BRUSSELS -- European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said on December 18 that the European Union should offer visa-free short-stay travel within the Schengen zone for citizens of Ukraine, Georgia, and Kosovo -- all three locked in bitter disputes with Russia.
Speaking after an EU summit in Brussels, Juncker said the commission "took a positive position on the liberalization of visas" and proposed to "EU leaders that they take rapid decisions on visa liberalization for the three countries," he said.
If approved by EU member states and the European Parliament, citizens could travel to the EU without visas as soon as 2016.
The commission said Georgia and Ukraine met all the conditions for visa-free travel, but it made visa liberalization for Kosovo conditional on Pristina satisfying eight specific points aimed at reigning in corruption and crime.
Sources in Brussels say that while the European Parliament will vote in favor of visa-free travel for the countries, it might prove difficult to gain approval from some member states -- especially regarding Ukraine.
In Germany, there are concerns that visa liberalization could increase migratory flows into the EU.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the EU summit in Brussels on December 18 that the EU's migration crisis "is not going to affect the decision regarding Ukraine in terms of its bid" for a visa-free regime.
Merkel said "Germany takes the recommendation and the European Commission's reports very seriously and we will proceed on the issue."
The commission's reports regarding Ukraine and Georgia were released on December 16 after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, EU Council President Donald Tusk, and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker met in Brussels to iron out remaining differences.
With additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP