The Slovak EU presidency has “an ambition to complete” Georgia’s EU visa liberalisation process before the October 8 parliamentary elections in Georgia, Foreign Minister of Slovakia, Miroslav Lajčák, said.
Lajčák, whose country took over the rotating EU presidency this month, said that the visa waiver in the Schengen area for Georgia would be now the EU’s “most priced deliverable”.
He made the remarks when speaking about the priorities of the Slovak EU presidency at a meeting with MEPs from European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 12.
“Eastern partnership was designed to meet individual ambitions of its members, it offered tools for transformation and modernization, but after the Vilnius and Riga [Eastern Partnership] summits the project has lost much of its traction. So to regain the initiative we should start working on new vision; the revised European Neighbourhood Policy provides a solid context to do so,” Lajčák said.
“Association Agreements and DCFTA [deep and comprehensive free trade area] implementation in the short-run is more beneficial for us than for the partners and this makes the visa liberalisation now the most priced deliverable for Georgia, which met all the criteria and where important October [parliamentary] elections are due,” the Slovak Foreign Minister said and added that it is also important for Ukraine as it represents a “a concrete benefit of their cooperation with the European Union.”
The visa liberalisation came up for number of times in MEPs’ questions to the Slovak Foreign Minister. One MEP asked about the timeframe of finalization of the visa liberalisation process for Georgia in the view of “certain reluctance” among some EU members.
Before the visa liberalisation can go into effect, it requires approval from the council of EU home affairs and justice ministers, which has failed to agree on the issue in June after last-minute objection from Germany, dashing Tbilisi’s hopes to finalize the process this summer, delaying it at least till autumn.
“The European Union is a community of values and we like to say that the rules must be respected; and this should work in both ways – it’s not only commitments from our partners towards us, but also [it’s] our [commitments] towards our partners,” the Slovak Foreign Minister said.
“Georgians and Ukrainians met their commitments and it was clearly stated by the European Commission, so it is our turn to deliver – it means to offer the visa-free regime,” Lajčák said.
“In case of Georgia we should not be immune also to the political calendar and to the fact that they will have parliamentary elections in October and therefore it would be very good to do it [visa waiver] sooner rather than later,” he said.
“I can tell you that the Slovak presidency is working very actively with the [EU] member states, with our Georgian partners and we hope to be able to get the agreement in the Council [of the EU].”
“We have an ambition to complete the process in time before the parliamentary elections in Georgia. I really believe that that’s our responsibility,” the Slovak Foreign Minister said, adding that “Ukraine comes next”, which has also met its criteria.
The decision on visa waiver also requires approval from the European Parliament.
European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), which is responsible for visa liberalisation issue, is expected to vote on the proposal for visa waiver for Georgia, Ukraine and Kosovo after summer recess.
The proposal then has to be voted by the full house of the European Parliament, which will reconvene after a summer recess on September 12.
On July 7 European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee adopted opinions calling for granting visa-free travel rules to the Schengen area to the citizens of Georgia, Ukraine and Kosovo. The opinions in favor of visa waiver for the three countries will be sent to the LIBE committee.