It could be said that 2014 is probably the worst year to talk about visa liberalisation with the EU’s Eastern neighbours – the revolution in Kiev, the annexation of the Crimea by Russia, war in Eastern Ukraine, growing tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan in connection with Nagorno-Karabakh and sanctions between Moscow and Brussels have dominated public discourse in recent months.
But others would disagree: there is no better way of showing how much we care about the faith of our neighbours than to invite them to visit us in the European Union without needing a visa. The EU granted a visa-free regime to Moldova on 28 April 2014, but – despite the appeals of civil society organizations – did not decide to express its support for post-revolutionary Ukraine and waive its visa obligation. Currently it seems that Ukraine and Georgia are at a similar point of visa liberalisation and that the introduction of a visa-free regime is likely in 2015, and only if the pace of the reforms remains the same.
Armenia, which recently took a pro-Russian path and is currently undergoing a period of political transition due to the resignation of the government, expects to launch visa dialogue with the EU after the positive evaluation of the implementation of the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreements (VF&RA), in the near future. In the period analysed, Yerevan has focused on improving its anti-corruption policies.
Azerbaijan has continued to suppress democratic opposition and civil society and held several trials against top activists. On the other hand, Baku has been consistently working towards visa facilitation and liberalisation with the EU – the VF&RA are going to enter into force in September 2014. Furthermore, border and migration management systems are being modernized to meet international standards.
Belarus, the enfant terrible of the Eastern Partnership, has negotiated the VF&RA with the EU. Negotiations were not suspended after the Ice Hockey World Championships, despite international concerns. Over 29,000 foreign tourists used the opportunity to visit Belarus without a visa, based of holding a ticket for a hockey game. It is believed that this partially visa-free regime during the Championships ran smoothly.
Georgia has worked intensively on implementing the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP) and on carrying out reforms regarding asylum and migration and the tightening of personal data protection. Tbilisi expects the VLAP to be completed in 2015.
Even though it joined the group of countries whose citizens do not need a visa to enter the Schengen area at the end of April, Moldova continued to implement reforms aimed at bringing it closer to the European Union. During the first 2.5 months of the visa-free regime, over 110,000 Moldovans travelled to the EU. Moldova, together with Georgia and Ukraine, has signed an Association Agreement with the EU.
Ukraine, overwhelmed by the war in its Eastern regions, has been active in implementing many VLAP benchmarks. It strengthened its anti-corruption and anti-discrimination policies and established conditions for issuing biometric documents, which are required for the introduction of a visa-free regime.
You can read the whole document in English: EU-EaP Visa Liberalisation May-July 2014_EN
and Russian: EU-EaP Visa Liberalisation May-July 2014_RUTags: Armenia, Association Agreement, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Eastern Partnership, EU, EU integration, EU visa, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Schengen, Ukraine, visa free, visa liberalisation, Visa Liberalisation Action Plans, visa regime, VLAP