EU puts brake on visa liberalization for now amid immigration fears
European Union states held off agreeing to ease travel rules for Georgia on Wednesday, and Turkey, Ukraine and Kosovo should also expect more delays in visa waiving as the bloc turns more cautious amid immigration fears, EU delegation sources said, writes www.reuters.com.
The EU is already making it easier to suspend visa-free travel before it grants such right to more states, most notably Turkey, whose help it needs to control immigration after some 1.3 million people reached Europe last year.
While Brussels says Turkey, with a population of 79 million, is making progress on 72 criteria to win the EU visa waiver, Ankara is seen missing an end-June deadline.
EU envoys in Brussels discussed a similar deal for Georgia again on Wednesday but there was no decision, with Germany and France among countries opposed, diplomats said.
“We don’t want to stop the whole process. We just want to be more cautious,” said a diplomat from one EU state that on Wednesday opposed granting visa-free travel to Georgia.
They may return to the issue next week, before holding their first discussion on the more controversial case of Ukraine. More technical-level meetings on Ukraine are due only on June 14.
After an acceleration several weeks ago, tied to the EU deal with Ankara that sharply cut the number of people reaching Europe from the Turkish coast, talks have now run into trouble over Turkey’s refusal to change its anti-terror laws.
Immigration is also a key theme in the June 23 referendum in Britain on whether to leave the EU, struggling after 1.3 million refugees and migrants reached it last year.
The weakening political momentum also complicates the matter politically for the other three countries, diplomats say, with time running out before the summer break. The European Parliament, where a majority is needed to enact such agreements, will hold its last session on July 4-7 and only resume mid-September.
While the lawmakers have started work on Ukraine and Georgia, the parliament’s head said they would not open the Turkey file before Ankara met all the benchmarks. Some in the parliament, however, believe it will be a political call.
“Turkey is not a clean process because it’s intimately tied to the migration deal,” said a European Parliament official. “Visa liberalization is always a political reward, a carrot, it’s not entirely clean when it comes to criteria.”