Interior Minister Pledges Closer Partnership with Brussels

Minister of Internal Affairs (MIA) Giorgi Mghebrishvili held several meetings with the EU and NATO officials in Brussels on March 20-23, seeking to reassure the European partners of Georgia’s vigilance and commitment to reforms just as the visa-free travel to the Schengen group of European countries is slated to commence on March 28.

The matters of migration, border security and fight against organized crime have dominated the agenda in meetings with Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship issues; Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, and Rose Gottemoeler, NATO Deputy Secretary General. The hosts acknowledged Georgia’s progress and the MIA role in making visa-free travel a reality.

During an encounter with Commissioner Avramopoulos on March 22, the two reportedly spoke about the fight against illegal migration, trafficking, organized crime, integrated border management and international police cooperation. Mghebrishvili announced that soon Georgia will sign an agreement with EUROPOL on cooperation at the operative and strategic level, “after which Georgia will become EUROPOL partner state.” He emphasized that Georgia has signed 16 bilateral agreements with the EU member states to fight against crime, and has deployed police attaches in 13 partner states, “which already has brought significant results.”

“Georgian citizens will find the doors open to travel to Europe, but beyond that, today with the Minister we discussed stronger and deeper cooperation in the field of security, fight against organized crime and I can say that I am very happy for the outcome of this excellent discussion,” Commissioner Avramopoulos responded.

Reforms Ahead

On March 23, Minister Mghebrishvili was at the European Policy Centre (EPC), a think tank, where he spoke about successes that allowed Georgia to benefit from visa waiver.

Combatting trafficking in human being was highlighted as one of the areas of such success. The Minister noted that U.S State Department in its 2016 report placed Georgia at “Tier 1” among 176 states for a successful fight against trafficking.

The Minister also introduced to the audience some ongoing and planned reform projects, including reforms in criminal police, analytical police activities, launch of a multi-functional joint operations center and a move towards service-oriented police.

Visa Waiver Approaching

As the date of visa-free travel nears, Tbilisi is determined to avoid triggering the so called "suspension mechanism,” that would temporarily suspend visa-free travel if Georgians try to abuse the system.

Prime Minister stated on March 23 that the Georgian border guards will be alerted if a Georgian citizen overstays the 90-day limit established for visa-free travel within any 180-day period.  In such cases, Georgia would pro-actively inform the EU member-states and seek to activate the re-admission procedure, PM said.