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05/12/2016

EU moves closer to visa-free travel for Georgia, Ukraine may follow

Europe's East

EU moves closer to visa-free travel for Georgia, Ukraine may follow

Two-day visa granted to Ukrainian journalist for visiting Brussels, 2013.

[Georgi Gotev]

A European Parliament committee yesterday (5 September) backed visa-free travel to the European Union for Georgia and moved towards granting another ex-Soviet republic, Ukraine, the same right, after migration worries delayed the process before the summer.

The committee voted 44 in favour versus five against for the Georgian liberalisation, although the decision must still be approved in the so-called ‘trilogue’ negotiations between the parliament, EU states and the executive European Commission.

Juncker recommends visa liberalisation for Ukraine, Georgia, Kosovo

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Friday the EU should offer visa-free short-stay travel to the bloc for Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo – all three locked in bitter disputes with Russia.

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EU states held off an expected decision to ease travel rules for Georgia in June as Germany and other countries voiced reservations, saying any new visa waivers should be delayed until the bloc agreed easier rules to suspend visa-free travel.

That process is now also awaiting trilogue talks.

Ahead of an expected vote by the committee later this month, Mariya Gabriel, a Bulgarian lawmaker with the parliament’s largest faction, the European People’s Party, told Monday’s session that travel rules should also be relaxed for Ukraine.

“Politically and strategically it is very important that we deliver visa-liberalisation for Ukraine,” said another member of European Parliament, Portugal’s Ana Gomes of the Socialists.

Like Georgia, Ukraine sees visa-free travel to the EU as part of a geopolitical tussle with Russia over the ex-Soviet states’ Western aspirations, which Moscow opposes.

Poroshenko vows to end political crisis, wins promise of visa-free travel

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tried to reassure the EU on Thursday (17 March) that his country would soon overcome a political crisis that has rattled Western lenders, and he won support for Kyiv’s cherished goal of visa-free travel in Europe for its citizens.

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The issue of fostering closer ties with the EU was at the heart of mass street protests in Kyiv that toppled a Moscow-allied president there in early 2014.

Moscow responded by annexing Crimea from Kyiv that March and unrest then spread to eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed militias took up arms against Kyiv government troops in a conflict that killed more than 9,500 and remains unresolved.

The EU, as well as the United States, slapped sanctions on Russia over the turmoil in Ukraine. While a growing number of EU states now speak of the need to re-engage with Russia, the lawmakers on Monday stressed the EU stood by Ukraine.

Georgia was at the heart of international tensions in 2008 when a five-day war between Tbilisi and Moscow in August led to the previous sharp decline in ties between Russia and the West.

Lifting the visa barrier for Georgians should be the EU response to Russia’s bullying tactics

A first and immediate step to respond to Russia’s objective to annex the territory of the former Soviet Union is visa liberalisation, writes David Bakradze.

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The south Caucasus country of 3 million is due to hold parliamentary elections in October.

In a sign that the European Parliament wanted another hopeful, Kosovo, to do more before it is given visa-free travel, the lawmakers endorsed a corresponding proposal, but did not give their negotiators mandate to open the trilogue talks.

The EU says Kosovo must ratify a border deal with Montenegro before it can get more relaxed travel rules to the bloc. But the frontier deal is controversial in Kosovo and final parliamentary approval has been delayed.

Kosovo postpones contested border vote

Kosovo’s government dropped plans for a parliamentary vote on a bitterly contested law on establishing its definitive border with Montenegro yesterday (1 September) after coalition allies stayed away from the session.

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The EU is also in uneasy talks on granting visa-free travel to Turkey, though both Ankara and Brussels now admit that will be delayed from a previous target date of October.

Kosovo postpones contested border vote

Kosovo’s government dropped plans for a parliamentary vote on a bitterly contested law on establishing its definitive border with Montenegro yesterday (1 September) after coalition allies stayed away from the session.

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