Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Tue December 15 2015

Two More Countries To Get Visa-Free Travel Rights In The EU

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | December 15, 2015

Two More Countries To Get Visa-Free Travel Rights In The EU

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Ukraine and Georgia expected good news today. Unfortunately, an EU Commission report detailing the positive steps taken in both countries has been delayed. The European media, citing unnamed sources in Brussels, has been saying that the report will help pave the way for visa-free travel in the EU for citizens of these two countries. 

A short delay 

The chief of EU foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, eased the minds of Georgians and Ukrainians earlier by saying that the report will be out “this month, in the coming days.” 

There are, of course, a number of rumors floating around about the delay. Georgia’s EU ambassador has blamed Ukraine, while others guess that the delay has to do with scheduled meetings between EU officials and Ukraine’s president on Dec. 16.

Visa-free travel on the horizon

German newspaper Die Welt has said that it has received statements from sources in Brussels that say that the report, when it is released, will be very positive. It will highlight both countries’ efforts against government corruption, their economic reforms and a greater level of democracy. More importantly, the report should also lay out a timeline for allowing visa-free travel within the EU for people from Georgia and Ukraine. 

Visa-free travel is certainly an attractive perk for people from these two countries. Should everything proceed to the EU’s liking, its the first step in making Ukraine and Georgia full members of the bloc. The idea is that once business travelers and tourists start taking advantage of their visa-free status in the EU, there will be momentum that could cause a move towards even great reforms in the two countries. Ideally, the countries will eventually be fully aligned with EU values and norms and can easily make the transition to full membership to enjoy the economic benefits that come with it. 

Trying to inspire greater reforms

Once the visa-free rules are official (sometime in mid-2016) Georgians and Ukrainians will be able to remain in the EU for up to three months during a six-month period. However, they will not be allowed to seek out employment while there. A separate work visa would be required for this. It remains to be seen if the new visa policy will benefit any tourist destinations in the EU. In general, this is more of a reward for Ukrainian and Georgian efforts rather than a way to bolster the travel industry. 

Soft power

Using visa-free travel as the carrot in a carrot-and-stick strategy to inspire reform in neighboring countries seems to be one of the most popular tools for Brussels. The practice has been referred to as an example of "soft power" - inspiring change with rewards, not threats. 

Next in line is Kosovo. The tiny Balkan country has yet to meet the benchmarks set out by Brussels, even though neighboring countries like Serbia and Albania have already earned visa-free status. Kosovo still struggles with organized crime and corruption, but so, too, do places like Ukraine and Moldova, which already enjoys visa-free status as well. 

Worries about migrants and terrorists slipping into Europe through the back doors could slow the visa-free movement in the coming years. Some people were surprised to see that the Ukraine and Georgia plan, which was in the works long before the Paris attacks, stayed on track. However, Kosovars could find themselves waiting for some time. 

For now, though, visa-free travel remains the first step for the EU to slowly draw bordering countries into the fold and eventually create one integrated European Union.  

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