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FM: It’s EU’s turn to make decision on visa-free travel with Russia

December 16, 2013, 21:13 UTC+3 BRUSSELS
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BRUSSELS, December 16. /ITAR-TASS/. It’s the European Union’s turn to make a decision on visa-free travel with Russia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting with his EU colleagues in Brussels on Monday, December 16.

“There are several issues on our agenda we need to get off the ground. Our priority is the dialogue on visa-free travel, which has been on for more than eight years,” the minister said.

“In recent years, it has acquired concrete outlines: a list of joint steps has been agreed, which we and our European partners should take in order to ensure the security of travel documents and strict control on the border so that our citizens could visit each other calmly and safely,” Lavrov said, adding, “It’s the European Union’s turn to act.”

Lavrov earlier urged the ambassadors of 28 EU countries to speed up the transition to visa-free travel.

Russia is ready to abolish visas for EU citizens and it is now the European Union’s turn to act, he said.

“Facilitating mutual trips for our citizens as much as possible is a pressing task. They should have an opportunity to travel freely and unhindered. In this case dialogue between our civil societies and contacts between people would be much more intensive,” the minister said.

“We are prepared for that. Now it's the turn of our partners in the European Union to act. I am convinced that people are on our side,” Lavrov said.

“Everyone should take an unbiased look at what hinders further advancement of future-oriented bilateral relations and give up outdated ideological stereotypes and dogmas, prejudiced assessments and far-fetched claims,” he said.

Lavrov assured the audience that Russia sincerely wished the European Union success and prosperity. “We are interested in our own development and the EU is our largest partner in investment and cultural cooperation,” the minister said, adding that Moscow would like to have even more intensive ties with the EU.

Moscow hopes that the visa facilitation agreement with the European Union will be ready shortly, Russian Permanent Representative to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov said earlier.

“Only one question remains - visa-free travel for the holders of service passports,” he said. “The overall mood among the EU members, and this is a political decision, was not in favour of a positive solution. The situation changed only recently and the supporters of the positive outcome gained a qualified majority in the EU Council.”

“This is not the final result yet, but I would say that negotiations have resumed. This is why I hope that we will bring this process to completion in the next several months,” Chizhov said.

The schedule of transition to visa-free travel between Russia and the European Union remains unchanged, he added and warned against attempts to set artificial deadlines, saying that “there is nothing more harmful for the talks.”

At the same time, Chizhov declined to say when visa-free travel regulations could be put in place.

Russian Ambassador at Large Anvar Azimov said earlier this month that Russia expected to “begin accomplishing our main task, the elaboration of a visa-free travel agreement, early next year upon the completion of the steps we are taking jointly with the European Union.”

He said experts had confirmed that Russia was technically prepared for the move and had made the necessary political decisions.

“The EU is also technically prepared, but it has so far been unable to make a political decision. The issue will be in the focus of attention at the next summit,” the diplomat said.

An updated version of the agreement that eases visa regulations is ready to be signed but the European Union has balked at the Transportation Ministry’s resolution concerning automated databases of Russian and foreign passengers.

Azimov said the protection of personal data had become the stumbling block for the agreements Russia would like to sign in the near future, with some EU countries linking visa formalities to the protection of personal data.

“We would like to move forward, and our main priority is visa-free short-term travel for Russian and EU citizens,” Azimov said.

The EU and Russia are negotiating the possibility of a visa-free regime in the future. For this purpose the “Common steps towards visa free short-term travel of Russian and EU citizens” were agreed at the EU-Russia Summit in December 2011.

These “steps” are a kind of “roadmap” and foresee detailed work resulting in concrete actions in four blocks:

1. Document security, including biometrics,

2. Illegal migration, including readmission,

3. Public order, security and judicial cooperation,

4. External relations.

There is no target date or automaticity for the visa free-regime to begin, but an open-ended dialogue, guided by senior officials from both EU and Russia to review progress on the “Common Steps” and examine how the long-term aim of visa free travel can be achieved in practice. A number of expert meetings are in progress and the work is proceeding according to the schedule.

Travelling between the EU and Russia was made easier in 2007 when the EU-Russia Visa Facilitation Agreement entered into force. This agreement lowered the visa fee, made obtaining multiple-entry visas easier, simplified the list of supporting documents required, and waived visas for diplomats. A joint EU-Russia committee oversees the proper functioning of the agreement.

To make travelling even easier the EU and Russia are negotiating amendments to the existing agreement. The aim is to sign an Updated Visa Facilitation Agreement that will further facilitate travelling of citizens by providing a multi-year and multi-entry visa to more categories of ordinary and frequent travellers.

The EU and Russia have also signed the Readmission Agreement that entered into force in 2007 and establishes the principles and procedures for the transfer of persons, who have been found to enter, stay or reside illegally in the territory of the EU or Russia.

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