Georgia erupted in jubilation in early February as EU lawmakers approved visa-free access for Georgian citizens, a prize Tbilisi has long sought. The former Soviet republic hopes that the short-stay visa waiver becomes a major step toward eventual full membership in the European Union.
Amid a perception that illiberalism is gaining traction in the region, the news gave embattled advocates of liberal values reason to cheer.
“Congratulations! This is a truly historic day!” tweeted Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili after the European Parliament voted to drop visa requirements for short-term visits to the Schengen Zone, the common travel space covering most of the European continent.
A screen was set up in Georgia’s parliament to watch live as the European Parliament voted on the visa waiver bill. After the legislation passed, Georgian legislators celebrated with champagne and EU-and-Georgia-themed cake.
Georgian leaders took turns to thank the European Parliament for supporting the legislation, which faced a headwind from skeptics who argued that liberalization would expose the EU to potential terrorism and illegal labor migration from Georgia. “The European Union has opened its doors to Georgian citizens just as it is facing major immigration challenges,” said Vice Speaker of Parliament Tamar Chugoshvili, of the ruling Georgian Dream party, in televised comments.