The EU made progress towards visa-free travel with Ukraine and Moldova and began talks on visa-facilitation with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The EU’s objective in the Eastern Neighbourhood is to link concessions on visas with reforms related to border management, law enforcement, readmission and democracy. As a rule, most new member states have tended to be supportive of visa-free travel for the eastern neighbours, whereas Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Spain have been more sceptical and at times openly opposed. In 2011, despite a difficult economic climate in the EU and anti-immigration rhetoric in the Netherlands, Finland and France, the EU continued to make progress in visa liberalisation talks with its eastern partners.
The EU was generally united behind action plans on visa-free travel for Moldova and Ukraine. Both countries started to implement a long list of reforms requested by the EU as part of their action plans. This year, they were supposed to implement the first phase of the plans, which focused mainly on legislative changes. According to the European Commission’s first progress report, Moldova was ahead of Ukraine in the implementation of the necessary standards. After Russia and the EU adopted amendments to their visa-facilitation agreements, Moldova and Ukraine also adopted similar amendments, which opened the way for EU member states to issue multi-entry long-term visas valid for up to five years.
However, unlike Moldova and Ukraine, none of the three South Caucasus countries has been offered an action plan to visa-free travel by the EU. Georgia has a visa-facilitation agreement, which simplifies visa-issuance procedures for a limited number of citizens. Azerbaijan and Armenia started talks on visa-facilitation and readmission agreements in September. But debates within the EU continued on how quickly the EU should move in visa liberalisation with the Eastern Partnership countries. The Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw in September did not mention a long-term perspective – a small diplomatic victory for advocates of faster visa liberalisation.