Georgian PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili spoke by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday to discuss EU visa liberalization for Georgia, PM’s office said.
The phone conversation came amid Germany’s reluctance to give its go-ahead to visa free travel rules for the Georgian citizens in the Schengen area.
“During the conversation the PM has stressed importance of successful and timely finalization of visa liberalization process for Georgia,” the Georgian PM’s office said, adding that it will be among the issues PM Kvirikashvili plans to discuss when he visits Berlin, expected this month.
Georgian parliamentary delegation, led by Parliament Speaker Davit Usupashvili will be visiting Berlin on June 8-10.
Meanwhile in Strasbourg, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili told MEPs from the foreign affairs committee on June 6 that it would be “unfair” if Georgia’s case gets “lost” in debates related to other countries’ visa liberalisation.
The European Commission put forth the proposal to lift visa requirements for Georgian citizens, holding biometric passports, for a short-term stay in the Schengen area on March 9.
But before it can go into force, the proposal has to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council of European Union, a body representing the executive governments of the EU member states.
Coreper, a committee of EU ambassadors, which prepares issues for further consideration by the EU ministers, discussed Georgia’s visa liberalisation on June 1 for a second time in less than a month, but again failed to agree.
Reuters reported, citing diplomats in Brussels, that although Georgia has met all the criteria for the EU visa waiver, “Germany led the last-minute opposition with backing from France and Belgium.”
Organized crime in Germany with links to Georgian gangs is cited among the reasons behind Berlin’s objection.
However, according to the report by Reuters, some diplomats in Brussels say that Germany may also be reluctant to let Georgia through before Ukraine, because moving ahead with visa liberalisation of Georgia, but leaving Ukraine behind would “weaken the standing in Kiev of the pro-western President Petro Poroshenko.”
The issue was raised in Strasbourg on June 6 when Georgian President, Giorgi Margvelashvili, spoke before the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
“It seems to be unfortunate that somehow now Georgia is a little bit hostage of our discussion on Turkey, and maybe also on Ukraine, but I believe that your country has really fulfilled all the requirements that are needed,” MEP from Finland Heidi Hautala of the group of the Greens/European Free Alliance told the Georgian President.
Many of those MEPs from the foreign affairs committee, who spoke at the meeting, also voiced their support for lifting visa requirement for Georgian citizens in the Schengen area and one of them described Georgia’s visa liberalisation as the “least controversial” compared to Ukraine, Turkey, and Kosovo, and one MEP from Slovakia said that Georgia has already done its job and now it’s up to the EU to deliver.
Commenting on the issue, President Margvelashvili told MEPs that “the rules of the game” should be observed and recalled in this respect EU’s “more for more” approach – meaning that those partners most engaged in reforms would benefit more from their relationship with the EU.
“When we became part of the [EU’s] Eastern Partnership, a clear message was given to Georgia and other members that they will get ‘more for more’,” the Georgian President said.
“And we have worked very hard – not just the government, but the [Georgian] society, to implement reforms and to apply all the requirements [set out it the visa liberalisation action plan],” he said.
Margvelashvili said that the visa liberalisation is not just a reward for Georgia’s reforms, but something that should be delivered by the EU as “part of the partnership” and Georgia’s case should in no way be “lost in other discussions” related to other countries.
“It would be unfair; it would be in breach of some of the basic principles that we have committed to each other,” the Georgian President added.
Ministers from EU member states are scheduled to discuss visa liberalisation for Georgia, as well as for Turkey, Ukraine and Kosovo at the Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg on June 10.
“There is a high probability that the decision on June 10 will not be favorable for Georgia,” said MP Levan Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party, who chairs Georgian parliament’s committee for European integration.
Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani, said on June 7 that the Georgian authorities have “not given any pretext to anyone to say that we failed to carry out reforms” required for the EU visa liberalisation. “So let’s be optimistic,” she said.
Tbilisi has hoped to finalize visa liberalisation this summer. The European Parliament will hold its last session before the summer break on July 4-7 and will reconvene on September 12. The next Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting, after the one on June 10, is scheduled for October.
Delay of EU visa waiver until after the October 8 parliamentary elections will be a blow for the government, which is frequently listing implementation of the visa liberalisation action plan among its successes.
The opposition UNM party has already accused “inefficient” diplomatic efforts by the government, as well as internal political developments in Georgia for the delay.
UNM MP Gigi Tsereteli said that the opposition was warning the authorities “not to give any reason to skeptics in Europe” to delay the process.
“But unfortunately that happened anyway – I mean the Kortskheli incident and Rustavi 2 TV case,” MP Tsereteli said.
He was referring to violent attack on UNM leaders in the village of Kortskheli on May 22 and Rustavi 2 TV ownership dispute, which is currently adjudicated in the appellate court and which opposition parties and the channel itself say is an attempt to silence the television station critical of government’s policies.
These were the issues over which many of the MEPs, who spoke during the meeting with President Margvelashvili on June 6, also expressed their concerns.
Three weeks ago, when the EU ministers in Home Affairs and Justice Council approved on May 20 German and French proposal to make it easier and faster to suspend visa free travel rules for third countries, Belgium’s State Secretary for Asylum Policy and Migration told journalists in Brussels that “it would be not the smartest thing” to give Georgia, Ukraine, Turkey and Kosovo visa waiver now when Europe faces the largest “asylum crisis” since the World War II.
“Public opinion in Europe, and certainly also in my country in Belgium – it’s not very easy for the moment giving visa liberalisation to hundreds of thousands people,” he said.
When told by a Georgian journalist that the country has already met all the criteria required for visa-free travel rules in the Schengen area, Francken responded: “There [are] criteria and there is timing – and the timing in politics is very important.”