European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, proposed on Friday (18 December) that the citizens of Ukraine, Georgia and Kosovo should be granted a visa free travel to the European Union. The Commission embraced the liberalization of the visa regime for the three countries, which are all deadlocked in various political disputes with Russia. Brussels confirmed that the Commission would finalize a formal proposal early in January 2016 for the approval by the European Council, the European Parliament and the EU28’s leaders.
The EU’s decision to speed up visa liberalization process with the three countries might come off as a blow to Russia, which has been trying for years to secure visa-free travels at least for businessmen to spur mutual trade links. However, the country has become a victim of the Ukrainian crisis, which Moscow itself helped initiate. As a result, Brussels suspended visa liberalization talks with Moscow early last year as part of broader punitive measures including economic sanctions. Ukraine’s pro-Western President Poroshenko was the quickest among the leaders of the three countries to comment “visa-free travels to Europe, here you go!” on his Twitter account. He has personally made great efforts to prioritize ties with the EU in the Ukrainian foreign policy and the two parties also signed an association deal including a free trade agreement, which will enter into force in January 2016.
Georgia has also been trying hard to get rid of its label being “Russia’s former Soviet-times satellite” by seeking closer relations with European countries, especially following the 2008 border conflict with Russia, which saw Tbilisi lose its control of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. Georgian Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, thus also happily embraced the Commission’s move, saying that “our work has been recognized and commended by our European colleagues”. Kosovo has likewise tried to integrate more closely with the West, especially after it seceded from Serbia in 2008. Although it has been formally recognized by most EU members as well as the United States, the Republic of Kosovo still lacks diplomatic recognition from 85 United Nations Member States and five EU Member States (Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain).