The European Union announced on Thursday that it will begin on February 27 official negotiations with Armenia on easing its stringent visa requirements for Armenian citizens planning to visit EU countries.
The announcement made by the EU Delegation in Yerevan is the latest in a series of developments heralding the South Caucasus state’s deeper integration with the 27-nation union within the framework of the latter’s Eastern Partnership program.
It came two months after the EU’s supreme decision-making body, the Council, gave a relevant negotiating mandate to the executive European Commission in Brussels. The Commission asked for the green light to start visa facilitation talks with Yerevan in September, after more than a year of preliminary discussions with Armenian officials.
In a statement, the EU Delegation said the two sides will negotiate on two agreements regulating mutual travel and migration. One of them would enable Armenian nationals to receive EU visas with fewer documents and at a lower cost. Also, some categories of the population such as university students, academics and state officials would be eligible for long-term multiple-entry visas.
Yerevan is also due to sign a separate “readmission agreement” with Brussels that will commit it to helping EU immigration authorities expedite the repatriation of Armenian illegal immigrants.
“On the one hand, facilitating people-to-people contacts between Armenia and the EU will increase mutual understanding and improve our relations in all fields,” read the delegation statement. “On the other hand, the successful completion of negotiations would also highlight that both sides are committed to working together on tackling common challenges such as illegal migration.”
The statement added that a visa facilitation deal would also open the door to an eventual introduction of visa-free travel between the EU and Armenia.
Earlier this week, the EU announced the impending launch of formal talks on the creation of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with Armenia, a key component of an “association agreement” negotiated by the two sides since July 2010. A DCFTA deal would lead to mutual lifting of import duties and bring Armenian laws and regulations into conformity with EU legislation.
Over the past year Armenian and EU officials have reported major progress towards the signing of the association agreement. At the most recent round of association talks held in Brussels last month they reportedly increased from 19 to 22 the number of negotiating “chapters” concluded during the process.