European Council President Donald Tusk thinks it is possible for Georgians to travel without visas to European Union (EU) countries in 2016.
One day before the Easter Partnership (EaP) Summit is held in Riga, Tusk expressed hope in an exclusive interview with Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty that "both Ukrainian and Georgian citizens would enjoy visa free travel to the EU's passport free Schengen zone as early as next year.”
Everything depends on their effort and commitment. Of course, it is possible, but is not an official promise. We are in the middle of the process. But the progress in both countries, in Georgia and Ukraine, is really promising,” Tusk said.
He added the EU's next assessment of visa free travel for Ukrainians and Georgians could be conducted in November, and that "if the progress is as promising as it is today, I think that [visa frree travel to the Ethe2016 is quite possible."
While speaking about the potential of full EU membership for former Soviet republics – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - European Council President Tusk said these countries had the right to aspire to EU membership but that he will not deliver an "empty promise” about the prospects of such integration.
In the interview he underlined that a partnership program was never a guarantee of EU membership, even in the future, but that Kiev, Tbilisi, and Chisinau "have their right to have a dream, also the European dream.”
He emphasized that his role as European Council president was to manage these countries’ expectations in the coming years.
"Our duty -- I feel it is also my personal responsibility -- is to deliver not an empty promise that it is possible tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, but the way to Europe," he said.
"I mean not membership in a predictable future, but to European standards, to our cultural and political community."
Meanwhile the European Commission published a report on Georgia's implementation of its Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP) on May 9, stressing that Georgia’s "significant progress” reached in a short period of time "is broadly in line with the second-phase benchmarks.”
In addition, on May 8 Georgia’s President, Prime Minister and Parliament Speaker addressed EU high officials with a joint statement, expressing their hope that Georgia would gain a visa free regime with the EU at the EaP Summit.
A similar request was voiced by more than 400 civil society organisations from EaP countries one week ago.
The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) statement read that visa free travel to the Schengen area, which citizens of Moldova had been enjoying since April 2014, was one of the most tangible EaP achievements and should be extended to Georgia and Ukraine - the countries who signed Association Agreements with the EU last year.