Visa liberalization-Before or After the Elections?

News | Good Governance | Publications | Article 29 June 2016

Author: Giorgi Lomtadze

 

The process of EU visa liberalization for Georgia continues. It has not been halted and will, sooner or later, conclude successfully. However, it is essential for Georgia to have this process finalized prior to the October elections. Whether or not a visa-free regime is granted to Georgia will influence election results and will possibly affect the attitude of Georgians towards further European integration.


Unfortunately, considering procedural issues, visa liberalization is unlikely to be completed before the elections.


Visa liberalization with Georgia was discussed at the June 20 meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council. During the meeting, Foreign Ministers of EU Member States unanimously supported visa liberalization with Georgia. Even recalcitrant countries (Germany, Italy, France and Belgium) expressed support. A number of positive statements were made following the meeting:


Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR), stated that:

  

  • “It was clear from all Member States that there is no doubt that Georgia fulfilled all the benchmark. There was recognition from all Member States on the fact that Georgia has done an incredibly good work and that deserves to be recognized as soon as possible.” According to Mogherini, it is now up to the Netherlands to put the issue on the agenda of the COREPER (Committee of Permanent Representatives in the European Union).


Lithuania's Minister of Foreign Affairs Linas Linkevičius stated that:

 

  • “Georgia will receive visa-free travel. No Member State has expressed opposition. This was a very positive meeting. Most likely, the decision will be made simultaneously in the Council and the Parliament.

 

According to the Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs:

 

  • “Georgia should have visa-free travel. We did not expect to make the decision today. I am very satisfied with the meeting, it was overwhelmingly positive. Unfortunately, we do not have the final date, but I think it will be early fall.”

 

As explained in IDFI’s previous article on visa liberalization: “The European Commission submitted the legislative initiative to cancel the visa regime with Georgia on March 9, 2016. After this, both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU must discuss and vote on the initiative in order for it get approved. Finally, after the revised regulation is approved, the change is signed by the President of the European Parliament (Martin Schulz) and the Foreign Minister of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (currently the Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders) [From July 1 the Presidency is held by Slovakia, under the rotation principle, therefore, the change will be signed by the Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák]. The regulation enters into force 20 days after its publication.”

 

The Current Stage of Visa Liberalization


The conclusion of visa liberalization for Georgia requires approval from both legislative bodies of the EU - the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union (Details on the full procedure can be found here).


Approval from the European Parliament


Currently, the legislative initiative on visa liberalization is being discussed by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament. The relevant report is ready and calls on the committee to support the conclusion of the process. The deadline for making changes to the report is July 14. The committee will not be able to vote on the report before this deadline. After LIBE votes on the report, the issue will be discussed at the plenary session of the European Parliament.
Prior to October 2016, Committee meetings at the European Parliament are scheduled for:


• June 27 and 30
• July 11-14
• August 29-31
• September 1, 5, 8, 26 and 29


Plenary sessions are scheduled for:


• July 4-7
• September 12-15

 

 

Considering the July 14 deadline of making changes to the LIBE report, the European Parliament will not be able to discuss visa liberalization for Georgia during its July 4-7 plenary session. Therefore, LIBE must approve the report in July-August, in order for the European Parliament to vote on the issue during its September 12-15 plenary session. This scenario is most favorable for Georgia.


Approval of the Council of the European Union


The Council of the EU had unsuccessfully discussed visa liberalization for Georgia on several occasions prior to the June 20 meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. The support conveyed by EU Foreign Ministers during the June 20 meeting was an expression of the political will to continue visa liberalization by restarting the process in the Council of the EU.


This means that the next step is for the visa liberalization issue to be once again placed on the agenda of the COREPER by the current holder of the Presidency of the Council of the EU – Netherlands. After the issue is discussed by the COREPER, it will once again be up to the council of relevant ministers to approve visa liberalization. However, since the Interior and Justice Ministers of EU Member States were unable to come to a decision during the first round of discussions, Foreign Ministers will also be granted the authority to approve visa liberalization the second time around.


At this point in time, it is uncertain when visa liberalization will be discussed in COREPER, which convenes every week. Its nearest meetings are scheduled for June 30, July 7 and 13. The Dutch Presidency of the Council of the EU expires on July 1, after which it will rotate to Slovakia - a country that is more sympathetic to the Eastern Partnership countries, of which Georgia is part.

 



In order for visa liberalization to be approved by the Council of the EU before the October elections in Georgia, the issue needs to be placed on the agenda and the COREPER needs to hold discussions at or before its July 13 meeting. This is because July 18 is the last meeting before October that will be held by EU Foreign Affairs Ministers, whose approval is required for the finalization of the visa liberalization process. After July 18, the nearest meetings of the Foreign Affairs as well as Interior and Justice Ministers are scheduled after October elections. The EU Foreign Ministers unanimously support visa-free regime for Georgia and would approve visa liberalization without further delay, if the issue is discussed by the COREPER before the July 18 meeting.

 


Possible Reasons for Delaying Visa Liberalization

 

As stated in our previous article, Georgia, most probably, will not be granted visa-free travel until the current suspension mechanism for visa liberalization has been revised. The suspension mechanism is a list of conditions, on the basis of which visa liberalization can be suspended. This process, however, is moving along without delay. The new mechanism is currently being considered by the LIBE Committee, where the relevant report has already been amended. It has already been approved by the Justice and Home Affairs Council and the European Parliament also supports the revision, suggesting that the new mechanism will be approved by the Committee and the Parliament at the plenary session without any delay.


The results of the British referendum on EU membership also delayed the visa liberalization process by giving rise to many unforeseen problems and changes to the EU agenda, reducing the urgency of certain issues, including visa liberalization. For example, the LIBE Committee planned to discuss visa liberalization for Georgia on June 27, but had to postpone the meeting due to the extraordinary plenary session (28.06.2016) that was scheduled after the British referendum. The Committee will discuss visa liberalization on July 4.

 


Conclusion

 

The June 20 meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers dispelled any fears that Georgia may not get visa-free travel. At best, the process will be completed in September. However, considering procedural issues, visa liberalization for Georgia is unlikely to be completed before the October parliamentary elections.


On the one hand, it is unclear whether the COREPER manages to discuss visa liberalization in time for the July 18 meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. On the other hand, considering the instability and uncertainty caused by the results of the British referendum, the European Parliament may not be able to approve the suspension mechanism before the August break.

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