11:02 Jun. 10, 2016
Bloc's biggest member states raise new concerns, pushing approval to September at the earliest
Hopes in Georgia, Ukraine and Kosovo that the European Union would approve their visa-free access to the bloc by the summer have faded in recent days amid a raft of new concerns raised by the bloc's biggest member states.
The issues range from German concerns about organized crime by Georgian gangs to worries in France that the visa deals could create new security vulnerabilities at a time of heightened terror fears.
E.U. officials and diplomats now say that September appears to be the earliest date that E.U. governments and the European Parliament could sign off the agreements, the Wall Street Journal reports.
In recent months, the European Commission, the E.U.'s executive, has recommended visa-free status for Georgia, Ukraine and Kosovo. Their bids were expected to move rapidly.
On Wednesday, however, ambassadors from the E.U.'s 28 nations failed to gather enough support to back Georgia's bid.
Georgia has been waiting for a decision on its visa-free regime since December. But in recent days, German officials have argued that Berlin's backing for a deal is contingent on more efforts to stamp out Georgian organized crime gangs that German authorities blame for a spate of house robberies, German and E.U. officials say. On Wednesday, Berlin asked the commission to report on Georgian crime gangs across the bloc, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Other countries have also slowed down approval. Italy and France have said a decision should await the approval of new rules which will make it easier to suspend visa-free regimes in case of abuse. The European Parliament is only expected to formally back the changes in September.
Diplomats say there are some E.U. governments who want to hold up any decisions on Georgia, Ukraine and Kosovo until they consider Turkey's visa-free application. That has created growing concerns in Kyiv, Tbilisi and Pristina.
On Thursday, Mykola Tochytskyi, Ukraine's ambassador to the E.U., said he hoped European governments and the Parliament would formally approve Kyiv's visa bid by early autumn at the latest.
He warned, however, that any further delays and linking Ukraine's bid with others would hurt the E.U.'s credibility. That will add to domestic pressure on the government when it is trying to push difficult legislation through parliament connected to its economic program and the Minsk peace agreement with Russia.