The EU suspends the agreement on visas with Russia but maintains the entry of tourists
The foreign ministers of the European Union have decided to completely suspend the 2007 visa agreement with Russia and to intensify the scrutiny of future applications submitted by Russian tourists. The decision, taken in response to the invasion of Ukraine, falls short of the total visa ban requested by Russia’s neighboring countries, which are particularly affected by the arrival of Russian travelers by land.
The suspension of the agreement is expected to considerably complicate the visa application process, making it much more expensive, cumbersome and lengthy for Russian citizens planning to visit the bloc. “It will be more difficult and longer, and consequently the number of new visas will be substantially reduced,” said Josep Borrell, head of EU foreign policy, at the end of an informal meeting of foreign ministers in Prague. .
“This is a common approach and a common approach will prevent the Russians from possibly seeking visas, going here and there, trying to [encontrar] the best conditions”, pointed out Borrell.
Passports issued by the Russian authorities within the occupied territories of Ukraine will not be recognized on the territory of the EU, the diplomat has detailed. Ministers have also tasked the European Commission with examining the hundreds of thousands of visas held by Russian citizens that are still in circulation.
Borrell had personally opposed the outright ban against Russian citizens, arguing that the bloc should be “more selective” and leave the door open for those trying to flee Vladimir Putin’s regime. “We do not want to separate ourselves from those Russians who are against the war in Ukraine,” the Spaniard insisted. Germany, France, Portugal and Spain had taken similar stances against the unprecedented move.
On the other hand, a group of countries from the East and the North, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic, have joined forces for the EU to suspend or reduce the emission of Russian visas. In his opinion, the Russian population overwhelmingly supports President Putin and, by extension, the war against Ukraine. “Tourism should not continue as usual,” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto asked on Wednesday morning.
Finland has already reduced by 90% the number of visas for Russian citizens. Finland shares a 1,300km land border with Russia, so it has spotted tourists from the country crossing the line to travel to Finnish airports and fly to warmer EU destinations. Almost from the start of the invasion, the EU closed its airspace to Russia, making air travel to the bloc impossible.
Data from Frontex, the EU’s border control agency, shows that since the Ukraine war broke out in late February, nearly a million Russian citizens have entered the bloc legally by land, mostly through Finland, the Baltic countries and Poland.
As for tourism, EU countries can issue their own national visas, designed for a short stay within a single country, and Schengen visas, which allow travel within the Schengen area without a passport. As Schengen is a borderless area, the issuance of this type of visa requires a decision agreed by all Member States. (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Cyprus and Ireland remain outside of Schengen).
The 2007 facilitation agreement with Russia was intended to give preferential treatment to Russian requests. Some countries have already taken steps to stop or reduce the number of visas for Russian nationals, with the exceptions for family reunification, diplomatic affairs and humanitarian assistance.
“It is our national competence, under the principle of national security, to decide matters relating to the entry into our [país]Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu recalled.
Borrell has pointed out that the influx of Russian visitors, which has increased during the summer, posed a “security risk” for neighboring countries and may require additional action on his part. “The situation on the border has become a challenge,” she detailed. “These countries can take measures at the national level to restrict entry into the EU through their borders, always in accordance with the [normas] of Schengen”.
Although the idea of a total visa ban originated in the East, it has gained traction in recent days and has attracted support from other capitals, including the Netherlands. “Although people-to-people contacts are important, now we mostly see rich Russians coming to Europe to shop,” Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said. “This is not a good idea. It makes sense to limit this type of travel,” said the Dutchman.
But growing calls for a ban have met with joint opposition from Germany and France, the largest and most powerful countries in the EU. “While we understand the concerns of some member states in this context, we must not underestimate the transformative power of experiencing life in democratic systems first-hand, especially for future generations,” the two governments wrote in a document.
“Our visa policies must reflect this and continue to allow people-to-people contacts in the EU with Russian citizens not linked to the Russian government.”
Spain and Portugal have also adopted a more balanced position, insisting on penalizing “Russia’s war machine” and not its ordinary citizens.
The decision announced on Wednesday is not formal and will have to be finalized and endorsed later.