The visa facilitation sub-group is part of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) Civil Society Forum’s Working Group 1 (WG1). Its main aim is to boost the process of visa facilitation and liberalisation for the EaP countries. The main goals are to challenge the unwillingness of some governments of the EU Member States and the European Commission to share information related to questions of potential visa liberalisation for EaP countries; monitor the process of negotiations and implementation of introduced or prospective visa facilitation/liberalisation (VF/VL) dialogues and agreements; track the application of funding earmarked for VF/VL projects, and other similar activities. Representatives of the Coalition for the European Continent Undivided by Visa Barriers regularly take part in the meetings of the subgroup.
In its conclusions and recommendations that were produced at the second Forum in Berlin, the Sub-group stated that Visa liberalisation for the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries is one of the key components of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). It is difficult to strengthen good neighbourly relations without facilitation of contacts between citizens of the EU and those of the EaP countries. Despite the EU’s numerous statements supporting the idea of visa liberalisation between the EU and EaP countries, in reality, the EU’s visa policy does not efficiently address concerns related to the development of a visa-free space. The sub-group group hopes that members of the European Union will reconsider today’s policies that heavily restrict the movement of people from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The visa sub-group believes that the visa liberalisation process for all EaP countries and Russia should proceed based on the same criteria. A coherent regional approach in this area should be based on clear conditionality and benchmarks that will push the governments of EaP countries towards more active policies in all relevant spheres.
On May 27, 2011 the most recent meeting of the WG 1 of the Civil Society Forum took place in Brussels. Its aim was to discuss synergies between different visa-related projects and activities conducted by different organisation and coalitions. Experts who participated in the event, gave the following recommendations to civil society groups willing to promote visa liberalisation, which the sub-group will take on board:
– implement watchdog activities in order to ensure more transparency and accountability exercised by both the EU and the EaP countries;
– provide expertise and opinion: civil society could suggest to be part of some official meetings relevant to the negotiation process of visa facilitation/ liberalisation;
– organise round table discussions with participation of both civil society groups and government officials;
– help ensuring the transfer of knowledge from “new” Member States of the EU to the countries of the Eastern Partnership;
– try to have local civil society groups in each of the EaP countries to speak in one voice on the question of the visa liberalisation.
Next meeting of the sub-group will take place in Poznan during the 3rd Forum and will be organised in cooperation with local (Polish) NGOs.
Prepared by Olga Stuzhinskaya, Director of the Office for a Democratic Belarus, former speaker of the Visa Facilitation Subgroup of the EaP CSF
The present speaker of the visa sub-group is Iryna Sushko form Civic Initiative Europe Without Barriers, email@example.com.