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Georgia gains positive visa-liberalization report

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Monday, December 21
Georgian and foreign politicians highlighted that December 18 was an “historic day” for Georgia, as the country received a positive visa-liberalization report from the European Commissions, a precondition for Georgians being able to travel to the Schengen zone without visas from the summer of 2016.

"The Commission considers that Georgia meets all the benchmarks set in respect of the four blocks of the second phase of the VLAP. Taking into account overall relations between the EU and Georgia, the Commission will present in early 2016 a legislative proposal to amend Regulation (EC) No 539/2001,” the European Commission report read.

The Commission published its final report based on the outcome of continuous monitoring and reporting carried out since the launch of the EU-Georgia Visa Liberalisation Dialogue in June 2012.

After the technical approval, the European Commission will ask the European Council and European Parliament to launch procedures to formally offer Georgia a visa-free regime to the Schengen zone.

This process will take about six or seven months and Georgian citizens will be able to travel to Europe visa free by summer 2016.

“Georgia has showed once again that it is a frontrunner of the Eastern Partnership. In response, Europe says that it is open to Georgian citizens,” Georgia’s Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili said.

In his statement, Garibashvili also touched on the procedures and regulations Georgians must adhere to if they wanted to enjoy visa free travel with EU member states. Initial predictions state this could happen as early as five months from now, when all necessary legislative procedures are completed by the EU side.

“Based on the Commission’s recommendation, next year Georgian citizens will be able to travel to the European Union without a visa. Obviously it does not mean that they can buy tickets and travel to Europe right away. It may take several months,” said the country’s top official.

“Our citizens will be able to stay in the European Union for up to 90 days in a six month period. They will be able to plan last-minute family trips or business meetings, surprise their friends and relatives, attend summer schools and participate in conferences and trade fairs,” Garibashvili added.

"I welcome the European Commission's report on [Georgia’s] implementation of its Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP), which completely reflects the progress Georgia has made in the past three years,” President Giorgi Margvelashvili said.

"Our choice is European choice; Europe is our prosperity and progress; More Europe in Georgia and more Georgia in Europe,” the president added.

The leaders of European states and other EU officials have taken to Twitter to congratulate Georgia, Ukraine and Kosovo on the release of their positive visa liberalisation progress reports.

The current Government said it has carried out a wide range of instructional and legislative reforms in the following directions to achieve the goal; better document security, integrated border management, improved combating of organised crime, enforcing judicial cooperation in criminal matters, better protection of personal data, freedom of movement and better issuance of travel and identity documents. The state also implemented reforms to better address migration management, asylum, human trafficking, anti-corruption, money laundering, drugs, law enforcement cooperation and citizens’ rights.

The opposition also positively assessed the process, though members of former ruling party, the United National Movement, stressed that it was to the credit of the previous state leadership that the country had reached the milestone.