Donald Tusk: “If we don’t grant visa waiver to Georgia, EU’s credibility will be at risk”

European Council President Donald Tusk gestures during a news conference after a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium December 18, 2015. REUTERS/Eric Vidal, 06 Dec 2016 - 18:47, Tbilisi,Georgia

President of the European Council Donald Tusk has sent a letter to President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, stressing the importance of granting a visa-free regime to Georgia and Ukraine.

In his letter Tusk said "we simply cannot allow those who have put their trust in us in the end to become the victims of our internal disputes”.

"As I write this letter, the issue of visa liberalisation entering into force for Ukraine and Georgia is about to be decided. Member States and the European Parliament are currently engaged in a dispute over the so-called 'suspension mechanism'. But what is really at stake in this process is something more than the balance of power in the EU political system,” Tusk wrote.

At stake here are the legitimate hopes and aspirations of the nations who are our neighbours, as well as the reputation of the European Union, which has categorically and repeatedly committed itself to this issue.”

He added the EU had put tough demands on its partners, which they had met at the price of painful reform efforts, and often at huge political risk.

They took up this challenge in the firm belief that the EU would abide by its undertakings and deliver on its promises. So let me repeat that what we risk losing here are not only social, political and economic interests, not only the future of our relations with all our neighbours, but also - and especially - our own credibility,” Tusk said.

The European Council President stressed that he knew that the European Parliament had played a "uniquely positive role” in the negotiating process, and that it had the best intentions also when it came to the issue that was still blocking the grant of visas (the 'suspension mechanism’). 

He believed it would therefore be "truly unfortunate” if the Parliaments intentions and "all the hard work” it had put into this did not bring about the desired outcome.

"I can understand why you attach special importance to the role the European Parliament plays in launching the suspension mechanism. I also appreciate your willingness to look for a far-reaching compromise. On the other hand, however, I can also understand Member States that want to decide on their own about who crosses their borders,” Tusk wrote to Schulz.

Even though all the parties in this debate have their own good arguments and undoubtedly good will, it seems that we are getting close to squandering our joint efforts,” he added.

Tusk said that in the current mood, which was unfavourable towards openness due to the migration crisis, Member States had nonetheless expressed their willingness to grant visa-free travel to Georgia and Ukraine.

But if we are to stand a chance of making visa-free travel a reality, it is my firm conviction that the suspension mechanism needs to be robust and effective from the start. Therefore, if we are to retain our credibility, we need to find a realistic — rather than an ideal — solution to this problem."

He added that in this "very complicated and demanding process”, the EU structures had already managed to overcome a great number of obstacles together, and there was no question about the "great efforts” the European Parliament had made throughout this process to ensure that the EU would ultimately succeed in its joint objective.

"It would therefore be an unforgivable mistake if we did not make every effort now to finalise this project,” Tusk said.

We simply cannot allow those who have put their trust in us in the end to become the victims of our internal disputes.”
I believe that for the sake of this important cause, we now need to find a rapid agreement on the 'suspension mechanism'. Time is not on our side, but we can still win this race.”