Amidst objections from France, Germany and Italy, the European Union’s ambassadors on June 8 opted to postpone discussions about scrapping EU entry visas for Georgian citizens. Their second thoughts are causing concerns in Georgia, where the government has long touted visa-free travel to the EU as a major leap toward Tbilisi’s ultimate goal of Western integration.
Increased public wariness toward immigrants appears to be to blame for the EU dragging its feet on the visa liberalization plan, which has been plodding along through various EU structures.
France, Germany and Italy appear to be the main European opponents to the visa-liberalization plans for Georgia.
Politico reported in late April that Germany and France had crafted a proposal that argues that the “current migration and refugee trends make it necessary to have an efficient mechanism in place to suspend visa liberalization.”
Refugee concerns apparently prompted Italy to agree with that position.
The EU’s row with Turkey, Georgia’s western neighbor, over Ankara’s refusal to amend its anti-terrorism laws in exchange for visa-free travel may well have soured France, Germany and Italy further. That spells trouble not only for Georgia, but Ukraine and Kosovo as well.
Germany, though, had a bit of its own concern. German officials have recently expressed worries that the easing of visa requirements for Georgia could somehow result in a hike in city burglaries by “[i]nternational traveling gangs.”
That stance prompted some Georgian students in Germany to pen a protest letter to the government and media outlets, Agenda.ge reported.
In Georgia, getting visa liberalization with the EU is seen as a major step toward the much-desired European integration and a move away from Russia. It is also perceived as a yardstick for the government’s dexterity in foreign affairs and domestic reform.
That yardstick is even more critical for the government, given what is shaping up to be a bitterly contested campaign for parliamentary elections in October.
Consequently, Georgia’s top officials have been lining up to assure the EU chiefs that the country should travel visa-free. Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili phoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili is holding meetings in Strasbourg and Brussels, while Georgian Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili covered Berlin.
“Our entire diplomatic corps is mobilized to get a positive decision and as soon as possible,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani, Interpressnews reported.
Georgia invested heavily in preparing for the visa waiver, including by tightening migration rules for third countries -- a venture in which many claim it went overboard.
Select EU officials said that Georgia has already done its homework and there should be no further delays. “Georgia fulfilled all criteria for visa liberalization – should now be treated without delay,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz tweeted on June 7.
EU interior ministers are expected to discuss visa waivers for Georgia on June 10. Until then, Tbilisi is holding its breath.