In a joint letter Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili, PM Irakli Garibashvili and Parliament Chairman Davit Usupashvili have called on the EU to make an “unambiguous endorsement of visa-free regime” with Georgia at the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga on May 21-22.
In the letter, dated May 5 and made public on Friday, sent to President of the European Council Donald Tusk, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker and President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, the Georgian leaders also express hope that country’s “European perspective” will also be acknowledged at the Riga Summit.
The letter says that the visa liberalisation is a “critical step in advancing EU-Georgia relations” and notes that granting visa waiver to the Georgian citizens will give them “a long-awaited tangible reward for reforms and encourage renewed efforts.”
Georgia and the EU launched the visa liberalisation talks in June, 2012 and Visa Liberalisation Action Plan – a set of detailed requirements that a country should meet in order to be granted short-term visa-free regime in the Schengen area – was presented to Georgia in late February, 2013.
The plan addresses broad range of areas related to document security, border management, migration, mobility and asylum, as well as other issues such as the fight against corruption and organized crime, protection of human rights, minorities, and anti-discrimination.
On October 29, 2014 the European Commission announced that Georgia met first-phase requirements of its Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, paving the way for the launch of the second phase.
The first phase benchmarks included the overall policy and legal framework, involving adoption of relevant legislation, and the second phase benchmarks involve putting into practice effective and sustainable implementation of these relevant measures and legislation.
The European Commission is expected to release a report on how Georgia is fulfilling its reform commitments under the second phase of the visa liberalisation action plan on May 8.
“Since the last [Eastern Partnership] summit in Vilnius [in 2013], the political and security environment has changed dramatically,” reads the letter. “Already at the time, we faced a clear challenge by the Russian Federation to fundamental principles of international law and practice, including the right of nations to exercise a sovereign choice and decide their own future. Since that time, Moscow’s infringement on sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors has advanced to fundamentally challenge the security architecture of Europe as such. In this context, it is essential that we together reaffirm the Eastern Partnership principles, and take concrete steps towards realizing our common vision for a free and united Europe.”
“With this in mind, we write… to bring to your attention the expectations of the Georgian leaders and people from the Riga Summit and appeal for your support and solidarity with those countries which have made the sovereign choice to pursue the vision of European integration. We hope that the European perspective of Georgia will be acknowledged, and, most importantly, that substantial progress will be made with regard to visa liberalisation.”
“Georgia is a frontrunner in transparency and open governance. Over the last two and a half years along, we have, with the support of our EU partners, made great strides in bringing Georgia into line with the highest European and international standards,” reads the letter.
“We are fully committed to maintaining the momentum of internal reforms,” it says. “We hope that the Summit will recognize our progress and will note that EU-Georgia relations may deepen and expand beyond the Association – regardless of Russian opposition.”
“A critical step in advancing EU-Georgia relations is visa liberalisation. We have put immense efforts into fulfilling all the benchmarks of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, as part of our overall development programme and in order to demonstrate to our people that the commitment to comprehensive reforms delivers tangible benefits. We are confident that Georgia’s efforts to finalize the implementation of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan will be assessed as adequate in the final report of the European Commission ahead of the Summit.”
“With the technical requirements completed, it is our clear hope that the final declaration of the Riga Summit will contain an unambiguous endorsement of a visa-free regime with Georgia,” reads the letter of the Georgian leaders.
“Granting visa-free travel to Georgian citizens will mean more tourism, cultural and student exchanges, and civil society partnership. This will help develop Georgia and anchor future generations firmly within the European family of nations. Most importantly, it will provide a clear demonstration to the people of Georgia, including the inhabitants of the occupied territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia, and to those of the other Eastern Partnership countries that the EU upholds a merit-based approach and delivers on its promises,” reads the letter.
“For Georgians, visa liberalisation will provide a long-awaited tangible reward for reforms and encourage renewed efforts. For the people of the occupied regions, it will be a symbol of what stands to be gained from reintegration with the Georgian state. For other Eastern Partnership countries, it will offer a clear incentive for reforms,” it says.
“The shared vision and values of the Eastern Partnership are more important today than ever before. If these are to flourish, we must demonstrate at Riga that the European Union stands united in defense of fundamental norms and principles and that the European agenda brings tangible benefits for the people of the region,” the Georgian leaders say in their joint letter.
During confirmation hearings of reshuffled cabinet in the Parliament on May 7, PM Garibashvili said at a meeting with opposition lawmakers from the Free Democrats party that the Georgian authorities have done “everything within their power” to have fulfill reform commitments under the visa liberalisation action plan and the final decision will also depend on overall “geopolitical” situation in the region as well as on the situation within the EU itself.
“Georgia deserves to have positive outcome at the Riga Summit,” he said and added that he does not want to trigger “excessive expectations”.
“At this stage we do not know what will be the decision or when it [visa-free decision for Georgia] can happen,” Garibashvili added.
Latvian Foreign Minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs, whose country holds EU’s rotating presidency and will be hosting the Eastern Partnership summit in two weeks, said that the Riga Summit should “give a clear and realistic answer, for instance, to Georgia and Ukraine in the area of mobility.”
“The partner countries have high expectations for the Riga Summit, which is also understandable; and so reasonable compromises should be sought on the wording of the Riga Declaration,” Rinkēvičs said at a meeting of the Nordic and Baltic Foreign Ministers, held on May 5-6.