Possible Progress on Visa Liberalization for Azerbaijan with the EU
During a June 18 press conference following the Eastern Partnership Summit (EaP), European Union (EU) Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Olivér Várhelyi announced the EU would soon begin to consider liberalizing visas with Azerbaijan.
During the Summit, which took place via videoconference, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev enumerated advances that have occurred in the past few years to underline the country’s cooperation with the partnership. Most important to its progress as part of the EaP, the EU has become Azerbaijan’s main trading partner, with about 50 per cent of trade coming from EU members. Furthermore, completion of the Southern Gas Corridor will connect Azerbaijan with EU member-country gas markets and is a further major sign of increased cooperation. European Council President Charles Michel remarked after the Summit that negotiations with Azerbaijan on a new comprehensive partnership agreement are at an advanced stage. However, the reality is those talks effectively have been stalled for a considerable period
Among the six partner countries, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine have so far achieved the most progress with visa liberalization. Since 2012, 2010, and 2008 respectively these three countries have been involved in dialogues with the EU to monitor the implementation of action plans. In 2017 the EU decided that both Georgia and Ukraine had consistently abided by their action plans, and so their citizens were allowed to travel to the Schengen zone without a visa. Moldovan citizens were allowed to travel to the Schengen zone visa-free in 2016.
While action plans for visa liberalization have been created for Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Belarus, more implementation work needs to be done for travelers to enjoy increased benefits. In 2013, Azerbaijan signed a visa facilitation agreement with the EU, however, its visa liberalization process has not yet started.
Implementation of visa liberalization action plans is an important step in expanding trade, cultural, and other links between Partnership countries and the EU and its members, paving the way for increased and more secure mobility between the partner countries and the EU. However, for the visa liberalization action plans to be put in place, partner countries need first to ensure certain benchmarks are met. In January 2020, the Azerbaijani government announced plans to liberalize landing rights for foreign airlines and make other needed moves to end advantages that had been given the country’s national carrier. These policies have been areas of contention between Azerbaijan and the EU, and the changes would be a breakthrough for the Azerbaijani tourism industry, boost the region’s connectivity with Europe, and be important for building a more robust and sound economy in the country.
Commissioner Várhelyi noted that visa liberalization action plans had been planned for some time, but enacting them is a complex and lengthy process. However, with the recent remarks, it seems that Azerbaijan might be making progress towards achieving this special visa-free status with the European Union, as long as it acts on its commitments. Should these requirements be met, Azerbaijanis probably will get the chance to experience more accessible travel into the Schengen area, just as Georgians, Moldovans, and Ukrainians are now able to do.