EU member states approve visa-free travel for Georgia
BRUSSELSEuropean Union member states on Feb. 27 approved visa-free travel for Georgia, after agreeing safeguards to prevent any upsurge in arrivals from the former Soviet satellite.
Georgia, along with much larger Ukraine, has been urging the EU to grant visa-free travel so as to show its citizens that close ties with Europe can deliver concrete benefits.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the decision marked “a historic day for Georgia and its citizens,” AFP reported.
“Today’s adoption recognizes the tremendous efforts undertaken by the Georgian authorities and the Georgian people to carry out far-reaching and difficult reforms,” Avramopoulos said, according to a statement of his remarks in Tblisi, the Georgian capital.
“These reforms also bring Georgia closer to EU standards, facilitating cooperation with the European Union and bringing the country a step forward on its European path,” he added.
Under the accord, which now requires formal signature by the 28 member states and the European Parliament, Georgian citizens will be able to travel visa-free for 90 days in the EU during any 180-day period.
The accord does not apply to the United Kingdom or Ireland.
The original plan caused some concern that Georgians might abuse the system to come and stay illegally in a European Union still grappling with the aftermath of the 2015 migrant crisis.
In December last year, member states decided to allow visa requirements to be reintroduced at short notice if there was an upsurge in arrivals.
Turkey, which applied to be a member of the EU in 1987 and started accession negotiations in 2005, has pressed for a visa waiver from the bloc for its citizens as part of an EU-Turkey migrant deal signed in March 2016.
In exchange for Turkey curbing the flow of migrants into Greece via the short Aegean crossing between the two neighbors, the EU vowed to allow visa-free travel for Turkish citizens provided Turkey fulfills all of the 72 criteria.
The EU has said Turkey must change its anti-terror laws before it will agree to waive visas, but Ankara has refused to make any change given its current battles with armed groups at home and abroad.
While only a few criteria remain unfulfilled, Turkish citizens are not permitted visa-free access to the EU’s Schengen zone due to the unchanged laws.