Fifty million citizens of Ukraine and Georgia will soon be granted visa-free travel to the EU, it was reported on December 8 after union officials beat out agreements on the emergency suspension of the measure if needed during late night talks in Brussels.
However, the deal must still be formally approved by the member state ambassadors and the European Parliament, posing potential last-stage obstacles.
“This agreement is a balanced one, and it is extremely important for the effectiveness and credibility to the liberalisation policy of the EU’s visa regime,” Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak said in a statement released after the talks.
The prospect of easier travel to Europe has helped the governments in Kyiv and Tbilisi to win public support for stringent EU-sponsored reforms. But after the refugee crisis of the past two years, critics say the move risks triggering an influx of people who may seek to stay illegally.
On behalf of the EU Council, the Committee of Permanent Representatives to the EU (Coreper) approved the tools for reintroducing the visa requirement in certain circumstances, such as a spike in the number of asylum seekers or a surge in numbers of people staying illegally beyond the allowed three-month period. Visitors from the two former Soviet republics also do not receive working rights.
The move followed an agreement secured on November 24 by EU member states, according to which the two countries were deemed eligible for a visa-free regime with the bloc. Seven days earlier, the EU Council said the union will grant visa-free travel rights to Ukrainians and Georgians as it simultaneously adopts an emergency suspension mechanism for the scheme.
The current suspension mechanism is "not enough, and now it will be improved", Kalinak said. "At the same time, the fact that we have reached an agreement that should open the door for further progress in the liberalisation of the visa regime, negotiations with other countries that meet all the requirements," he added.
Forty-five million Ukrainians and five million Georgians will enjoy the new travel rights when introduced.