European Union member states on Monday agreed to grant Georgian citizens visa-free travel within the 26 countries of Europe's Schengen Area.
Visa liberalization for the central Caucasus nation enables biometric passport holders to travel throughout the European bloc for 90 days within any 180-day period.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, issued a congratulatory statement alongside Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili in Tblisi.
Georgians “must be very proud of this great achievement, which is the result of the common efforts of the Georgian people and the Georgian authorities,” said Avramopoulos, calling final adoption of the policy further proof that the former Soviet republic has completed “far-reaching and difficult reforms in the area of the rule of law and the justice system.”
“These reforms also bring Georgia closer to the EU standards, facilitating cooperation with the European Union and bringing the country a step forward on its European path."
Georgia, which has been seeking European integration since becoming the 41st Member State of the Council of Europe in April 1999, has drafted EU-style legislation to abolish the death penalty, comply with European conventions and battle corruption and organized crime.
European Union praised
Kvirikashvili praised the EU on delivering on its promises.
“This result proves that the EU has not reneged on its promise,” he said. “Today the European spirit is stronger in Georgia than anywhere else ... [and] European ideology triumphs in Georgia more than ever.”
Monday's move to ratify Georgia's visa liberalization is viewed as a significant geopolitical achievement among officials and civil society activists who have been strong voices for European integration.
Russia, however, has openly expressed concern over Georgia's EU and NATO aspirations, describing the country as part of its backyard. Earlier this month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters at the Munich Security Conference that security officials from both countries plan to initiate talks on easing visa restrictions soon.
A recent public opinion poll by Caucasus Research and Resources Center showed that 56 percent of Georgians identify as European.
Easier to travel
Monday's decisions allows all Georgians to travel freely through all EU member and non-member countries, along with Schengen candidate countries.
EU member nations include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.
Non-member countries are Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Schengen candidates are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Croatia and Romania.
The law does not apply to the Britain or Ireland.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Georgian Service.