EU unlikely to ease travel rules for Georgia before October vote

September 23, 2016 6:45 AM EDT

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By Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is unlikely to agree visa-free travel for Georgia before its Oct. 8 elections as its government had hoped, diplomats said on Friday, citing divisions in the bloc and fears over immigration.

Germany blocked visa liberalization for the nation of 3.7 million people in June, demanding that the EU first firm up its system for suspending visa waivers. The move was backed by France and Italy.

Voters in EU states have grown extremely wary of immigration after some 1.3 million migrants reached the bloc in 2015.

While EU states agree Georgia has met all criteria for visa liberalization, negotiations between EU states and the European Parliament on the suspension mechanism have ground to a halt.

The lawmakers demand a bigger say in triggering any such brake than national capitals are willing to give them.

"Some member states say they want visa liberalization for Georgia but in fact act differently," said one EU diplomat.

Another said it was looking "increasingly impossible" to agree more relaxed travel rules for Georgia ahead of the parliamentary vote there on Oct. 8 - lending fodder to opposition claims that the ruling Georgian Dream party has failed in its foreign policy goals.

The former Soviet nation on Russia's border is caught in a geo-political tussle between the EU and Russia. Georgia's Western aspirations are opposed by Moscow, which sees the nation as part of its sphere of influence.

Easier travel rules for Georgians overlap with similar talks the EU is holding with Ukraine and Turkey. Those two countries are more problematic for the EU, making member states wary of moving ahead on Tbilisi.

(Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Andrew Roche)



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