The European Commission, which released on May 8 third report on implementation of visa liberalisation action plan (VLAP) by Georgia, said that although country’s progress has been significant, it “still needs to address the remaining recommendations.”
“Georgia’s progress has been significant in a short period of time and is broadly in line with the second-phase benchmarks,” the European Commission said.
“While the legislative and institutional framework in place and the integrity of the institutional and organisational practices across the four blocks of VLAP [that includes document security, border and migration management, public order, and external relations and fundamental rights] generally comply with the European and international standards, Georgia still needs to address the remaining recommendations and sustained efforts by all stakeholders involved will be needed.”
“The key priority is the sustainable implementation of the legal and institutional framework, in particular in the areas of asylum, anti-corruption, trafficking in human beings and drugs,” it said.
“Fulfilling the actions required in this report would allow Georgia to complete its implementation of all the VLAP’s second-phase benchmarks,” the European Commission said.
Also on May 8 the European Commission released fifth report on implementation of VLAP by Ukraine.
“The visa liberalisation dialogue is an important driver of reforms in the area of Justice and Home Affairs. Georgia and Ukraine showed great commitment in fulfilling the VLAP benchmarks under the second phase. It is crucial that this hard work continues in the months to come,” EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said.
Georgia and the EU launched the visa liberalisation talks in June, 2012 and Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP) – 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’s report comes ahead of the EU Eastern Partnership summit in Riga on May 21-22.
In a joint letter to the EU on May 5, 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 Riga Summit, saying that “for Georgians, visa liberalisation will provide a long-awaited tangible reward for reforms and encourage renewed efforts.”
The European Commission said that it will report on Georgia’s further progress on implementation of the visa liberalisation action plan by the end of 2015.
It, however, also said that “in view of the significant progress Georgia has made in the past few months, the Commission is ready to bring forward the timing of the next report provided that the rapid progress… continues.”
The report assesses how Georgia is meeting benchmarks set under the VLAP in four blocks, involving document security, border and migration management, public order, and external relations and fundamental rights. It assesses those benchmarks as either “achieved”, “almost achieved” or “partially achieved”.
The report deemed benchmarks related to document security; integrated border management; fighting organized crime; protection of personal data; freedom of movement; issuance of travel and identity documents, and international legal cooperation in criminal matters as “achieved”.
Benchmarks in migration management; money laundering; cooperation between various law enforcement agencies, and citizens’ rights including protection of minorities have been deemed by the report as “almost achieved”.
Benchmarks in asylum; human trafficking; anti-corruption and drugs are deemed as “partially achieved.”
On anti-corruption, the report calls on Georgia, among other issues, to pursue the reform of the civil service with the adoption of a civil service law in line with international practice setting the scope and standards of a professional and de-politicized civil service, and to further strengthen the practical protection of whistleblowers.
On drugs, the report says that although Georgia made a substantial progress in implementing national anti-drug strategy, the drug policy “remains based more on retribution than restorative action.”