Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

What stops Europe from abolishing visas with Russia?

The EU leaders are inconsistent in their policy. First, they made great promises, and then rejected their own words. This, in particular, was the case with the introduction of a visa-free regime with Russia. The parties seemed to have agreed, but the EU backed down. Can the Russian Federation citizens hope that in the near future they will be able to travel to the EU countries without a visa?

Russian President Vladimir Putin does not understand why the European Union has not met the agreements with Russia on the abolition of visas signed earlier. "The negotiations on a visa-free regime have stalled again. This is ridiculous," said the president, speaking at a meeting of the discussion club "Valdai". "I do not understand what guides our colleagues."

The issue of visa-free travel between Russia and the EU was discussed on multiple occasions. In December of 2011, the parties decided to work in this direction. Russia has done a great deal of work in this regard, but the EU is in no hurry to abolish the visa regime. At the June summit the EU was more interested in the trade and economic relations with Russia. Note that the EU countries account for nearly a half of the total foreign trade turnover of Russia. Mostly, Russia sells oil and gas, and energy cooperation for the EU is of primary importance, especially in the conditions of the economic crisis. Yet, the decision making on the issue of the abolition of visas has stalled. As repeatedly noted by Vladimir Putin, this is important not only from the political point of view, but also the economic and humanitarian.

"Visa" negotiations between Russia and the European Union for many years have been conducted in two directions. The first one is a simplification of visa regime. This includes the abolition of visas for all officials, and simplification of visa issuance for certain categories of people, such as students, researchers, and business people. The second one is the introduction of visa-free regime for all citizens, thus allowing a creation of a united space from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Despite an active dialogue, there are some obstacles in both directions.

For example, negotiations on visa simplification stumbled upon controversy in terms of the abolition of visas for the officials. The Russian side proposed to abolish the visa requirement for the holders of diplomatic and service passports, however, the EU agreed to abolish visas for diplomats only, because, in their opinion, too many Russians have service passports. The counteroffer of Moscow to reduce their number to 15 thousand people did not help.

Russia and the EU have very different approaches to the second aspect as well. Late last year, the parties agreed on a list of activities required to complete the abolition of visas. Moscow believes that this requires a year and a half, while Brussels is strongly against the development of a "road map" and believes that this process should last many years. The European Union does not seem to understand that the abolition of visas will be a mutually beneficial process.

Russia and the EU are long-time strategic partners. Each year, the volume of trade between the two countries increases. With the development of tourism, trade, economic and other relations, the associated travel goes up, but not as fast as desired because it is obstructed by the notorious visa process. It is particularly tough in the countries of the Schengen area, which severely limits the freedom of communication and does not allow for full operation of the economies partners.

This hardship can be eliminated only by abolishing the visa regime, or at least simplifying it. The EU is interested in the abolishing visas as well, which was recently confirmed by the experts of the Eastern Committee of the German economy. They calculated that their citizens annually lose over 160 million euros spent on Russian visas. There is hope that the process will be simplified before 2018, when Russia will host the World Cup.

However, the visa regime is not an issue that can be easily solved. In particular, the issuance of visas is a separate business area, as visa centers, consulates and travel agencies earn on the complicated visa process. If the visa regime between Russia and the EU is abolished, tens of thousands of people employed in this sector will be out of work. Both the government and business sectors make money on visas. Recently, for example, a visa center for Italy was opened in St. Petersburg designed not to simplify and speed up visas issuance, but to give the Russian people more Schengen visas and earn money.

Visa business is a very profitable one, but ordinary Russians suffer from it. The abolition or simplification of the visa regime will simplify the lives of the Russians and save them money. The actions of the Europeans disagree with their words, and it is unlikely that in the near future Russia can expect the abolition of the need to obtain Schengen visas.

At the same time, this situation harms the EU. A large number of Russians have properties in various European countries and for various reasons, live there, without stealing local jobs or violating public order. Today, there are virtually no Russians who use European benefits, but many of Russians are willing to bring and spend money in the EU. The Russians, in contrast to the workers from the Middle East, do not break the law and do not impose their traditions and customs on others. 

It turns out that there are other reasons for the reluctance of Europe to abolish the visa regime with Russia. Some experts believe that Brussels does not want to voluntarily give up the money that tourism brings. A couple of years ago, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said frankly: "Visas are money." But Europe must understand that the visa-free regime will bring both sides much larger benefits, since the number of tourists in a visa-free space will dramatically increase.

However, there are other reasons that prevent the visa-free regime with the EU. They are political and are more significant. The abolition of visas is a serious trump card in the hands of the EU. 

The EU's foreign policy issues block states that the countries willing to abolish the visa regime with the European Union must respect human rights. Brussels and Moscow have different, sometimes opposite understanding of what these rights looks like. Russia's Western partners often say that the political situation in Russia is of concern to them. Moreover, the "concern" often hides the desire of Brussels to affect Russia's internal affairs and to impose their own point of view on the country. Moscow's refusal to follow the recommendations voiced in Brussels is seen in Europe as unambiguously negative, with all the consequences for the visa abolition agreement.

But Europe, before giving advice, should solve its own numerous problems. The report of the Russian Foreign Ministry on human rights violations in the EU has not caused the desire of local politicians to understand what is going on in their home countries. Apparently, Brussels plans to keep the official Moscow on a short "visa leash." The majority of the EU's statements on human rights and migration have no real grounds.

Sergei Vasilenkov


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