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EU: Commission Mulls Different Visa Regimes for Kaliningrad, Other Eastern Neighbors

The European Commission said it is preparing an extensive set of measures to ease cross-border travel for the citizens of its future eastern and southern neighbors. These new measures are likely to comply with the requirements of the EU's Schengen visa regime but will fall short of the concessions offered to Russia.

Brussels, 27 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today said it is considering two separate sets of moves to ease cross-border traffic after enlargement -- one for Kaliningrad, the other for the rest of its new neighbors, ranging from Croatia and Yugoslavia to Moldova and Belarus.

Last week, the EU offered Russia a list of concessions over Kaliningrad, among them an offer to issue frequent travelers from the Russian mainland to the enclave a free, easy-to-acquire "Kaliningrad pass." EU officials have insisted the pass is not a visa, although they say it would perform functions equivalent to those of a visa.

The precise legal standing of these concessions vis-a-vis the EU's visa-free Schengen regime remains unclear at this stage and is likely to be subject to intense discussions among EU foreign ministers, who are scheduled to meet in Brussels on 30 September.

At the same time, a European Commission document leaked yesterday says the EU is, in parallel, considering separate concessions for what it calls "small border traffic" from future neighbors on its eastern and southern borders. These concessions are to remain based on the Schengen requirements.

Jean Christophe Filori, the Commission's enlargement spokesman, today said that commercial "small border traffic" and the problem of Kaliningrad "have nothing to do with each other" and require different solutions:

"The Kaliningrad issue is not about small border traffic. It's about the transit between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. This is the only issue at stake. Small border traffic is people living in Poland at the border with Ukraine and wanting to go to the market in Ukraine, or Ukrainians wanting to go to the Polish markets and sell products during the weekend, for example."

Filori said future member states, among them Poland, have asked the EU to take measures to avoid the loss of existing lucrative cross-border trade ties with countries such as Ukraine and Belarus.

Offering his clarification, the commission's chief spokesman, Jonathan Faull, today appeared to admit that Russia's sovereignty over Kaliningrad warrants greater concessions: "[Kaliningrad is different] for the obvious reason that it's a part of a country that is cut off from the country to which it belongs."

The commission's new plans -- as quoted by Reuters yesterday -- contain a number of options, none of which would place any specific burdens on a single new member the way the EU's concessions over Kaliningrad appear to have centered on Lithuania.

Central among the options is the concept of a cheap, multiple-entry visa allowing people with legal jobs -- but also possibly "other categories" -- across the border. They would be able to enter the EU for a limited time -- for example, one week -- and stay within a limited area -- for example, up to 25 kilometers from the border.

Alternatively, border residents could be given a "uniform border permit" that would allow them to enter the EU even outside authorized border crossings or cross the frontier just with local identity cards.