EU said after two-day summit with Eastern Partnership countries in Riga that fulfillment of all reform criteria by Georgia and Ukraine will pave the way for the European Commission to propose visa waiver in the Schengen area for the citizens of these two countries.
A joint declaration, adopted upon conclusion of the Riga Summit on May 22, "warmly” welcomes "the progress made by Georgia and Ukraine respectively in the implementation of their Visa Liberalisation Action Plans [VLAP] as described in the latest Progress Reports by the European Commission.”
The report referred to in the declaration notes Georgia’s significant progress in implementing reform targets required to be eligible for a short-term visa-free regime in the Schengen are, although it identifies areas where the country has yet to achieve benchmarks.
"They [the Riga Summit participants] look forward to completion by Ukraine and Georgia of the implementation of the 2nd phase of their Visa Liberalization Action Plans [VLAP] once all benchmarks are fulfilled through the implementation of all required reforms, and welcome the [European] Commission’s readiness to do its utmost to support Ukraine and Georgia in the implementation of their VLAPs and its intention to report on progress by Ukraine and Georgia respectively by the end of 2015,” reads the Riga Summit declaration
"Fulfillment of all benchmarks would allow to conclude the VLAP process and the [European] Commission to propose to the European Parliament and to the [European] Council to exempt Ukrainian and Georgian citizens respectively from the visa requirement,” reads the declaration.
The date of next assessment – "by the end of 2015” – had already been set by the European Commission in its recent VLAP progress reports on Georgia and Ukraine. The Riga Summit declaration does not include the date when the countries will become eligible to receive the EU visa waiver after all criteria are met.
Georgian leaders wanted to get "unambiguous endorsement of visa-free regime” at the Riga summit.
Asked if it will be possible to grant Georgia visa-free regime next year, Latvian PM Laimdota Straujuma said at a news conference that if by the end of this year the European Commission gives a positive assessment, "then Georgia and Ukraine might enjoy visa-free regime next year.”
Responding to the same question, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said Georgia and Ukraine have made "enormous progress” in the recent months and added that he handed over to Georgian and Ukrainian authorities "a list of issues on which Georgia and Ukraine still need to make some progress.”
In response to the same question, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said Georgia and Ukraine have made "enormous progress” in recent months and added that he handed over "a list of issues on which Georgia and Ukraine still need to make some progress” to the authorities of the two countries.
Juncker also said that the European Council will make the decision after the European Commission publishes its next assessment around the 15th of December.
"I’m very optimistic about liberalizing visa regimes for Ukraine and Georgia,” Juncker added.
President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said on the same question that "political mood” among the EU member states was "very optimistic.”
"As you know, this process [visa liberalisation] will need acceptance from all the EU member states,” he said. "The most promising thing was that all of them [referring to EU leaders at the summit] mentioned how important for them this process about visa regime is. The political mood was very responsible and very optimistic.”
Another issues pushed by Georgia, along with Moldova and Ukraine, ahead of the summit was to give these countries a clear perspective for EU membership.
But the Riga Summit declaration repeats the wording of the document adopted during the previous Eastern Partnership Summit held in Vilnius in 2013. The document reads that the "summit participants acknowledge the European aspirations and European choice of the partners concerned.”
President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said that there was "tough discussion on language” and it was even "difficult” to put the wording acknowledging "European aspirations” in the final declaration.
"Nobody promised that Eastern Partnership will be the automatic way to EU membership,” Tusk said in response to a question from a Ukrainian journalist. "It’s a long process, you have friends and enemies and skeptics in Europe. In this very difficult time, in these geopolitical circumstances in our region, the fact that we achieved this level of ambition in our declaration we have to appreciate it. It was also a very difficult and demanding process to convince our partners; this level of ambition in our common language may be the maximum we can achieve today.”
The Riga Summit declaration also reaffirms "the sovereign right of each partner freely to choose the level of ambition and the goals to which it aspires in its relations with the European Union.”
"It is for the EU and its sovereign partners to decide on how they want to proceed in their relations,” it adds.
The declaration says that implementation of the Association Agreements with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine is "a top priority of the EU and the partners concerned for the coming years.”
It also reaffirms EU’s differentiated approach to Eastern Partnership countries, saying that EU’s "incentive-based approach (‘more-for-more’) will benefit those partners most engaged in reforms.”
"EU financial support to all its partners will be conditioned by concrete reform steps,” reads the declaration.
EU has also reiterated "support to the territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty of all its partners.”
"The acts against Ukraine and the events in Georgia since 2014 have shown that the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity within internationally recognised borders cannot be taken for granted in the 21st century on the European continent,” reads the Riga Summit declaration. "Recalling the need to fully implement the 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement, Summit participants reiterate their commitment to conflict resolution efforts in Georgia, including through the co-chairmanship of the Geneva International Discussions by the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia and the full implementation of the mandate of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia.”