EU Visa-Liberalisation Strengthens Georgia’s Pro-Western Path

.

Tomasz Filipiak

About Tomasz Filipiak

Tomasz Filipiak is a political scientist, Europeanist and an English philologist. He graduated from the College of Europe in Natolin and the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun. He is also a specialist in EU external affairs, a practitioner of international relations in Central and Eastern Europe, with professional experience including several positions at Lithuania-Poland INTERREG Programmes, national-level public administration, think tank (Centre for Social and Economic Research in Warsaw) as well as the third sector. He currently works with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

On 2 February 2017, the inhabitants of Georgian capital, Tbilisi, saw the city’s two landmarks — the Bridge of Peace and the TV tower lit up in the colours of the EU flag, marking the day when the European Parliament adopted a visa-free regime for Georgia.

Starting from 28 March 2017, when the newly adopted regulation came into force, Georgian citizens holding biometric passports and travelling to Schengen for short stays have been exempt from visa requirements. While calling this event historic may be seen as a bit of an exaggeration, the importance of this achievement is well-acknowledged in Georgia.

At a first glance, the new rules change little. Cutting the red tape is important, but visiting an EU country remains a financial stretch for those whose incomes are around €120 per month. Those, who were able to afford it before, will continue to do so. But the effect is not only psychological, as this may suggest.

The launch of a visa-free regime allows the Georgian Dream government, re-elected in October 2016, to demonstrate its effectiveness and ability to deliver concrete results in the much-emphasised European integration agenda that it inherited, and to some extent hijacked, from Mikhail Saakashvili’s United National Movement.

In addition to that, the EU visa exemption is seen by the Georgian government as potential leverage for attracting the inhabitants of the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, under the condition that they accept Georgian citizenship. This is a move that had been fiercely condemned by the authorities of the de facto republics, as a “political manipulation”, and it mirrors a similar issue raised by the Georgians back in 2007, when the EU-Russia visa facilitation agreement came into force.

Then, the concern was that easier access to Schengen visas might make the Russian passports, which had been distributed en masse in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, more attractive to the population of these regions. With the new regulations in force, Georgians cold now outbid the Russian offer. There is little reliable data, however, that would prove that these incentives work at all.

From the point of view of the European Union, the issue could not have come up in a worse moment. While delivering the first tangible results, since the signature of the Association Agreement with Georgia in 2014, and thus supporting the reform process (providing incentives for further efforts and enhancing EU credibility in the eyes of Georgians is crucial in bilateral relations) it can be hardly seen as a major development by a Brussels that is simultaneously struggling with much more important problems such as Brexit, the migration crisis and similar visa-related talks with Ukraine, Turkey and Kosovo. It was the negotiations with two large neighbouring countries, Ukraine and Turkey that was seen as having an adverse impact on the Georgian situation.

A last-minute German veto on visa liberalisation with Georgia, which was backed by several member states, alleging a rise in Georgian citizens’ with criminal records in the EU, was largely seen as a pretext to impose harder migration control policies, in light of the pending agreements with Ukraine and Turkey. Indeed, it led to the adoption of a suspension mechanism, whereby visa requirements may be reintroduced for a country, in the case of: a substantial increase in entry refusals, irregularities concerning remaining in EU territory, an increase in unfounded asylum applications, a lack of authorities’ cooperation on readmissions, as well as public policy or security concerns related to the nationals of this country.

This sort of an approach reveals a general trend in EU policies directed towards Georgia, under its European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership. A mutual relation is seen as a trade-off, where compliance to the EU’s requirements and benchmarks related to the internal reforms in Georgia are being rewarded with stakes in the EU’s resources, in an attempt to push the migration-related problems away from the EU frontiers. In this particular case, the logics that were applied in 2011, when a visa facilitation agreement was signed along with an agreement on readmission, is not only being followed, but further reinforced.

Easy access to the EU’s territory can be suspended any moment, if the country refuses to cooperate on unwanted migration to the EU. The threat of losing its newly acquired privilege is so real, that the Georgian authorities decided to take matters into their own hands. A data collection system on compliance to the visa-free regime rules is currently being set up in order to prevent potential irregularities and to demonstrate diligence in Brussels. Additionally information campaigns were launched to combat the lack of real knowledge about the functioning of the new visa regime.

Effective as it may seem, the bargaining method used by the European Commission in relations with Georgia has its obvious limitations. Although Georgians are persistent in their pro-European rhetoric and take every occasion to voice their membership ambitions, Europe seems unconvinced and does not offer a clear membership perspective.

With this incentive off the table, the EU may run out of other attractive deals, before it makes the reforms it supported in Georgia irreversible. Gradual legal and economic approximation is not spectacular and tends to rally little additional support for the EU in Georgia, as it does not offer an immediate amelioration of living conditions. If the EU is to continue with its business as usual, sooner or later, it will be confronted by this dilemma.

For the time being the EU’s visa liberalisation for Georgia allows both sides of the deal to consider themselves as its beneficiaries, even though it is accompanied by a strict suspension mechanism. While the real effects of the agreement will only be known in several months, it is a rare example of a win-win situation in the European neighbourhood; a much needed and desired success story amidst growing chaos.

According to the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration, Tamar Khulordava, around 11,700 Georgians used the visa-free travel to the Schengen zone in the first month after the visa free regime went into force. Only 26 people were sent back from the Schengen border.

________________

The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy or the official views of the author’s affiliated institutions.

RELATED ARTICLES

Not All Quiet on the Eastern Front

Outsourcing in Germany: Stop Talking at and Start Talking to

Georgia’s Hospitality Sector Is Starting to Develop

georgia hospitality

Tbilisi Calling

Tbilisi, Georgia - April 29, 2017: Tbilisi red cable car fulicular cabin and aerial city skyline panoramic view

Will Poland Leave the European Union?

polexit

Poland Challenges the European Identity

Poland emerging europe

Europe Needs To Be More Proactive In Embracing Armenia

Defending EU Values in Poland and Hungary

Eu hungary poland

Emerging Europe Back on Track to Convergence

wiiw

Global Expansion in the Digital Age

The EU’s Choice: Fundamental Reform Or Disintegration

Under Promise, Over Deliver: Prospects for the EU’s Eastern Partnership in 2018

Eastern partnership

The Morawiecki Plan Promises a Brighter Future for Poland

Will a Two-speed European Union Side-line the Visegrad Four?

Big Fish, Small Fish, Where to Fish? On the Eve of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Georgia in the UK

Examining How a Strong Swiss Franc Could Single-Handedly Topple Poland’s Economy

Can Armenia Keep a Foot in Both Camps?

European union armenia russia emerging europe

Macedonia’s Controversial Coalition Government

SKOPJE MACEDONIA emerging europe

Polish Tax Laws — Fighting a Winning Battle Against Tax Evaders

Could the West At Least Help Ukraine To Insure FDI Against Political Risks?

High Dollarisation the Largest Challenge for Georgia’s National Bank

Falling into Old Ways in 2017? Ukraine’s Struggle for Functioning Economic Institutions

United or Divided? Europe in the Face of the Challenges of Tomorrow

Brexit: Let’s Learn the Lesson and Hope a Better Europe Will Arise

Is there any prospect of ‘Polexit’?

poland european union polexit

China: A Giant That Is Hard to Crack

When Neutrality Isn’t an Option

President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin

Slovenia’s Presidential Election: Pahor Expected to Romp Home

Slovenia flag against blue sky waving in wind

Impact of Brexit on EU-CEE Not Overstated

theresa may brexit

The Capital Markets Union: a New Beginning in the European Financial Sector?

EU-CEE Is Still Growing at a Healthy Rate

Prague emerging europe

A Bosnian Referendum Shows Russia’s Influence in the Balkans—As Well As Its Limits

A Positive and Modern View of Entrepreneurship

Hungary and Israel: the Collision of Past and Present

Budapest synagoge

Only a United Opposition Can Defeat Poland’s Ruling Law and Justice Party

Classical building of Polish parliament. Warsaw in Poland.

Swimpassing Dniester Without Prejudice To Democracy

Parliament of the republic of moldova in chisinau, national flag, stefan cel mare street, spring time with blue sky

Partnership is the Key to CEE-Indian Business

Resignation in Ukraine: War, Revolution, Crisis — Some Things Never Change

Europe at Odds over OPAL and Nord Stream 2

International Women’s Day — Let’s Take Action And Then Celebrate

Measuring Growth of Societies with GDP Alone Shows an Incomplete Picture

We, the Post-Communist Generation, Have the Skills to Rid of the Past And Create Our Own Future

Romania Surviving the Waves of Recent Political Tsunamis in Europe

The Voice of European Business Must Be Heard Loud and Clear by Brexit Negotiators

Where’s My Cheese? – The GREAT British Food Tour 2014

Cheese Shop

Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Moves from Frozen to Kinetic

Nagorno-Karabakh

Georgia is Returning to its Place at the European Table

georgia tbilisi

Belarusian Journalists Still Face Huge Problems

Are There Differences Between How Tax Regulations in Poland and IAS Treat Intangible Assets?

Poland’s Drift Away From Democracy

CEE-Benefits and Disadvantages of Joining the Eurozone

forint zloty euro

Changing Perspectives and Showing That True Romania is a Vibrant Innovative Country

Effective Policies Have Strengthened the Georgian Economy

TBILISI GEORGIA Jul. 18 2017: Bridge of Peace is a bow-shaped pedestrian bridge a steel and glass construction over the Kura River in downtown Tbilisi capital of Georgia

People Power Reminds the Government of the Rule of Law

Georgia Still on the World Bank’s Mind

Azerbaijan: The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Nothing

Baku

Euroscepticism in Serbia: An Image Problem?

PiS Uses Media Control to Bring Poland to Heel

Jaroslaw kaczynski pis emerging europe

Moldova’s Briefly Suspended President is Still in Business

chisinau moldova parliament

Prepare for a New Europe

Stuck in Neutral: Georgia’s Constitutional Reforms

Tbilisi Parliament Georgia

Poland’s Unicorn, Slovakia’s Flying Car and the Future of Europe

Sustainable Rooms

Rooms Hotel Khazbegi (courtesy of AGH)

Georgian PM Reshapes and Reshuffles Cabinet

Giorgi Kvirikashvili

Let’s Stop Wasting Time Redefining our Place in Europe

Are Labour Shortages Driving Economic Growth?

After 25 Years of Restructuring, the Romanian Power Sector Is at a Crossroad

Political Tensions Rise As Croatia Allegedly Breaks the Dublin III Refugee Regulation

croatia migrants

Czech Republic Renaming Has Real Economic Costs

Serbia’s New PM Is Cut From a Familiar Cloth

Serbian flag emerging europe

Belarus 2020: Turning the Vicious Circle Into an Upward Spiral

The CEE Region Is Making Advances in Prioritising Waste-to-Energy Projects

Adam Smith’s Warning for Poland

The Netherlands’ Objection to the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement could be Costly to Europe

Albania’s Election Apathy

tirana albania

Moldova Falls Victim to Politicising

moldova emerging europe

Ukraine’s Reputation for Cheap Labour May Not Ring True in the Long-term

Is the Level of Foreign Ownership a Problem in Emerging Europe?

Flags of European countries flying from their capital cities. Viewed from the South.

Poland Needs to Cling to the Eurozone

zloty euro emerging europe

Central and Eastern European Consumers Are Joining the Global Trends for Change

LGBT in CEE — A New Acceptance Is Being Born From Migration

Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey Launch New ‘Silk Rail’ Link

Why is Armenia Borrowing Another 100 Million US Dollars From Russia?

How Will Poland Approach the Brexit Negotiations?

E-lifestyle and Cyber Security: Some Views From Estonia

Cyber Security Protection Firewall Interface Concept

Business Moving Forward with Cautious Optimism — Can Investors Win the Confidence Game?

Emphasising the Incongruence Between the V4 Countries

Macron emerging europe

The Competitive Edge in Central and Eastern Europe

SOFIA BULGARIA - MAY 5: View of the Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Sofia on May 5 2016. Sofia is the largest city and capital of Bulgaria.

2018 Elections — Vital Decisions for Hungary’s Future

Victor Orban energing europe

The Long Tail of Global Expansion

Ukraine’s Economic Recovery: Good, But Slow

ukraine money

Regional Relations in the Western Balkans: Moving Beyond Folklore

Bosnia and Herzegovina flag with Serbia flag, 3D rendering

Is the CEE Region About to Steal the Outsourcing Crown From India?

Amazing view on the Taj Mahal in sunset light with reflection in water. The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river. Agra Uttar Pradesh India.

European Volatility Makes Economic Development Slower for Ukraine

A New Division Between Eastern And Western Europe?

Why Hungary’s New NGO Law Is Harmful for Business

Budapest, Hungary. Aerial view of the old city Budapest, Hungary with river and Parliament Building with cloudy blue sky

Poland’s Confusing GDP Growth

Czech Own Currency Insures Against Euro Losses

Euro Czech republic emerging europe

After Its Significant Rise the Georgian Economy May Now Fall

Panorama of Tbilisi, Georgia in sunset rays. Vivid, saturated, splittoned image.

Bank on Georgia

Background of Georgian Lari banknotes close up

Finalising the DCFTA is Expected to Bring Multiple Benefits to Ukraine

Georgia: Leader of Europe’s Second Wave

Panorama view of Tbilisi capital of Georgia country. View from Narikala fortress. Cable road above tiled roofs.

The EU’s Benign Neglect Of Eastern Europe

The GREAT London Food Scene

Bakery in London

Good Match But Unlikely Marriage

Will the New Five-day Visa-free Regime Encourage More Visitors to Belarus?

Education Reform Key to Continued Georgian Success

tbilisi children

Fiscal Policy Predictability in CEE — It’s Time for Change

Bulgaria Needs a Reform-Oriented Government to Take Full Advantage of its EU Membership

bulgaria emerging europe

Breaking With Imitations of the Past

A New Era for Georgian-German Economic Ties?

tbilisi georgia

Old Fashioned Skulduggery Overshadows the Elections in Moldova

Poland’s Capital Saturation Lower Than the Czech Republic’s

deloitte fdi poland

Why Was Zapad-2017 So Important?

russian tank belarus zapad

History as Destiny? Institutional Erosion in Ukraine and Poland

Georgia’s Growth Continues

Batumi, Adjara, Georgia - May 27, 2016: Batumi, Adjara, Georgia. Gogebashvili Street Road And Marine Station Or Maritime Station Building Batumi On Background

Young Georgians Make Their Mark at Emerging Europe-EBRD Event

maximilien lambertson at emergeing ebrd outlook on georgia

Are Czech-EU Relations at Breaking Point?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - 21 JUNE 2014: People on the streets of Prague, Czech Republic. Prague is one of the most visited city in Europe with over 5 million visitors every year.

How strong is V4?

Viktor Orban

The Sharing Economy Could Bring New Business Models to CEE

January Kicks Off an Exciting Year for Emerging Europe

Ex-Transition Economies’ FDI Recovery

dollar euro fdi

‘Traditional Values’: A Potent Weapon Against LGBT Rights

gay rights putin

Georgia Leads Emerging Europe in Ease of Doing Business Report

The Global Outsourcing Industry — the Rise of the Phoenix

CEE — Do We Need a Launch Pad For Our On-Site Tech Intelligence in the Silicon Valley

Hungary’s Nationalist Assault on Free Enquiry

victor orban ceu

How Will Trump’s Visit Affect Polish Politics?

Donald trump

Poland: Is it Ready, and is it Time to Adopt the Euro?

The Right to Water: Who Can Change Today’s Situation?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *