Georgians, Ukrainians Voice Support for Visa-Free Regime with EU

Brussels – A multinational group of activists- including activists from the Civil Society Forum from Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, and Romania, gathered in Brussels at the weekend to protest the European Union’s snap decision to delay a promised visa waiver regime for the two former Soviet republics.

The EU abruptly late last week that negotiations over implementing a visa liberalization regime for Georgia and Ukraine would be indefinitely delayed their decision on implementing a visa liberalization regime after Germany, France and Italy suddenly withdrew their support for the initiative.

Georgian and Ukrainian activists from the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum responded to the decision with a rally in the EU capital Brussels, demanding visa-free travel to the 28 Schengen countries.

“We have gathered here to express our deep concern over the decision on the visa-free regime for Georgia and Ukraine. As for Georgia, we have fulfilled 100 per cent of our promises. Our citizens deserve visa-free travel. We hope that our voice, the voice of civil society, will be heard in Brussels and around Europe,” said Lasha Tugushi of the Georgian National Platform.

According to protestors, the EU has the legitimate right and urgent need to control its external borders, but Georgia and Ukraine do not pose any essential migration challenges for the EU.

“Visa liberalization is the most visible sign of Europe’s support for Georgia and Ukraine. It will also be a success for the Eastern Partnership program and an important argument for these countries to stay on their pro-European path,” a spokesperson for the program said.

According to EU officials, the decision to suspend the process of visa liberalization for Georgia and Ukraine came after Germany demanded that the governments in Tbilisi and Kyiv provide legally binding guarantees over migration issues.

The Reuters news agency reported last week, based on an unnamed EU diplomat, that Berlin led a last-minute push to oppose the measures after several leading national media outlets in Germany published articles that named Georgians amongst the groups of nationalities that commit the highest number of crimes in Germany.

Georgians residing in Germany believe the reports were aimed at creating an anti-Georgian sentiment among the public by right-wing Eurosceptic German political parties with close ties to Russia.

Dozens of Georgian students currently enrolled in German universities signed an open letter titled "Georgia isn’t a criminal country” that was addressed to government authorities in Berlin and the German national media.

The letter accused Russia of putting pressure on German officials as part of a campaign to derail Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, despite Georgia having fulfilled all the EU’s requirements for visa liberalization.

Major media outlets Der Spiegel, Die Welt, Bild, Huffington Post and Die Zeit all published the letter on their respective websites.

More than 3 million Georgian citizens expected visa-free travel to Europe’s Schengen zone beginning early this summer. However, after Germany suddenly backtracked on its previous support, the EU is now making it easier to suspend visa waivers for countries wishing to move closer towards European integration.

The visa waiver regime allows easier access - but not the right to work - for up to 90 days in Europe’s Schengen Zone, which comprises most EU states and several non-EU members.

By Tamar Svanidze
Edited by Nicholas Waller

Photo: EaP CSF

09 June 2016 11:46