Georgia could sign in June an agreement that would give its citizens easier visa access to the European Union, the bloc’s president Herman Van Rompuy said on Tuesday.
The deal, to be accompanied by a parallel agreement on repatriation of Georgians caught staying illegally on EU territory, would speed up procedures and drop visa prices from 60 to 35 euros (48 dollars).
‘We hope that we can soon fix a date for signature, possibly early June,’ Van Rompuy said in Brussels after meeting with Georgia’s Prime Minister Nika Gilauri.
Van Rompuy also said ‘it should be soon possible’ for Georgia and the EU to start negotiations on an Association Agreement, which would include setting up a free-trade area.
But in the short-term, the visa deal is likely to matter most to Tblisi’s rulers, as it would end the de-facto preferential treatment of people living in territories that have broken away from Georgia with Russian backing, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Their population currently enjoys easier access to the EU by using passports issued by Russia, which has already signed visa-facilitation deals with Brussels.
That creates resentment in Tblisi, since Abkhazia and South Ossetia have no international recognition, except from Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru, a tiny island nation in Micronesia.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been de-facto independent since the early 1990s, but their isolation from Georgia proper increased in the wake of the 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict, which led Moscow to set up military bases in the two territories.
Van Rompuy said the EU continued ‘to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia’ and urged Russia ‘to fulfil all (the) commitments’ dictated by an EU-mediated cease-fire agreement, which include an obligation not to expand its military presence.
The EU’s president added that the bloc would ‘remain actively involved in confidence building measures and conflict resolution’ and stressed how its monitoring mission to Georgia ‘has proven to be a crucial factor of stability.’
The EU’s observers are the only international presence left in the country, after parallel missions of the United Nations and of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were not renewed last year because Russia wanted them to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.