Brussels, 18 December 2015
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today we have adopted three final visa liberalisation reports for Georgia, Ukraine, and Kosovo.
All the reports reflect the individual and merit-based assessment that the Commission has done on the visa liberalisation process in the three countries concerned.
First, today we adopted the fourth and last progress report on Georgia's implementation of the action plan on visa liberalisation.
The progress report highlights the significant headway made by Georgia to meet the criteria for visa liberalisation.
Based on our assessment, and the results of continuous monitoring and reporting carried out since the launch of the EU-Georgia Visa Liberalisation Dialogue in June 2012, the Commission considers that Georgia has made the necessary progress and undertaken all the required reforms to ensure effective and sustainable achievement of all the benchmarks set in the four blocks of the second phase of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.
Georgia has taken the actions demanded by the recommendations of the third progress report to ensure effective and sustainable implementation of its legislative framework in the fields of:
trafficking in human beings,
and citizens' rights.
Following the positive assessment of the progress report and taking into account the overall EU-Georgia relations, we will present in early 2016 a legislative proposal to lift visa requirements for Georgian citizens holding a biometric passport, by amending the Regulation on Visa requirements for nationals of Non-EU Member Countries.
Georgian nationals holding such a biometric passport would then be exempted from the visa requirement while crossing external borders of the Schengen zone for short-term stay.
I am very pleased that Georgian citizens with a biometric passport will soon be able to travel to the Schengen area for short stays without a visa.
The hard work of the Georgian authorities over the past three years towards achieving this important goal for the benefit of the Georgian citizens has given positive results.
Secondly, for Ukraine, we present to you today the sixth assessment report on the implementation of the EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.
Since the fifth report that we published in May, we consider that Ukraine has made the necessary progress and undertaken required reforms to ensure effective and sustainable achievement of the remaining benchmarks.
All the measures identified in the fifth progress report have been addressed in order to ensure that the legislative and policy framework, the institutional and organisational principles, and the implementation of procedures throughout the four blocks comply with European and international standards.
Ukraine has made great progress and there is a clear political commitment to reforms.
At the same time, progress in reforms and important legislative work in the area of prevention and fight against corruption remains key.
The report highlights that further work still needs to be done to consolidate the progress already achieved in this area.
Based on its assessment and the commitments taken by the Ukrainian leadership, the Commission considers that Ukraine meets all the benchmarks set in respect of the four blocks of the second phase of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.
Taking into account the overall relations between the EU and Ukraine, the Commission will present, in early 2016, to the European Council and European Parliament, a legislative proposal to amend the Regulation on Visa requirements for nationals of Non-EU Member Countries to include Ukraine on the list of the countries whose nationals, holding biometric passports, are exempted from the visa requirement while crossing external borders of the Schengen zone for short-term stay.
This is a great success and I wish to congratulate all involved in this process which is to benefit the Ukrainian people.
Let me add that the EU-Ukraine Visa Dialogue has proved to be an important and particularly effective tool for advancing far-reaching and difficult reforms in the Justice and Home Affairs area and beyond.
Of course, the Commission will continue to monitor the implementation of ongoing reforms such as anti-corruption, trafficking in human beings and organised crime.
Finally, today, the European Commission has adopted the third, and final, report on Kosovo’s progress in fulfilling the requirements of its visa liberalisation roadmap.
Only eight outstanding requirements remain.
As soon as Kosovo fulfils these last benchmarks and puts in place effective measures to prevent new migratory flows to the EU, the Commission will propose lifting the visa obligation for citizens of Kosovo.
Our report sets out four key priorities for Kosovo to focus on in the remaining period of the visa liberalisation dialogue:
transferring a sufficient number of judges to courts’ serious crime departments;
building up a track record of investigations, court rulings and confiscations in serious organised crime and corruption cases;
ensuring the operational independence of the Public Procurement Review Body and Public Procurement Regulatory Commission
and demonstrating that the legislation on name changes has been implemented.
Let me emphasise that I am very pleased with the enormous progress that Kosovo has made since 2014 in fulfilling the requirements of the visa roadmap.
That is why I am confident that Kosovo will soon be in a position to fulfil all the remaining requirements so that the Commission can propose lifting the visa obligation for Kosovo citizens.
I hope this will be possible early in 2016 – that should indeed be Kosovo's aim.
We will now use the remaining period to do our utmost to prepare Kosovo for visa-free travel.
I hereby announce that I will visit Kosovo in early 2016 to personally take stock of Kosovo’s progress in meeting the remaining eight benchmarks, so that we can come forward with a proposal as soon as Kosovo meets the outstanding requirements.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me conclude.
To be able to propose visa-free travel to key partner countries of the European Union is not only an important and particularly effective tool for advancing far-reaching and difficult reforms in the areas of Justice and Home Affairs as well as rule of law and justice reform.
This is also an important instrument to strengthen the ties and exchanges between countries.
And I would like to congratulate all three countries for their amazing efforts and commitment.