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Trade liberalisation and overall relationship

15 - Visa liberalisation with Russia

Grade: C+
Unity 4/5
Resources 3/5
Outcome 3/10
Total 10/20
Scorecard 2012: A- (16/20)

Although Europeans lacked a strategic vision, some progress on visa liberalisation was finally made at a summit in December.

Visa liberalisation is the mirror image of trade liberalisation: it is an important issue for Russia, but the EU is generally reluctant to move forward. While foreign ministries tend to be more in favour of liberalisation for political reasons, interior ministries worry about illegal immigration and Russian organised crime. But even those member states that are willing in principle to grant a perspective of a visa-free regime to Russia – such as France and Spain – see it as a distant prospect. They are united but lack a strategic vision.

However, despite this, the EU did finally make some progress in 2010. In the first half of the year, the Spanish Presidency proposed launching talks with Russia on visa liberalisation, but came up against resistance from several members, including Denmark, Poland and Slovakia. Russia subsequently submitted a draft agreement on visa liberalisation, but this was also rejected by several member states, including Germany, Poland and Denmark, which either insisted on providing the same visa-free perspectives for Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries or generally opposed loosening the EU’s visa regime. In the run-up to the Deauville summit in October, France and Germany hinted that visa liberalisation for Russia could be considered under a sui generis process in exchange for Russian ratification of the Energy Charter Treaty (see component 21), but most member states rejected the idea that visa liberalisation should be traded this way. However, at the EU-Russia summit in December, member states finally agreed with Russia on a series of future joint steps, which, if implemented, would open the way for talks on an EU-Russia visa-waiver agreement.

Some progress was also made in talks between Russia and the EU about an extension to the local border-traffic regime that would make it easier for residents of Kaliningrad to travel to Poland and Lithuania without a visa, but other member states remained sceptical about the precedent this would set.