EU and Armenia on the facilitation of the issuance of visas
A new monitoring report sheds light on the developments on a crucial policy issue in EU-Armenian relations.
The Joint Declaration on a Mobility Partnership between the European Union and Armenia signed in Luxembourg on October 27th 2011 became a key step towards enhanced co-operation in the area of mobility. In view of the importance of this area of EU-Armenia relations, talks on a Visa Facilitation and Readmission Agreement with the EU began in Yerevan in February 2012. After three rounds of negotiations, the agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Armenia on the Facilitation of the Issuance of Visas was signed on December 17th 2012, and the Readmission Agreement on April 19th 2013. These agreements were ratified by the European Parliament on October 9th 2013 and by the Armenian National Assembly on November 12th 2013, and entered into force on January 1st 2014.
Armenia discontinued the Association Agreement talks with the EU on September 3rd 2013 and started a process of accession to the Customs Union and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). On January 2nd 2015, Armenia joined the Eurasian Economic Union and became a full member of the EEU next to Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. Despite Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union, the process of EU visa facilitation for Armenian citizens continues. Apparently, all the prerequisites are now in place for taking the next step and entering a Visa Dialogue and, if successful, moving to a visa-free regime for short stays. It is extremely important because visas are a key obstacle to co-operation and people-to-people contacts, free travel, and study.
A solution that would benefit both sides
Over 60 countries of the world have a visa-free regime with the EU. Armenia, along with a number of other countries, are currently working on visa dialogue. Achieving a visa-free regime should be based on the success of a country in fields such as rule of law, fighting organised crime, corruption, and irregular migration, improving the administrative capacity for border controls and document security. The visa liberalisation dialogue has been successfully completed between the EU and five West Balkan countries, namely Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, as well as three countries of the Eastern Partnership, namely Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia. As a result, all of these countries were granted a visa-free regime. The visa dialogue was based on a Visa Liberalisation Roadmap or a Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, which included binding requirements in four key areas—document (including biometric) security, border management, migration and asylum, public order and security, foreign relations and fundamental rights, legislative reforms, planning, and effective and sustainable implementation. Throughout the dialogue, the European Commission conducts monitoring and evaluation by means of regular reports.
Through reforms, Armenia should prove that it is capable of modernising the country and creating a strong foundation for democracy, human rights and the rule of law, by bringing its governance system structure closer to EU standards. In the course of 2017, important events took place in the Armenia-EU relationship, which will serve as a basis for closer co-operation, especially in the area of mobility. In January 2017, during the winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (or PACE), the EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn stated that the EU is interested in improving mobility and assured that “negotiations on the visa regime liberalisation question will resume” with Armenia.
Learning from the mistakes of others
The logical conclusion of this process was on November 24th 2017, when Armenia’s foreign affairs minister, Edward Nalbandyan, and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini signed the Armenia-EU Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which became one of the main achievements of the summit. To enter into force, CEPA needs to be ratified by Armenia and all 28 Member States of the EU. This Comprehensive Agreement opens a new chapter in Armenia-EU relations. Earlier, the main document regulating Armenia-EU co-operation was the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that had entered into force in July 1999 for a 10-year term and was annually automatically renewed according a clause therein. The new agreement aims at strengthening political dialogue and creating a strong foundation for continuing the social and economic reforms.
Estonia was the first EU Member State to ratify the CEPA . According to the official note received from Tallinn, Estonia has completed all the procedures necessary for the entry into force of the CEPA signed between Armenia and the EU. Armenia has ratified it as well – in April of this year.
One may hope that the success of the EU-Armenia co-operation in recent years in areas like migration, border management, document security, visa facilitation and readmission will provide a stimulus to and greatly facilitate the issuance by EU members states of a mandate to the European Commission to launch visa dialogue talks with Armenia. In such visa dialogue talks, Armenia will have an advantage over other Eastern Partners that have already gone through this stage, namely Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia, because Armenia and EU can, based on the lessons learnt by those countries, take into account the pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages, difficulties and mistakes.
Armenia and the Schengen area
Based on the EU’s official statistical data and data received from the Schengen embassies in Armenia, comparative analysis of the 2012-2016 statistics on visas issued by the consular services issuing Schengen visas in Armenia, by countries, by types, refusals, and so on. An attempt is also made at a comparative analysis between Armenia and other Eastern partners, in view of the latest changes and trends in the Schengen area.
During 2016, Schengen missions in Armenia received a total of 61,065 visa applications, which was 3,278 more (5.7 per cent increase) than in 2015. Of these, 6,695 applications were refused (10.9 per cent, compared to 12.3 per cent in 2015). Comparing the total visa numbers for 2012-2016, it becomes clear that the total number of visa applications grew every year starting from 2012 (increasing from 38,896 to 61,065). The increase in the number of applications was 63.7 per cent from 2012 to 2016. Considering the increase in the number of multiple-entry visas during the same period, reaching 25.7 per cent in 2016, it is obvious that the number of times Armenian citizens visited the Schengen area has grown considerably. However, it is interesting that, parallel to this, the number of refusals, too, has grown over 2012-2016 (from 3,105 to 6,695), reaching 6,656 (10.9 per cent).
The European Commission took an interesting initiative by carrying out an online survey from December 2017 to February 2018, inviting all stakeholders to join a public consultation on Schengen entry visas. The initiative was aimed at collecting the opinions and concerns of interested citizens and organisations on the process of applying for Schengen visas (up to 90 days). The commission was particularly interested in the experience of persons that applied for a Schengen visa in the last five years, as well as the experience of organisations involved in these matters. Based on the consultation outcomes, the EU will try to improve the existing procedures for migration, security, and border management, which will help to facilitate visas and the possibilities of travel for trade, tourism, and people-to-people contacts without a short-stay visa.
This monitoring has shown that there clearly is progress. Much work is being carried out by the EU and Armenia, but it is important to note that active efforts in this field should be continued, and the co-operation should be deepened.
Stepan Grigoryan is the chairman of the board of the Yerevan-based Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation (ACGRC) and an ENC External Advisor.
Nikolay Israyelyan is a research-analyst at the Analytical Centre on Globalization and
Regional Cooperation (ACGRC)
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