EU’s visa-free regime to expand

  • 2010-05-19
  • From wire reports

RIGA - The EU is likely to take a big step toward visa-free travel with Russia at an upcoming summit, reports LETA. Poland wants to make sure that other post-Soviet countries, especially Ukraine, are also included.
EU foreign ministers in Brussels on May 10 raised the prospect of handing Russia a roadmap for visa-free travel at a regular summit to take place in Rostov-on-Don, near the Black Sea coast, on May 31. Finland’s Alexander Stubb said after the meeting that Germany favors the idea. “For me, the key issue of the summit is the visa issue,” he told German press agency DPA.

The roadmap is a list of reforms that a country has to put in place to qualify for visa-free travel, such as introduction of biometric passports, adoption of laws on data protection and improvement of border security. It does not oblige the EU to drop visa requirements on a set date. But it does oblige the union to react if the target country meets the criteria.
Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said the EU should not leave out in the cold the six post-Soviet countries in its Eastern Partnership scheme, however. The scheme covers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
“The political impulse for intensifying visa dialogue must be the same for all these countries - Russia and the six countries of the Eastern Partnership, and we will defend this. Visa policy cannot go against our declared foreign policy,” he said.

Visas are a hot topic in Eastern Europe. Ease of travel makes a big difference to ordinary peoples’ feeling toward the EU and their appetite for pro-EU reforms. A recent study by the Stefan Batory Foundation in Warsaw noted that Polish consulates have granted 73 percent fewer visas to Belarusians since Poland joined the EU’s passport free Schengen zone in 2007, tightening entry rules.

A survey by a consortium of Ukrainian think tanks found that many people face queues, days-long delays, mysterious extra fees and unexplained refusals when trying to visit the EU.

Representatives from 14 countries calling themselves the ‘Friends of Ukraine’ - met with Ukraine’s foreign minister, Kostyantyn Gryshchenko in Brussels. Sikorski said that Gryshchenko promised that Ukraine will not enter a customs union with Russia and will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “The new Ukrainian authorities believe the realization of this idea [EU integration] is impossible without also ensuring predictable, constructive and economically beneficial relations with Russia.”