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EU Riga Summit opens - foreign media claims no free visas for Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, May 22
The EU Summit in Riga, which is hotly anticipated by Georgians in connection with the issue of visa liberation, has opened in Riga.

European Union (EU) leaders will meet representatives of the six EaP countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) on May 21-22 in Riga, Latvia to discuss the further development of each country’s relationship with the EU.

The Georgian delegation is led by Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili. The PM is accompanied by Georgia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Tamar Beruchashvili and Georgia's State Minister on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration David Bakradze.

Prior to making the final decision on whether to grant Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine a visa-free regime or not, 98 members of European Parliament (MEPs) addressed the heads of governments of EU member states in an open letter to support the European perspective of the countries at the Riga Summit.

"In particular we believe that the Riga Summit Declaration should be clear, strong and forward-looking and should concentrate, amongst other things, on further progress and high ambitions of three Associated Partners of the EU - Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine,” the statement reads.

The statement also reads that the Eastern Partnership is a well-designed policy and a strategically-important project in terms of the security of the European continent.

“It has been put into question, not because of doubts or insufficient commitments on the EU’s side, or those of its partner countries, but because of Russia and its imperialistic policy in the region. But instead of giving in to the difficulties, we choose to redouble our efforts and stay on course to give adequate answers that meet the ambitions and expectations of both sides of the partnership.”

The final decision will be known on May 22. However, areas of the foreign media already claim that the three countries will get no visa-free regime with the EU.

“The draft of EU’s statement prepared for the Eastern Partnership Riga Summit does not envisage any significant progress in terms of Euro integration for Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. No particular measures of integration are mentioned in the text, but the latter confirms each partner’s sovereign right to choose its ambition and aims in its relationship with the EU. The text is weaker than the Vilnius declaration adopted in 2013,” Radio Liberty announces.

According to Reuters, the Riga Summit will provide the Eastern Partnership countries with few offerings, since the EU has weakened in its ambitions due to fear of the Kremlin.

The position has been strengthened by the statement made by German Chancellor on May 21.

Visa-free travel rules for citizens of Georgia and Ukraine in the Schengen area will only be possible once all requirements are met, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel who spoke ahead of the EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga.

Referring to a report of the European Commission on implementation of visa liberalisation action plan by Georgia and Ukraine, Merkel said that the both countries put a great deal of effort, but it is “not yet enough” and “a lot still needs to be done” by Georgia and Ukraine in this regard.

When it comes to other benefits the European Commission has already launched the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) Facility for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

The Facility will provide some ˆ200 million worth of grants from the EU budget over the next 10 years. This contribution is expected to unlock new investments worth at least ˆ2 billion for the SMEs in the three DCFTA countries: Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. The financial means for the investments will be largely coming from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

"The European Commission promised concrete steps to boost trade and the exchange between the Union and our Eastern partners. Today we are delivering. The Association Agreements and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas work. They are the right avenue for bringing the economies of Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine closer to the EU and to our internal market. The ˆ2 billion are an investment to make these economies more competitive and an investment into local companies that will create more jobs for the population. They are a sign of the EU's strong commitment to further deepen our cooperation with our Eastern partners,” said the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Georgian analysts believe that permanent disappointment from the NATO and EU in terms of the lack of worthy outcomes might lead Georgians to feel antipathy towards the organizations.