19 Dec 2012

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom: EU committed to perspective of visa-free travels with Russia

EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom gas given an interview to Interfax on visa issues ahead of the Russia-EU summit due on December 21 in Brussels.

Question: Russian officials have stated at various levels that Russian President Vladimir Putin will surely speak about the visa-free travel at the EU-Russia summit on December 21. Is Brussels ready to discuss this issue seriously? Do you agree with an opinion that the EU doesn‘t have a political will to abolish visas with Russia?

Answer: The EU is very committed to the perspective of establishing a visa-free regime with Russia and has engaged very seriously in pursuing this common objective through the so-called ‘visa dialog‘. I know how important visa free travel is for the Russian people but also for EU citizens who want to travel to Russia. Therefore achieving visa free travel with Russia remains of course our goal. In that context, I wish to remind that all our visa dialogs are based on a step-by-step process, linked to substance and practical progress on the ground. The speed of the process depends on the speed of implementation of the Common Steps agreed between the Russian Federation and the EU, there is no automaticity here, all conditions need to be fulfilled.
This process is necessary for ensuring that the possible visa free regime with Russia operates in a fully secure environment (integrated border management, secure traveling documents, rule of law, etc). I am convinced that the necessary reforms will also contribute to the overall improvement of the EU-Russia relations and will be of benefit for the Russian civil society in the longer perspective. Visa free travel is about facilitating people to people contacts and enhances business opportunities. It is the result of intensive and hard work and let me assure you that it remains a key priority for the EU.

Q.: Could you comment on statements that Russia will give one year to the EU to secure a breakthrough at the visa-free talks, if not Moscow would make certain conclusions and may respond adequately?

A.: The EU is as committed as Russia to pursue the perspective of lifting the visa requirement. However, bearing in mind the technical and substantial character of the process I do not believe that either deadlines or target dates are useful.
We should instead put all our efforts into the correct implementation of the Common Steps. The sooner it is accomplished the sooner we will be able to achieve the ultimate aim of our dialog.

Q.: Among the EU member states, who is the main opponent to the visa-free travels with Russia and who is the main obstacle to the implementation of the Common Steps towards the visa-free travel?

A.: There are no opponents of a future visa free regime with Russia. What is standing in between is only the implementation of the benchmarks, which have been commonly agreed together with Russia and the EU - the so called Common Steps.
At the moment, we are still in the process of exchanging information about the implementation of the Common Steps. It is therefore still too early to speak about the main shortcomings and issues to focus on. It is only once this is done that the EU will be in a position to identify the main points to be addressed in order to fully implement the Common Steps.

Q.: It is unlikely that amendments to the existing EU-Russia visa facilitation agreement will be signed at the Russia-EU summit. Russia blames the EU for its reluctance to include service passport holders into the list of people enjoying visa-free travels. What will be the EU‘s answer to the Russian partners?

A.: The amended EU-Russia visa facilitation agreement as it currently stands brings about many changes favorable to Russian citizens. It would be very unfortunate if these gains for the Russian population at large would not materialize because of the insistence on a late request related with a very small group of service passport holders. We therefore still hope that the amended agreement can be signed at the summit, or immediately afterwards.

Q.: What is the EU assessment of damage caused by Russia‘s introduction of visas for aircrews?

A.: The Commission regrets that Russia has put an end to the moratorium and started applying visa obligations for civilian aircrew members of certain EU Member States. This runs against the spirit in which the Visa Facilitation Agreement has been re-negotiated, since we had already reached an agreement on reciprocal visa waivers for civilians.