Plans to grant citizens of Kosovo and Georgia the right to travel to the Schengen area without a visa were backed by Civil Liberties Committee MEPs on Monday.
The Committee approved the visa waiver for Kosovo by 25 votes to 24 with 2 abstentions, and that for Georgia by 44 votes to 5.
Following the abolition of visas for the citizens of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia in 2009 and for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2010, Kosovo was left isolated as the only Balkan country whose citizens still needed a visa to travel to the EU. It started the visa liberalisation process in 2012, four years after all the other countries in its neighbourhood.
One of the 95 criteria the country should fulfil before obtaining the visa waiver is to ratify the border agreement with Montenegro, still pending.
Parliament´s rapporteur for the proposal, Tanja Fajon (S&D, SI), believes that lifting the visa requirements will send a powerful signal to Kosovars, so that the country does not lose its EU accession hopes and aspirations and thus pursues its stability and democratic reform efforts.
Regarding the non-recognition issue (five EU countries do not recognize Kosovo), the draft legislation states that the abolition of visas does not affect the individual positions of the EU member states on Kosovo’s status.
The EU-Georgia visa liberalisation dialogue started in 2012 and by the end of 2015, the EU Commission had concluded that the country had fulfilled all the benchmarks. Mariya Gabriel (EPP, BG), Parliament´s rapporteur for the proposal, believes that the visa waiver is an important instrument for stepping up economic and cultural relations and intensifying political dialogue, including on human rights and fundamental freedoms.
More efforts are necessary, however, in areas such as freedom of the media, independence of the judiciary, the fairness of elections and increased participation of women and national minority representatives, says Ms Gabriel.
The Committee approved the opening of negotiations with the Council on the Georgia proposal (with 44 votes in favour, 5 against and 1 abstention), with a view to reaching an agreement at the first reading, as well as the composition of the negotiating team. On Kosovo, MEPs rejected starting talks with the Council, with 24 votes to 25.
Once Parliament as a whole and Council endorse the legislative changes, Kosovars and Georgians will be able to enter the EU visa-free for 90 days in any 180-day period, provided they hold a biometric passport.
Note to editors
The visa waivers apply to the Schengen area, which includes 22 EU member states (all except Ireland, the United Kingdom, Croatia, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria) plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
The draft legislative proposals update the 2001 visa Regulation, transferring Kosovo and Georgia from the list on non-EU countries whose nationals need a visa to travel to the Schengen area (the “negative list”) to the list of countries whose nationals are exempt of this requirement (the “positive list”).