When half a year ago, I predicted in my article “Georgia Exporting Crime” that the visa liberalization would be stalled at the last moment, I was called a grumbler and alarmist. Unfortunately, usually, the pessimists get it right.
This week, a whole bunch of European politicians, primarily from Germany, expressed their rejection of the visa liberalization for Georgian citizens. As Joachim Hermann, Minister of the Interior of the province of Bavaria, stated bluntly: “I can only advise against visa liberalization with Ukraine, Georgia, and Kosovo”. After granting visa liberalization to the Balkan states, he said, crime had soared, and there would be a need for a “mechanism to prevent the citizens of those countries to abuse political asylum in Europe” (quoted after Die Welt from June 05th, 2016).
A few weeks earlier, Geert Wilders’ Partij Voor de Vrijheid initiated a referendum in Holland on the question of whether Ukraine should be granted visa liberalization, and a majority of the Dutch people voted against it. I had foreseen it in January: “In the wake of the inflow of millions of refugees, right-wing parties are on the rise all over Europe […]. In this political climate, which is dominated by agitation and polarization on immigration issues, national parliaments are supposed to approve the removal of visa restrictions with Georgia and Ukraine. To counter the right-wing parties, which is an opportune moment that will stir up a discussion about these visa liberalizations (which so far has hardly set in), it will be very straightforward for the moderate parties to simply halt the liberalization process. For that to happen, one does not even have to cancel it formally. It will be enough to postpone the ratification of the new visa regime. “
To grasp why Europe is behaving so treacherously, it is important to realize that the European Union is in an unprecedented existential crisis.
First of all, the European political elites, led by Angela Merkel, opened the borders for millions of asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and North Africa, without asking their populace whether they approved of this drastic step. The refugees bring lots of new problems to Europe, as shown most dramatically by 1,529 reported sexual assaults during New Year’s Eve in Cologne, carried out by up to 1,000 North African and Arabic perpetrators. Several hundred similar cases were reported from other German cities in the same night, and just last week, despite increased awareness and heavy police presence, 30 cases of sexual assault occurred at a festival near Darmstadt.
In the beginning of the year, Europe was shaken by the terrible terror attacks in Brussels, carried out, among others, by perpetrators who had entered Europe in the flow of refugees. The threat of similar or worse attacks is constantly looming over Europe, and a few days ago, a plan for a major terror strike in Düsseldorf was thwarted by the police. There are severe concerns regarding the security of the European soccer championship that will start at the end of this week in France, and personally, I expect the worst.
Secondly, there is an ongoing crisis in Greece. While Angela Merkel had always emphasized that the European Union would not become a “transfer union”, it is now clear that the money which was lent to Greece will never be paid back. Greek’s outstanding debt to other European countries amounts to 220 billion euros. This hits Europe in a time when many countries, like France and Finland, are struggling with extreme economic difficulties, and even Germany, which is suffering from ailing public infrastructure and many other economic problems that are hardly seen from outside, cannot easily digest the loss of its share of the debt. And from bad to worse, also in Greece, nobody is happy about how the story evolved.
The European Union has become so unpopular that anti-European forces are on the rise in all member countries. On the 23rd of June, the United Kingdom will hold a referendum about its remaining in the European Union, and currently, those who want to leave lead the polls.
In this situation, a huge number of Europeans are just fed up with any ideas of enlarging Europe or further opening its borders. That’s why the visa liberalization process was withheld at the last moment, and, as I think, it will not be resumed in the foreseeable future. It is not too much to say that Georgia is a victim of the catastrophe brought over Europe by Angela Merkel and her supporters.
WHAT CAN GEORGIA DO?
The problem is that Georgia has very little leverage to influence the situation. The only issue where Georgia does have some responsibility is its failure to fight Georgian crime abroad. Georgia is extremely present in German media, not with the beauty of its nature or its delicious cuisine, but only with one single topic: burglary crime. The newspapers are full of reports of Georgian organized burglary gangs, some samples of which I presented in my January article. Since then, the problem has become rather worse. As I wrote: “A small group [of Georgians] is spoiling the reputation of the 99% of Georgians who are decent and law-abiding.” In January, I also had a message for the government: “The matter [crimes committed by Georgians abroad] should be proactively addressed by the government of Georgia to make sure that the visa liberalization is not canceled at the last moment. It would be an utter disappointment for the Georgian people, who enthusiastically celebrated the upcoming visa liberalization by illuminating bridges and buildings in blue color with golden stars.”
In the article, I mentioned a couple of policy initiatives that could have been pushed by the Government of Georgia to address the problem. For example, I suggested rewarding Georgians who turn in compatriots of whom they know that they are involved in criminal activities abroad. I also proposed to have international agreements in which would Georgians who engaged in crime abroad be tried at Georgian courts according to the (much harsher) Georgian laws and let them serve their terms in the (much tougher) Georgian prisons. One could also have attempted to counter the perception that Georgians are overrepresented in European prisons – in the debate that ensued after my article it turned out that the statistics are not so clear, and apparently, some of the news about Georgian burglars seem to be based rather on perceptions than facts. However, it is unclear whether any of this would have helped.
In the end, all of this is a big disgrace for Europe. While the European political elites welcomed and even invited millions of Arabs and North Africans to come to Europe, many of whom harboring problematic intentions and holding values that are incompatible with Western freedom and tolerance, Europe will not keep its promise to Georgia! A Christian country, one of the West’s most loyal and reliable allies, full of citizens who are enthusiastic about freedom and who always felt that they belonged to Europe, will be turned away once again.
But it all won’t help. Also in the future, decent Georgians who want to travel to Europe will by all likelihood have to undergo a humiliating visa application process, requiring the preliminary purchases of flight tickets, proofs of accommodation, money, and current employment, and sometimes the necessity to provide invitation letters. Shame on you, Europe!