing the External Borders and Those Whose Nationals Are Exempt from That Requirement (Revision of the Suspension Mechanism), No. 2016/0142 (COD), EUROPA (May 4, 2016).)

The EU’s final decision on the extension of short-term visas to up to 90 days depends on both the new partner countries’ fulfilling the technical and political requirements of EU membership and on the political consent of the Member States, as had been the case for Moldova when it obtained the right to visa-free travel in April 2014. (Two Years of Visa Free Travel for Moldovan Citizens to the European Union, Embassy of the Republic of Moldova to the Kingdom of Belgium website (Apr. 28, 2016).) To this end, on June 10, 2016, EU Ministers of the Justice and Home Affairs Council had discussed the issue of visa liberalization for Georgia. The Ministers were unable to come to a unanimous decision due to opposition from a number of EU Member States, and the decision to abolish visas for citizens of Georgia was blocked at that meeting. (Press Release, European Council, Justice and Home Affairs Council, 09-10/06/2016: Visa Liberalisation (June 10, 2016) EUROPA (scroll down page to view).)

Background

The Visa Liberalization Dialogue between the EU and Georgia was launched in June 2012. (Press Release, European Commission, The EU Starts a Visa Liberalisation Dialogue with Georgia (June 4, 2012).) Before the inauguration of the Dialogue, the EU and Georgia had concluded a Visa Facilitation Agreement and a Readmission Agreement, both of which entered into force in March, 2011. (Agreement Between the European Union and Georgia on the Facilitation of the Issuance of Visas, 2011 OJ (L 52) 34, EUR-LEX; Agreement Between the European Union and Georgia on the Readmission of Persons Residing Without Authorisation, 2011 OJ (L 52) 47, EUROPA.)

Following the opening of the Visa Liberalization Dialogue, in February 2013 the European Commission presented the Georgian government with an Action Plan on Visa Liberalization (VLAP) and proposed visa-free travel for short stays in the European Union for Georgian nationals holding biometric passports as soon as all the benchmarks set in the VLAP have been met by the Government of Georgia. (Georgia State Commission of Migration Issues, Visa Liberalization Action Plan (last visited Nov. 8, 2016).) The VLAP is structured around four “blocks”: document security, including biometrics (block I); migration and integrated border management, including asylum (block II); public order and security (block III); and external relations and fundamental rights (block IV). (Id.)

From November 2013 until December 2015, the Commission adopted four progress reports on Georgia’s implementation of the VLAP. (Visa Liberalization with Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia (last updated Mar, 11, 2016), EUROPA.) Based on its fourth and final progress report, adopted on December 18, 2015, the Commission confirmed that Georgia had met all the benchmarks set for each of the four blocks of the VLAP’s second phase and that it would present, in early 2016, a legislative proposal to amend Regulation (EC) No 539/2001, transferring Georgia to the list of visa-free countries (from Annex I to Annex II). (European Commission, Fourth Progress Report on Georgia’s Implementation of the Action Plan on Visa Liberalization (Dec. 18, 2015) EUROPA.)

As agreed, according to the pre-defined procedures, on March 9, 2016, the Commission officially published a proposal for visa liberalization for Georgia. The proposal was followed by the adoption of a negotiation position by the Permanent Representatives Committee (Coreper) on behalf of the Council on visa liberalization for Georgia on October 5, 2016. (Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council Amending Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 Listing the Third Countries Whose Nationals Must Be in Possession of Visas When Crossing the External Borders and Those Whose Nationals Are Exempt from That Requirement (Georgia), COM(2016) 142 final (Mar. 9, 2016), EUROPA; Coreper, EUR-LEX (last visited Nov. 8, 2016); Visas: Council Agrees [to] Its Negotiating Position on Visa Liberalisation for Georgia, Mission of Georgia to the European Union and the Embassy of Georgia to the United Kingdom of Belgium Also Accredited to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg website (Oct. 5, 2016); Press Release, Council of Europe Visas: Council Agrees [to] Its Negotiating Position on Visa Liberalisation for Georgia (Oct. 5, 2016), EUROPA.)

Prepared by Irma Gabriadze, Law Library Professional Fellow, under the supervision of Ruth Levush, Senior Foreign Law Specialist.