Vote approves visa-free travel to Europe for Emiratis

The decision came in a plenary session in Strausbourg, Out of 577 members of parliament, 523 voted in favour of the change.

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ABU DHABI // The European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to allow visa-free travel for UAE citizens to Europe.

Of the 577 members voting in Strasbourg on Thursday, 523 voted in favour of waiving visa requirements for Emiratis travelling to the 26 Schengen Area states.

The result was welcomed by UAE officials, who said it came as a result of years of efforts.

“We’ll become the first Arab country whose nationals are exempted from the Schengen visa,” said Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

"This will provide greater freedom of movement for our citizens."

Dr Gargash praised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UAE’s mission to the EU, saying they “have done a very professional job towards this”, working through a complex process over the past two and a half years.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, tweeted his thanks to the ambassador to the EU, Sulaiman Al Mazroui, for his work.

“We must consider how to place our country in a more favourable position and how to please the Emirati citizens – that is what sets us apart from others,” Sheikh Abdullah later told Abu Dhabi TV’s Oloum Al Dar programme.

He said it was important for the UAE to improve its status and increase the level of happiness for its nationals.

Sheikh Abdullah said the decision reflected the visionary leadership of the founding President Sheikh Zayed, a legacy being followed by the President Sheikh Khalifa.

He added that the vote was also the result of the great impression left by Emiratis visiting EU countries, and reflected positively the nation’s role in the world.

Dr Gargash agreed: “I think that to a certain extent the UAE’s exposure to the world, its own development and the familiarity that people have with the UAE have also helped.”

He said discussion and arrangements were still needed before visa-free travel could be introduced.

“But the Parliament’s vote is basically the important milestone here,” Dr Gargash said.

The next step is a formal endorsement of the decision by the Council of the EU, followed by technical introduction.

The amended visa regulations have been informally agreed on with the Council, the parliament said.

It also backed visa-free travel for citizens of Colombia, Peru and 16 countries that are part of the Cotonou Agreement with the EU, mostly in the Caribbean and Pacific.

The parliament said Colombia and Peru were added to the visa-free list, but the European Commission will further assess the situations in both countries before it is introduced there.

An EU-UAE working team will be set up to introduce the travel arrangements after a final announcement is made, Wam reported.

Dr Mihai Stuparu, ambassador head-designate of the EU mission to the UAE, said the delegation was "very pleased about this outcome".

“It will be a very good evolution for bilateral relations, which are already at a very high level, and this will definitely facilitate the further development and expanding of these relations for a mutual benefit of the European Union and the UAE,” Dr Stuparu said.

Trade and investment between the UAE and the EU exceed €50 billion (Dh251.85bn), Wam reported.

There were more than 160,000 EU citizens in the UAE and 1.64 million visitors in 2012. There are 508 weekly return flights between the UAE and Europe.

The Schengen Area consists of 26 states, including 22 of the 28 EU member countries.

They are Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Sweden.

The UK had granted visa-free travel to UAE citizens in November.