EU negotiators said on Thursday (8 December) they have resolved an internal row that had delayed visa-free travel to Europe for Ukrainians and Georgians.
The European Commission and the bloc’s 28 members will be able to reimpose visa requirements more quickly and more easily under a compromise deal amid fears over immigration and terrorism.
The deal struck between the European Parliament and the member states “will facilitate the immediate consideration of the two visa liberalisation proposals for Georgia and Ukraine”, MEP Agustin Diaz de Mera said.
EU institutions exerted maximum pressure to overcome the hurdle. Ukraine was promised visa liberalisation if it met a number of conditions, including steps to tackle corruption. But visa liberalisation has not materialised yet as the EU wants to put an emergency suspension mechanism in place first.
Ukraine and Georgia are looking to visa-free travel to build a future with the European Union, but in doing so they have sparked deep hostility and suspicion in their Soviet-era master Russia.
Georgia has a population of nearly five million people and Ukraine has a population of just over 44 million people, according to the CIA website.
The deal on visa suspension must still be formally approved by the member states and the European Parliament.
“This agreement is balanced, and is extremely important for both the effectiveness and credibility of the union’s visa liberalisation policy,” Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák said.
“The current suspension mechanism is not adequate and will now be improved,” following the deal, said Kaliňák, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.
“The fact that we have reached an agreement should open the door to further progress on visa liberalisation talks with other countries that meet all the necessary requirements,” Kaliňák added.
Under the deal, visa requirements may be reintroduced if there is a surge of citizens from a non-EU country like Ukraine or Georgia staying irregularly in EU territory.
They can also be reintroduced if there is a rise in unfounded asylum applications, or a lack of cooperation on returning migrants.
Visas could also be reintroduced if nationals from a non-EU country, like Ukraine or Georgia, are deemed to pose a security threat.
Turkey is also seeking visa-free travel to Europe for its citizens under a deal to curb the flow of migrants, but Brussels says it has failed so far to meet several benchmarks, including reforming its counter-terror laws.