Europe opens doors for Georgia
Today, the visa-free regime for Georgian citizens to the European Union comes into force: now, biometric passport holders from Georgia will be able to visit the EU countries with a short visit without visas and move freely in the Schengen area, which includes 22 EU member states and four non-EU countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland), as well as four candidate countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania, Croatia).
They can stay 90 days within a 180-day period in Schengen countries. Persons enjoying a visa-free regime have no right to work and receive education in the countries of the European Union. The purpose of visiting the EU can be tourism, business meetings, trainings, participation in cultural events, visiting relatives.
Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Mgebrishvili signed a new regulation obligating Georgian customs officers to have a thorough conversation with citizens who are about to depart for the EU. During this conversation, customs officers will ask passengers’ the purpose of travel and ask for relevant documents to be presented.
If any of the documents do not meet European standards or if there is any unclearness, customs officers are obliged to warn Georgian citizens that they might be refused entry to the EU.
In case of violations such as staying in the EU longer than 90 days, the Georgian side will inform the relevant EU state, after which efforts will be made to return the citizen back to Georgia. Along with deportation, these citizens will also have to pay a 3000 euro fine.
The political scientist Giorgi Nodia, speaking with Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that despite the fact that from now on it will be much more convenient for Georgian citizens to contact Europe, there is no guarantee that the European integration of the republic will continue.
"Obtaining a visa was difficult and time-consuming, after which their applies could also be declined. Now it is enough to have the necessary documents and hotel reservation. Of course, this applies only to those citizens who have enough money to travel," the expert admitted.
"Today, we also received moral satisfaction because Europe recognized Georgia as a privileged country in relations with Europe, and citizens of Georgia - those having an advantage over citizens of other countries," Giorgi Nodia noted.
And yet there is a possibility that a visa-free regime is not only the first, but also the last step of Georgia's European integration. "There is no certainty that there will be progress on the road to European integration, the European Union is not inclined to accept new members. One step towards Europe has been made, but we do not know what will happen next," the political scientist concluded.
The head of the Institute of Management Strategy, Petre Mamradze, agreed with him. "Politically, this is a positive moment for Georgia, because of our socio-economic situation - that the country has reached a level when the European Union provides it with a visa-free regime. If we talk about whether citizens will live better, the answer is no," he warned.
"The current conditions for a visa-free regime do not allow citizens of Georgia to work in the EU or to study there. Those who have money have already received a Schengen visa without any problems. The European Union has been working these months to establish conditions for the immediate termination of a visa-free regime Georgia - for one day the EU will be able to take a decision and cancel the visa-free regime," Petre Mamradze pointed out.
For Georgia it would be a difficult event. "It would be worse than if the visa-free regime were not introduced at all. Just two weeks ago, the former Israeli ambassador to Georgia said that 80% of Georgian citizens who visit Israel without visas try to stay there illegally. If the scale of violators remains the same, it will be fraught with problems for Georgia," the political scientist said.
As for further European integration, it will not continue in the foreseeable future. "We know that the EU does not have the resources to host new countries, especially since Georgia does not meet the standards of the European Union in many respects. In the end, we should not link this step towards the full-fledged eurointegration, which does not promise the republic anything good," the head of the Institute of Management Strategy stressed.
"In fact, the population does not now have a predisposition to active integration into Europe: citizens are more afraid that Georgia will become empty because of this, although I explain to everyone that it's not possible, because no one will give jobs to Georgian citizens in Europe," Petre Mamradze summed up.