The EU visa policy towards the EaP states and Russia
One of the key principles of the European Union is free movement of people. The implementation of the Schengen Agreement of 1985, which paved the way to the elimination of border controls between the signatories of the agreement and to the reinforcement of the external EU borders, is one of the tangible examples of turning this principle into reality. Nevertheless, citizens from many non-EU countries are still required to hold not just a passport but also a visa when travelling to the so called “Schengen Area”. This includes all Eastern Partnership countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine) as well as Russia. Therefore the idea of “visa-free Europe” is still far from having materialized.
The common EU visa policy towards Eastern European countries has evolved over the previous decade. In particular, there has been substantial progress during the last six years with the visa facilitation and readmission agreements concluded and entered into force with Ukraine (June 2007), Moldova (November 2007), Georgia (March 2011), Armenia (December 2012) and Azerbaijan (November 2013, only facilitation). These agreements provide for visa facilitation for a number of categories of professionals from those countries, but also establish the procedures for the return to the EU or to the partner non-EU country of persons (own and third country nationals or stateless persons) in irregular situation.
The front-runner counties in the process of visa liberalization are Moldova and Ukraine, which managed to open “visa liberalization dialogue” with the EU in 2010. The ultimate goal of these dialogues is visa-free travel. Both countries have received “Action Plans” on visa liberalization. Especially Moldova has managed to accomplish both the first (legislative) and second (implementation) phase of its “Action Plan”. The Europan Commission recommended in November 2013 to introduce a visa-free regime for Moldovan holders of biometric passports. Also Georgia has gone further with the visa liberalization process – the visa dialogue was launched in April 2012 (in February 2013 the Action Plan on Visa Liberalization was presented by the European Commission). The achievement of visa-free regime is conditioned by the progress made by those countries in areas such as the strengthening of the rule of law, combating of organized crime, corruption and illegal migration and improving of administrative capacity in border control and security of documents. Yet, unfortunately, there is no clear conditionality, that is the fulfillment of all criteria leads directly to the elimination of visa requirement for the citizens of these countries. The EU has secured itself a safety-clause in the form of “taking into account the overall relations” between the EU and the beneficiary state when making the decision about the lifting of the short-stay visa obligation” for the citizens of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia.
The Eastern Partnership initiative, including progress in visa regime liberalization, has been declared official priority of the Polish Presidency in the EU Council (2011). In November 2013, the EU-EaP Summit took place in Vilnius, where important political decisions with regard to further liberalization of visa regime were taken.