European Union states agreed in principle on Wednesday to give Georgia visa-free travel, but delayed rolling out the programme until they could agree on stronger safeguards against any sudden influx of migrants.
The decision underlined increased caution in the bloc about immigration since the arrival of about 1.3 million refugees and migrants last year. The European Union has been negotiating to ease travel restrictions for Georgians as a recognition of democratic advances in the former Soviet nation of 3.7 million people. But Germany blocked visa liberalisation in June, demanding that the bloc first firm up its system for suspending visa waivers to cope with any sharp rises in arrivals.
Easier travel rules for Georgians overlap with similar talks the EU is holding with Ukraine and Turkey. Those two countries are more problematic for the EU, making member states wary of moving ahead on Tbilisi. Georgia, on Russia’s border, is caught in a geo-political tussle between the West and Moscow which opposes Tbilisi’s EU aspirations and sees the nation as part of its sphere of influence. Georgia’s government had hoped the visa waiver scheme would come through before elections this weekend.