Bridge of Peace Lit Up in EU Flag Colors, February 2, 2017. Photo: Tbilisi City Hall
European Parliament adopted on February 2 the proposal on visa liberalization for Georgia, enabling the biometric passport holders to enter the Schengen area for 90 days within any 180-day period for a holiday, business or any other purpose, except working.
The proposal was approved with 553 votes in favor, 66 against and 28 abstentions.
The legislation still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers (the text will then be publishied in the EU Official Journal) and will only enter into force once the suspension mechanism, which allows the EU member states to temporary reintroduce visa requirements for reasongs of public security, is in place. The revised suspension mechanism was approved by the Parliament on 15 December but is still pending finalization of the official translation of the legal texts.
According to the EP press release, parliamentary rapporteur for the proposal, Mariya Gabriel, acknowledged the “broad and complex reforms” implemented by Georgia in order to get the visa waiver and thanked the country‘s authorities and citizens for their consistency and patience. "She also congratulated them on the strength of their democratic conviction and noted that the visa exemption brings the country closer to the EU."
“Today is a day of historical significance for Georgia,” Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said in a statement issued before the plenary vote.
“Indeed, today marks Georgia’s great success! Today’s decision will prove that Georgia’s policy on drawing closer to the European Union brings tangible results for every Georgian citizen. We are convinced that our citizens will show exceptional responsibility in accepting this milestone result and achievement, and will scrupulously observe the laws of host countries,” Kvirikashvili said.
Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze wrote in his twitter post that "the visa free travel will also be important to Georgian citizens living in the occupied regions, giving them a chance to benefit from visa liberalization and close ties with the European Union."
President Giorgi Margvelashvili has also stressed that the visa free regime would be available to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. "I would like to underline that, our Ossetian and Abkhaz compatriots will be able to benefit from the results,” Margvelashvili stated.
"I would like to congratulate out citizens on one more achievement in the European integration process. I would like to thank MEPs for this important decision … I would like to thank our executive and legislative government, incumbent and prevous, for the work that they have done for this important achievement," President Margvelashvili stated.
The EU-Georgia Visa Liberalization Dialogue was launched in June 2012. In February 2013, the European Commission presented the Georgian Government with an action plan on visa liberalization (VLAP). The Commission committed itself to proposing visa-free travel for short stays in the European Union to Georgian nationals holding biometric passports as soon as all the benchmarks set in the VLAP have been met by the Georgian Government.
Since the launch of the EU-Georgia Visa Liberalization Dialogue, the Commission has reported to the European Parliament and the Council on Georgia’s progress towards fulfilling the VLAP benchmarks identified.
In its fourth and final progress report, adopted on December 18, 2015, the Commission considered that Georgia had made the necessary progress and had undertaken all the required reforms to ensure the effective and sustainable achievement of the remaining benchmarks. Based on this assessment, the Commission confirmed that Georgia had met all the benchmarks set for each of the VLAP’s benchmarks and that it would present, in early 2016, a legislative proposal to amend Regulation (EC) No 539/2001, transferring Georgia to the list of visa-free countries.
The visa waivers apply to the Schengen area, which includes 22 EU member states (all except Ireland, the UK, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria), plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.