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Visa liberalization with the EU has been one of the most tangible benefits of European integration for several of the EU’s Eastern partner countries and, prior to that, for accession candidates in the Western Balkans. Not only has visa-free travel led to more travel, more personal interactions, and more business contacts; it has also given citizens of the EaP and Western Balkan countries the feeling to be welcome in the EU, to be respected and European. One cannot stress often enough how important freedom of travel is, how liberating it is to be able to decide spontaneously to spend a weekend in Paris or to visit a friend in Warsaw.
So far the visa barrier has been lifted for three of the six EaP countries. Among the remaining states, Armenia has the greatest interest to start a visa liberalisation process with the EU, which requires meeting a list of challenging demands set out in an action plan. Helping Armenia receive the action plan and then meet the requirements is the next challenge. The liberalisation of travel regimes has also led to a sometimes dramatic increase in the number of unfounded asylum claims in EU member states, which has reduced their appetite for more. Here it is important to continue to emphasize that it is long asylum procedures combined with generous benefits that attract people to request asylum even though they are not persecuted or in any danger. It is therefore EU member states that need to take action to prevent the abuse of their asylum systems.
The policy papers in this compendium examine the situation with visa liberalisation in three EaP countries: Moldova, as the EaP country that has enjoyed visa-free travel with the EU longest, since April 2014; Georgia, visa-free since March 2017, which is trying to tackle the issue of unfounded asylum claims by Georgian citizens; and Armenia, which would like to start a visa liberalisation process. The idea was to look at the benefits that visa-free travel (and visa facilitation in Armenia) have produced; to assess the challenges and propose solutions so that the countries continue to meet the EU’s requirements for visa-free travel; and to share experience with Armenia, for Armenia is in the lucky position to be able to learn from Moldova and Georgia. The wider goal has been to ensure that visa-free travel with EaP countries remains in place and that Armenia eventually achieves it.
The implementing team has been the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP), which has led the project; the Institute for European Policy and Reform (IPRE) from Moldova, and the Analytical Center on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC) from Armenia. My role was to give suggestions for research and to review the policy papers, which has been a pleasure.
All of us are grateful to the EU for financing the project through the EaP Civil Society Forum Re-granting Scheme (FSTP), and to the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has provided co-funding. The project has sought to address the “20 Deliverables for 2020” under the thematic priorities of the Working Group 4 (Contacts between People) of the EaP Civil Society Forum.
We hope that you will find the policy papers interesting; that you will recognize the sincerity of the efforts by the governments to obtain and keep visa-free travel; and that you will realize how crucial freedom to travel is for citizens of EaP countries.
Senior Analyst in Brussels,
European Stability Initiative (ESI)
Reviewer and International Consultant:
- Alexandra Stiglmayer – Senior Analyst in Brussels, European Stability Initiative (ESI).
- Tatia Dolidze – Affiliated Policy Analyst, the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP, Georgia);
- Iulian Rusu – Deputy Executive Director, Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE, Moldova);
- Stepan Grigoryan – Chairman of the Board, Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC, Armenia).
The publication was produced within the framework of the project – “Facilitating Effective Visa Liberalization in Georgia, Moldova and Armenia through Experience Sharing“, implemented by the Georgian Institute of Politics (GIP, Georgia) together with the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE, Moldova) and the Analytical Center on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC, Armenia).
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Tatia Dolidze, Iulian Rusu, Stepan Grigoryan and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.