BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to approve visa liberalization for Georgia, paving the way for Georgians to travel to the European Union's Schengen zone without obtaining visas.
European lawmakers backed visa liberalization, long anticipated in Georgia, by a vote of 553 to 66, with 28 abstentions.
Georgians will still have to wait for the European Parliament and the European Council to vote on a mechanism allowing for the suspension of visa-free regimes with countries, including Georgia and Ukraine, under certain circumstances once they are in place.
The suspension mechanism was given preliminary approval in December. EU diplomats have told RFE/RL that the final European Parliament vote is expected at the next plenary session, on February 13-16, and that EU member states are poised to agree on it on February 27 or 28.
Georgians are likely to be able to travel visa-free to the Schengen zone starting in late March or early April, diplomats say.
Georgia has long sought greater integration with Europe but has been frustrated with the pace of EU moves to bring it closer.
The South Caucasus country has faced persistent efforts by Russia to increase its influence since the two former Soviet republics fought a five-day war in 2008.
The 26 Schengen Area countries are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.