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The Prime Minister of Georgia, Irakli Gharibashvili, in his assessment of the results of the Eastern Partnership’s Riga Summit, stated that Georgia has achieved significant progress over the last six months in terms of the implementation of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP). As stated by the Prime Minister, the government should have begun the process in 2010 when Moldova – another member of the Eastern Partnership – started. However, Georgia did not begin the visa liberalisation process at that time. Mr Gharibashvili underscored that Moldova has already been granted visa-free travel to the European Union precisely because it started work on the process earlier.

FactCheck

took interest in the accuracy of the Prime Minister’s statement.

The Eastern Partnership countries comprise those European countries which were first to conclude their mobility partnership agreements with the European Union. At the time, these agreements were the most sophisticated forms of bilateral relations between the European Union and the partner states. Apart from this programme, there are two more agreements working to simplify visa procedures with the EU: the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreement and the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.

A key component

of the Eastern Partnership is to enable citizens of partner countries to move throughout Europe within a safe environment. The simplification of entrance procedures to the territory of the European Union for citizens of non-EU member states is guaranteed by launching the visa facilitation process and concluding an agreement on readmission for those citizens who had entered the territory of the EU illegally.

The European Union concluded the Mobility Partnership Agreement with Moldova in May 2008 whilst the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreement went into force in 2007. To compare, the European Union took the obligation to start the visa liberalisation process with Georgia in September 2008 at a high-level extraordinary summit. In June 2008, Georgia started

cooperation with the EU in regard to mobility issues. In November 2009, the EU and Georgia reached an agreement which envisaged Georgia’s obligation to draft a set of legislative acts on migration. With the initiative of launching the Eastern Partnership in May 2009, the EU promised that mobility would be liberalised for the six post-Soviet republics of the Eastern Partnership.

As we can see, the EU concluded the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreement with Moldova in 2007 (it went into force in 2008) whilst Georgia had to wait until 2010 to conclude the same agreement. In regard to the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP), the EU started a political dialogue with Moldova on 15 June 2010 and Moldova was granted the VLAP in January 2011. The declaration of the Eastern Partnership’s 2015 Riga Summit says that Moldova successfully fulfilled all of the requirements of the VLAP. Therefore, citizens of Moldova were granted the right of visa-free travel to Europe.

The EU-Georgia political dialogue in regard to visa liberalisation started in June 2012. According to the statement of the former European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, Georgia was to have received the VLAP later that year. However, the European Commissioner provided Georgia with the VLAP only at the end of February 2013. Therefore, the Government of Georgia started the necessary procedures and the preparation of the legislative basis as required by the VLAP only after February 2013.

Visa Liberalisation Action Plans include the following fields: document security, border and migration management, fight against corruption and organised crime, protection of human rights and minorities and antidiscrimination. The preparation of the respective legislative basis in the aforementioned fields is a crucial element to fulfilling the requirements of the VLAP.

On 29 October 2014, the European Commission approved the implementation report of the EU-Georgia Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, thus confirming that Georgia had adopted the respective legislative regulations and fulfilled the first phase requirements. Georgia also began the second phase of the VLAP which envisages the EU’s observation of the actual implementation process of the legislative novelties. In regard to legislative acts, it is important to note that an antidiscrimination law was adopted in the summer of 2014 together with significant amendments in personal data safety legislation. Of note is that the elaboration of the antidiscrimination law started in 2013 but took almost a half-year for the law to be adopted owing to dissatisfaction in certain circles of society and statements made by different representatives of the Georgian Orthodox Church. It was eventually approved in May 2014. Naturally, these types of obstacles have complicated the process of fulfilling the requirements of the VLAP to some extent.

According to the Euro Integration Direction Manager of the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Ivane Chkhikvadze, Georgia needs a facilitation agreement in order to have visa-free travel to the EU. The aforementioned agreement with Moldova was concluded several years before Georgia. Therefore, it is groundless to say that Georgia should have started to fulfil the requirements of the VLAP together with Moldova. Further, this represents an impossibility because Moldova was granted the facilitation agreement earlier than Georgia.

Conclusion

The European Union started cooperation with Moldova to simplify visa procedures in 2007 when the Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreement was concluded. Georgia was granted the same agreement only in 2010.

Moldova received its Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP) in 2010 and started to fulfil all of its requirements in 2011. Of particular mention is that the EU had not made a political decision on starting negotiations on visa liberalisation with Georgia in 2010. Therefore, the Government of Georgia could not have started to fulfil a plan which had not even been offered by the European Union. Talks on the EU-Georgia Visa Liberalisation Action Plan started only after two years, in 2012, and Georgia was granted the VLAP in February 2013. At that time, the Georgian Dream government was already in power. As we can see, the then Government of Georgia was unable to start to fulfil all of the VLAP’s requirements in 2010. The statement of the Prime Minister is factually incorrect.

Therefore, FactCheck concludes that Irakli Gharibashvili’s statement is FALSE.

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