German Minister: Preservation of Visa Liberalization Depends on Georgia

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said that if the number of visa-free regime violators from Georgia to the European Union (EU) further increases, the suspension mechanism might be activated. However, he added that everything depends on Georgia and its efforts to maintain the benefits of visa-free travel with EU countries.

Maizière made the statement while meeting the Georgian side within the frames of the 54th Munich Security Conference, which started on February 16 and lasted until February 19.

The German minister stated that besides violations of visa-free rules, which allow Georgians to stay in the Schengen Area for 90 days in any 180-day period, there is a major problem of increased organized crime groups from Georgia.

“We hope that visa liberalization will be maintained. We're not going to launch a suspension mechanism now, but the number of visa-free regime violators is alarming. Another important issue is the growth of crime. Georgia is actively involved in solving this problem,” Maizière added.

Elmar Brok, Member of the European Parliament from Germany, and former Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, also expressed his concern over the increased number of asylum seekers from Georgia.

“If the visa-free travel is further followed by an increased number of asylum seekers, the mechanism of suspension might be activated, but I hope it will not happen,” he said.

The German MEP said that the Georgian government should cooperate with European countries and do its best to maintain one of its most significant achievements to date.

“If a citizen of Georgia remains in the EU for more than three months and asks for asylum, Georgia must take back such persons and prove that it is a country that acts in accordance with the law,” he added.

The Georgian opposition says the government has to be more active in the fight against crime and needs to launch a better information campaign, to warn its citizens about the consequences of violating the visa-free regime.

Gigi Tsereteli, member of the parliamentary opposition European Georgia, says one of the main reasons for the increased number of Georgian asylum seekers abroad, is “the poor economic situation and poverty in the country.”

United National Movement (UNM) MP, Salome Samadashvili, says the government has failed to fight criminals within the country and “that is why the number of Georgian criminals has increased in EU countries as well.”

Georgian Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze also commented on the issue, saying activation of the suspension mechanism will not be necessary.

He explained that the Georgian government is cooperating with EU countries and is doing its best to avoid any complications regarding the visa waiver.

“We share the concerns expressed by our western collegues, but the joint activities with our European friends will help us avoid activation of the suspension mechanism,” he added.

The issue of re-discussing Georgia’s visa-liberalization was raised after the first report of the European Commission under the suspension mechanism, released on December 20, 2017.

The report reads that the number of Georgian asylum seekers to the EU has increased. It also says that Georgian organized criminal groups are still reported as one of the most frequently represented non-EU nationalities involved in serious and organized crime in the EU.

Thea Morrison

19 February 2018 16:28