YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—In what they called a major boost to their relations, Armenia and the European Union finalized on Thursday an agreement to ease visa requirements for Armenian citizens planning to visit EU countries.
Stefano Manservisi, head of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Home Affairs, and Avet Adonts, the Armenian ambassador to the EU, also initialed a separate “readmission” agreement in Brussels. It obligates Yerevan to help EU immigration authorities quickly expedite the repatriation of Armenian illegal immigrants.
The agreements were announced after three rounds of negotiations between Armenian and EU officials that opened in Yerevan in February.
The visa accord is meant to give Armenian travelers access to the so-called Schengen zone encompassing much of Europe with fewer documents and at a lower cost. Also, some categories of the population such as university students, academics and state officials would be eligible for long-term and multiple-entry Schengen visas.
Manservisi said this will bring Armenian and EU nationals “much closer to each other.” “In this sense, this is more than just an agreement,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in Brussels. “This is a new level of mutual trust, opportunities and freedom.”
Adonts and a separate statement issued by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Yerevan expects the agreements to be signed in December. The statement also said that they are due to “enter the ratification phase” in the first half of next year.
Manservisi was more cautious in that regard, citing “technical requirements” needed to complete the process. But he said the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, will put the agreements into practice as early as possible.
The EU official also confirmed that the deal paves the way for future visa-free travel of Armenians to EU countries.
Armenia unilaterally lifted its visa requirements for EU nationals two weeks ago. Starting from next year, they will be allowed to stay in the country visa-free for up to 90 days.
Armenian officials said this move should, among other things, encourage the EU not to link the entry into force of the more liberal visa regime with Armenia with the signing of a similar deal with Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government’s visa facilitation talks with Brussels are currently at a less advanced stage.
Visa facilitation will be a key element of an “association agreement” between the EU and Armenia, which is being negotiated by the two sides as part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership program. Another crucial component of that far-reaching agreement is the creation of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). Yerevan’s separate talks with Brussels on the DCFTA began in June.
The Armenian government hopes that the entire association accord will be finalized before the end of next year.