EU adjourns again visa-free travel for Georgia amid immigration fears

by Reuters
Wednesday, 1 June 2016 15:36 GMT

By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS, June 1 (Reuters) - European Union states held off agreeing to ease travel rules for Georgia on Wednesday, and Turkey, Ukraine and Kosovo should also expect more delays in visa waiving as the bloc turns more cautious amid immigration fears, EU delegation sources said.

The EU is already making it easier to suspend visa-free travel before it grants such right to more states, most notably Turkey, whose help it needs to control immigration after some 1.3 million people reached Europe last year.

While Brussels says Turkey, with a population of 79 million, is making progress on meeting all 72 criteria in order to be put on the EU visa waiver list, Ankara is now seen missing an end-June deadline and more likely to be granted the privilege only in the autumn.

EU envoys in Brussels discussed a similar deal for Georgia again on Wednesday but there was no decision, diplomats said. They may return to the issue next week, before holding their first discussion on the more controversial case of Ukraine.

The bloc's current Dutch presidency has scheduled more technical-level meetings on Ukraine only after EU interior ministers meet in Luxembourg on June 9-10, a signal that no decision on Kiev is likely before then.

The case of another hopeful, Kosovo, has also slowed down even though the bloc's executive European Commission recommended visa-free travel for all four countries, EU sources said.

After an acceleration several weeks ago, tied to the EU deal with Ankara that sharply cut the number of refugees and migrants reaching Europe from the Turkish coast, talks have now run into trouble over Turkey's refusal to change its anti-terror laws.

The weaker political momentum also complicates the matter for the other three countries, diplomats say, and time is running out before the summer break. The European Parliament, where a majority is needed to enact such agreements, will hold its last session on July 4-7 and only resume mid-September.

Immigration is also a key theme in the June 23 national referendum in Britain on whether to leave the EU which is struggling with an influx of some 1.3 million refugees and migrants last year. (Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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