Will the European Union take a step towards a general break with Russia and its nationals? On Tuesday August 30 and Wednesday August 31, EU Foreign Ministers met in Prague (Czech Republic) to discuss the dangerous issue of short-stay visas issued to Russian citizens, which many want to ban country. However, this radical step is far from unanimous from Lisbon to Tallinn, via Brussels. Explanations.
What are the representatives of the European Union debating?
In Prague, the Czech presidency of the European Union put on the agenda of an informal meeting of foreign ministers a burning question, six months after the start of the war in Ukraine: should we stop the delivery of Russian nationals with short-term visas within the EU countries, where there are several hundred thousand who will benefit?
In 2021, Russians are the most likely to apply for short-stay visas from the 26 Schengen countries. Of the nearly three million applications received, 536,000 were for Russian nationals, according to the European Commission (link in English). These visas are allowed stay in the Schengen area for a maximum of 90 days per six-month period, regardless of the reason (tourism, study, business trip, etc.).
Which countries are in favor of this ban?
The Baltic countries, namely Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, campaigned for an outright ban on tourist visas issued by their Russian neighbors, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Tourism is a privilege, not a right, and this privilege does not belong to the citizens of a country that has waged a genocidal war against Ukraine”Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas insisted on Thursday.
Other countries, such as Poland or the Czech Republic, also defend this ban. The Russian border, Finland, which processes about 1,000 visa applications a day, has already decided to reduce the number of visas issued to Russian tourists to 10% of this volume from September 1.
Who would oppose this option within the EU?
Germany is the leading country to resist this move. For the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, it is punishable “All the people who fled from Russia because they don’t agree with the Russian regime”. An opinion shared by the Portuguese authorities, for whom sanctions should, first of all, “Target the Russian war industry, not the Russians”.
As for the European Commission, it insists on the need to protect dissidents, journalists and families for humanitarian reasons, remembering that requests must be examined on a case-by-case basis.
Can a compromise be found?
Between the ban and the status quo, there is an intermediate solution: it is a question of complicating the issuance of tourist visas for Russian citizens, as proposed by Finland, a country bordering Russia . This requires the total suspension of an agreement between the European Union and Moscow, signed in 2007, which facilitates the issuance of short-stay visas. Therefore, this process will be longer, more expensive and stricter for the Russian population. Since the outbreak of the conflict, the EU has suspended these issuance facilities for some people linked to the regime (official delegation, holders of diplomatic passports, business leaders, etc.).
EU representatives defended this intermediate line. “I don’t think it will help to cut ties with the Russian civilian population, and I don’t think this idea will get the necessary unity”, advanced Josep Borrell, Sunday evening, on the Austrian channel ORF TV. The spokesperson of the European diplomacy believes that it is necessary “Review how some Russians get a visa. We need to be more selective.”
On Tuesday, the German government offered a compromise, limiting the suspension of the visa facility agreement and multiple entry visas. “I think this could be a very good way to make it clear that we are suspending visa facilitation agreements, that we are no longer issuing multiple visas or multi-year visas”explained the head of German diplomacy, Annalena Baerbock.
And how does Russia position itself?
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Russia will retaliate if the European Union decides to suspend visas for Russians. “This is a serious decision that can be taken against our citizens and such a decision cannot go unanswered”assured the spokesman of the Russian presidency, Dmitry Peskov. “Little by little, Brussels, like the capitals of Europe, shows a complete lack of judgment (…) This irrationality, bordering on madness, allows such measures. [sur les visas] to be discussed.”