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Abolition of visa regime between Russia and the EU countries is a matter of time

14:15 | 18.05.2012 | Analytic

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18 May 2012. PenzaNews. Leading representatives of German business have demanded the abolition of visa regulations with Russia because visas impede business contacts and are linked to unnecessary expenses.

Abolition of visa regime between Russia and the EU countries is a matter of time

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The joint appeal for facilitation and future abolition of the visa regime between the EU and Russia was signed by Germany’s six large economic organizations, such as the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, the Federal Association of German Banks, the Federal Association of German Wholesale, Service and Foreign Trade, the German Tourism Association, the Association of German Machine Builders and the Association of the German Automotive industry.

Shortly after the appeal received publicity Permanent Representative of Russia to the EU Vladimir Chizhov made a statement that the Sochi Winter Olympic Games 2014 could become Russia-EU visa-free travel threshold.

The idea of establishing a visa-free regime between the EU and Russia is also supported by some German politicians, in particular, by representatives of the Left Party. Thus, the Bundestag deputy, former deputy chairman of the parliamentary group The Left (Die Linke) in the German parliament, Jan van Aken in an interview with news agency PenzaNews said that he felt the necessity for visa regulations facilitation.

“Our party wants the visa system to be cancelled as fast as possible, a lot of simplifications like online application should be implemented as quickly as possible,” the German politician said.

Moreover, the deputy stands for introducing the “72 hours” measure and online applications, for granting more multiple entry visas and for cancellation of general personal audition.

“In a debate on our parliamentary initiative the ruling coalition parties, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, have just made clear that they are not willing to change the current visa policy towards Russia right now,” Jan van Aken added.

Even though, according to his words, their position is slowing down a process for the whole European Community, the Bundestag deputy believes that at some point a visa free zone with Russia and Eastern Europe will be implemented.

“My faction will put as much pressure as possible on the Government to speed up this process,” the member of German parliament emphasized.

However, complete abolition of the visa regime between the EU and Russia is not possible today. This is the opinion expressed by Andreas Metz, head of Press and Communications Department at the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations.

“The survey of German companies in 2011 found out that the visa regime between Russia and Germany presents the main obstacle for trade and investment and inflicts losses,” Andreas Metz said.

According to the German analyst, the joint appeal for the abolition of visa regulations, published by the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations in late April, is now getting approval of the French economic union.

“It is impossible to cancel visas now but we have to inch our way forward towards increasing trust between the two parties. The first steps can be facilitation of the issuance of multiple visas for Russian citizens and the abolition of their personal presence at the consulates,” he said and added that Germany, in return, hopes for the abolition of the request that EU nationals register with the local police if they stay in Russia longer than 3 days.

Meanwhile, the main arguments of opponents of visa regime facilitation, according to the expert, are the fear of crime and illegal migration.

“However, we believe that certain measures, such as biometric passports and electronic registers may work better and faster than the visa regime, that is why our committee is fighting for its abolition,” he said.

Moreover, according to the expert, the organization has developed a series of specific measures aimed at visa regime facilitation and its future cancellation. Among other things, the analyst highlighted visa application processing speeding and simplifying, the possibility of applying for visas by e-mail, issuing multiple-entry visas, visa fees reduction, abolition of personal presence in consulates, invitations abolition and abolition of original documents submission.

It should be noted that the visa regime between the EU and Russia, in fact, was facilitated in 2007, resulting in visa fees reduction from 60 to 35 euros. Besides, the procedure was greatly simplified and became free for selected number of groups such as students, journalists, businessmen and cargo drivers.

Moreover, last year the European Union added new measures to make the issuance of visas simplier. This deal also reduced the number of documents Russian nationals need to submit to apply for Schengen visa.

However, according to the expert of the European Council on Foreign Relations Jana Kobzova, the main problem is that even this agreement is not always implemented in practice, neither by Russia nor by some EU member states.

“Nevertheless, last year the European Union and Russia agreed on a list of common steps that will eventually lead to cancellation of the visa regime between the EU and Russia. Both sides have to do a number of things — on the Russian side, this includes issuance of biometric passports, improved border management and security and so on. The European Union needs to ratify several conventions,” she said and stressed that, in general, the time-line for when the EU cancels visa for Russians now depends on the steps of the Russian government to meet the conditions it has already agreed to.

In addition, according to the analyst of the European Council on Foreign Relations, 72-hours rule is hardly realistic.

“Given the number of applicants in Russia for Schengen visa it will be impossible to screen all applications within the 72-hours limit without substantial increase in number of staff working on consular sections,” she noted.

Foreign experts argue that main concerns in Europe are raised because of possible flow of migrants. In this regard, Russian public representatives consider paradoxical the fact that citizens of Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela and Nicaragua can enter Germany with no visas. However, Jana Kobzova thinks that special attention is justifiably paid to the security issue.

“Do not forget that Russia is the second largest source of asylum-seekers to the EU after Afghanistan, greater source than Iraq or Somalia. The European Union therefore has to weight the costs of potential benefits of a visa-free regime with Russia against these security worries,” she said.

According to her words, many argue that the current system favors the elites which have the means to buy property in Europe or that those criminals who want to enter Europe will do so anyway, despite the visa regime and say that the system basically does more harm to ordinary citizens than to anyone else.

“The visa system allows the EU to ban certain individuals from entering the European Union. Without visas it would be impossible,” Jana Kobzova emphasized.

Nevertheless, the expert considers visas cancellation a matter of time because, although some EU member states might not like the idea of Russia having a visa-free regime, the fact is that the European Union has already agreed that this will be possible in the future.

“However, without more steps on the Russian side to simplify the visas for Europeans, the EU will be unlikely to make further steps. Therefore, the ball is now in the court of the Russian government,” she emphasized.

Director of the Berthold Beitz Center for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia of the German Council on Foreign Relations Alexander Rahr thinks that the abolition of visas has dragged on.

“More than twenty years ago there was a collapse of the USSR, the Cold War ended, and the visa barrier is the last relic of this system in Europe. I think we delayed on the issue,” he said.

According to his words, visa regime facilitation is not only advantageous to German business, but also provides new opportunities for tourists — both Russians traveling to Europe and Europeans who wish to visit Russia.

“Europe is afraid of migrant flows, especially criminals, who can move to the West, however, the removal of all the barriers would allow the Europeans to learn Russia from within, not from the critical notes of the Western press,” Alexander Rahr noted.

So far, according to the expert, the attitude towards the East, indeed, points out to the double standards of the West — this is the echo of the Cold War.

“Nevertheless, this issue is the topic for hearings in the German Bundestag, and I still believe that visas would be cancelled not later than the World championship on football in 2018,” the analyst said.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Henning Schröder, head of the Russian Federation and CIS research division at German Institute for International and Security Affairs emphasized that this is not a bilateral issue.

“It is the problem that should be solved with the participation of all countries of the EU on the one side and Russia on the other. And it is not so simple to get all these countries together,” the political scientist noted.

According to his words, within these countries there are controversies between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Usually representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are for the end of visa regime and representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs are against it.

“Another problem is that at least some of the deputies fear that if they drop the visa regime there will be a wide discussion in the media about migrant workers. They fear of this bad publicity before the elections,” the expert said.

Nevertheless, according to Hans-Henning Schröder, migrants are not the problem; the problem is people’s perception of the issue.

The expert of the German Council on Foreign Relations Stefan Meister shares this opinion.

“It is really a psychological problem. People consider visa abolition a big threat. In addition, the main debate is that domestic politicians are afraid that, simply stated, they will not be reelected if they open the border towards Russia,” the analyst noted.

Moreover, according to the expert, the other discussion is about if Russia can really protect its own borders with post-Soviet countries. However, if these issues are fixed, the abolition of the visa regime will not take long.

“The problem of Russian border security requires certain decisions. All other questions in the process of visa abolition — are technical questions,” Stefan Meister emphasized.

Moreover, he believes that there has been a change of the discourse in Germany and the EU — now there is increasing understanding that the society needs facilitation or abolition of visa regime.

“It will not happen tomorrow but in a mid-term or in a long-term it will happen,” he said.

Martin Hoffmann, managing director and member of the board of the German-Russian Forum declared that the process of visas abolition would take time.

“By looking at the demands for a complete abolition of visa on the European level, one has to see realistically that we will have to be patient for a long time, before any precise simplifications will be implemented. But the action of the working group of the German Bundestag for the liberalization of the visa regime with Russia as well as the efforts that arise from actors of the economy and the German-Russian Forum have shown that even within the current EU-regulations, high progress can be achieved,” the expert stated.

Meanwhile, every country with its own traditions and experiences has varying considerations, which extremely complicates the process of adjustment and coordination, and not only in the issue of the visa regime.

“It should be noted that Russia is the biggest country in the world and thus needs a special approach on any level of integration. This, however, may not serve as an alibi for the slow progress of concrete reforms,” Martin Hoffmann emphasized.

The establishment of visa-free regime, from his point of view, will contribute to progress in political, cultural and economic spheres of both parties. Only realizing it, the countries will move in the right direction.

“The visa issue is just one of the unsolved challenges that illustrates that a common European concept with Russia does not yet exist. I am an optimist by nature and hope that Europe will continue to work constructively for a larger integration,” the analyst concluded.

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