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EU States, Parliament Remove Key Obstacle To Visa-Free Travel For Ukraine, Georgia


Ukraine and Georgia are seeking greater integration with the West.

European Union member states and the European Parliament have struck a deal to end a dispute that had been holding up a decision to allow Ukrainians and Georgians visit the bloc without needing a visa.

"This agreement is balanced, and is extremely important for both the effectiveness and credibility of the union's visa-liberalization policy," a December 8 statement quoted European Council President and Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak as saying.

"The fact that we have reached an agreement should open the door to further progress on visa-liberalization talks with other countries that meet all the necessary requirements," said Kalinak, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

Separately, European Parliament member Agustin Diaz de Mera said the deal "will facilitate the immediate consideration of the two visa-liberalization proposals for Georgia and Ukraine."

Writing on his Facebook page, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko hailed "encouraging news from Brussels."

The statement said EU countries and lawmakers agreed to a compromise text on a regulation to strengthen the suspension mechanism that can be applied to all visa-liberalization agreements in emergencies amid fears over immigration and terrorism.

The regulation now has to be submitted to the European Parliament for a vote at first reading, and to the European Council for adoption.

Under the deal, the executive European Commission or EU states will be able to suspend quickly a country's visa exemption for nine months.

The EU can extend the suspension period for a further 18 months, but through a more complex procedure.

Visa requirements may be reintroduced if there is a surge of citizens from a non-EU country like Ukraine or Georgia staying irregularly in EU territory or if nationals from that country are deemed to pose a security threat.

They can also be reintroduced if there is a rise in unfounded asylum applications or a lack of cooperation on returning migrants.

Ukraine and Georgia are seeking greater integration with the West, but have been frustrated with the pace of EU moves to bring them closer.

Both former Soviet republics have faced military aggression from Russia in recent years, as well as other efforts by Moscow to increase its influence.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, Reuters, AFP, and Interfax
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