Since the mid-1990s the development of the relationship between the Russian Federation and EU Member States has been accompanied by steady growth in the number of mutual visits of their citizens. Establishment of the Schengen area with a common visa policy within the EU contributed to that. The intensity of mutual visits further increased with the enlargement of the EU and the Schengen area to countries of Central and Eastern Europe that have traditional ties with Russia. Consequently, visa issues took an important place on the Russia – EU agenda.
Russia and EU Member States are bound by commitments undertaken within the OSCE to gradually simplify and administer flexibly exit and entry procedures, and to consider possibilities for reciprocal abolition of entry visas. Freer movement and contacts among our citizens are also important in the context of the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
At the first stage attention was primarily paid to liberalising the existing visa regime. In 2006 the Parties concluded the Agreement on facilitation of issuance of visas. The Agreement envisages a simplified visa issuance regime for a number of categories of persons, notably businessmen; students; persons participating in scientific activities and in international sports events; close relatives of persons legally residing in Russia or an EU Member State. On the whole the Agreement is working well. A specially designated Joint Committee carrying out control over the implementation of the Agreement contributes to that. Its 13th meeting took place on 24 April 2018 in Brussels.
In 2011 Russia and the EU launched negotiations in order to further facilitate cross-border travel regime for their citizens. It was foreseen in particular to extend categories of persons entitled to multiple-entry visas with up to five years term of validity and broaden the list of persons waived from visa fees. Besides, it was planned to entitle additional categories of citizens to enjoy visa-free regime.
In parallel, the so-called Russia – EU visa-free dialogue was launched in 2007. It covered four thematic blocs: 1) document security, including biometrics; 2) illegal migration, including readmission (i.e. admitting back persons illegally staying in the territory of one country to the country where they arrived from); 3) public order and security; 4) external relations.
The exploratory phase of the visa-free dialogue was concluded in March 2010 allowing the assessment of relevant Russian and EU legislative and administrative practices.