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Conference discusses relaxation of EU visa requirements

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, November 23
A round table discussion on visa free travel to the EU was held at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel on November 22nd. The event was organized by the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development (CIPDD) and financed by the Open Society Georgia Foundation. The meeting was attended by Georgian officials, civil society representatives and by invited guests.

The meeting revealed that the EU is closely observing developments in Georgia and that the new Georgian government is actively working to relax Schengen Visa requirements for Georgian citizens. However EU officials emphasized that Schengen Visa free travel for Georgian citizens is unlikely in the near future.

“The better you perform the better the outcome will be. We support Georgian advances in this field. However we are waiting for positive steps in Georgia's should continue to work hard in this direction. The journey will not be short…” Philip Dimitrov, EU representative to Georgia stated.

The current Georgian government is waiting for the EU to deliver its Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP) to Georgia next month. Much has been done to develop closer relations with the EU and in the relaxation of visa requirements, according to Tea Akhvlediani, director of the Euro Integration Department of the Foreign Ministry. She cited the agreements on readmission of Georgian citizens living abroad and negotiations on EU associate status as successful examples of this. She added that Georgia has successfully made reforms in a number of fields.

“We should point out that in many fields Georgia has already shown progress and the advancement was also mentioned by the EU. These reforms include protection of human rights, inner stability, immigration issues, etc.” Akhvlediani stated.

The Georgian Prime Minister's representative Archil Karaulashvili, stated that when the action plan is delivered to Georgia the country will have to undertake actions in two directions.

“There are two stages: legislative and executive. Reflecting EU demands in legislation is easier than fulfilling them as implementation requires more time. We are not anticipating completion of both legislative and executive stages by the time of the EU Vilnius summit next year. Even if we could manage to carry out both by then, the EU would require time to observe and make conclusions about how the reforms were conducted,” Karaulashvili stated.

Representative of the Interior Ministry Miranda Khabazi, stressed that EU recommendations and agreements with the organization have been successfully implemented in the country.

“Agreements on readmission [of Georgian citizens previously living abroad] are being implemented especially successfully. There are several ministries in the country which are actively collaborating in this field.” Khabazi stated.

Representative of Georgian Reforms Development Association and former Deputy Foreign Minister Sergi Kapanadze, focused his attention on those threats which the country might face in relaxing visa requirements.

“Currently, the government is divided. Parliament is polarized which might have a negative effect. Visa liberation is an issue for which complete consensus from the ruling party and the opposition is very important,” Kapanadze said. Kapanadze added that the new government’s capacity to undertake successful reforms is also essential.

“It is a period when due to coming of the new government, employees are leaving their posts or are being dismissed. The new government should pay attention that competent and experienced staff members should be retained.” Kapanadze stated.

The current problems on giving visas to Georgian citizens for individual EU states were also discussed at the round table conference. Each EU country decides whom to let in to but there are no restrictions on travel within those countries which are signatories to the Schengen Agreement. Government representatives present stressed that serious relaxation of visa requirements is not anticipated in the near future.

“Now, we don't have an action plan so we don't know which direction we should take. Once we receive the action plan it will take some time to implement its proposals."Akhvlediani said.

The moderator of the meeting and head of CIPDD Ghia Nodia, emphasized the importance of such round table discussions. According to Nodia such conferences help better inform the public about the prospects of the relaxation of visa requirements, what progress the country has made in this direction and what challenges the country still faces.