The European Parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of two agreements with Armenia related to the facilitation of the visa regime and readmission, thus affirming its willingness to cooperate with the South Caucasus nation on managing movements of people.
The European Union thus agrees to issue Schengen visas to citizens of Armenia on easier terms, instead Armenia commits itself to receiving back its citizens staying in Europe illegally.
Negotiations between Armenia and the EU on both agreements started in 2011 as part of the Eastern Partnership program with the aim to improve people-to-people contacts.
After Armenia announced its decision to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan last month, thus calling into question the prospect of signing an association deal with the EU, some in Yerevan voiced misgivings regarding the future of the deals on visa facilitation and readmission, expecting that Brussels will refuse to ratify these agreements as it essentially does in the matter of signing the Association Agreement and its major component, Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) deal, with Armenia at the upcoming EU Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
But experts say that the visa facilitation and readmission deals are a stand-alone operation, which, even though launched in the context of the Association Agreement, have survived as a ‘gift’ to Armenia regardless of the problems arising with the main agreement.
European officials, however, remind that the visa facilitation agreement applies only to short-term visa procedures.
Under this agreement several categories of citizens of Armenia will enjoy an easier process of getting visas to Schengen zone countries. Among them are members of official delegations, scholars, students, journalists, artists and sports figures, close relatives of people with lawful residence in EU-member countries, participants in events arranged by Armenian Diaspora-based organizations operating in EU-member countries, and others. The Schengen visa fee is to be reduced to 35 Euros (about $47) and visas to certain categories of citizens, including children and pensioners, will be issued free of charge.
By the end of the year the EU is expected to debate and vote on the visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Armenia also in several other formats. The agreements are likely to come into force already early next year.