European Commission May Ease Travel to EU for Kaliningrad Residents

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Aug. 1 – Residents of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad may soon be able to visit relatives and do business in the European Union border region with special permits for regular crossings, instead of visas, under a proposal unveiled by the European Commission on Friday.

The European Commission has proposed allowing the states bordering Kaliningrad to negotiate bilateral agreements to make border crossings easier for people living within 30 kilometers to 50 kilometers of the EU frontier.

“(This) will facilitate people-to-people contacts and enhance economic cooperation on both sides of the border, without affecting security,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told reporters in Brussels.

Under current rules, Kaliningrad residents must acquire visas to enter EU territory.

“All people living within the Kaliningrad enclave will enjoy the benefits of this amendment,” commission spokesman Michele Cercone said. “Usually they have the necessity for family, cultural or economic reasons to move across the border quite often; sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days.”

“This will translate into a very concrete facilitation of daily life for these people,” Cercone said, noting that Kaliningrad is the only non-EU enclave left in the bloc.

The change sought by the commission would allow member states – specifically Poland – to strike a deal with Russia so that Kaliningrad residents would require only a special permit to travel regularly within an area extending 30 kilometers from the border and to stay up to two days at a time.

In some cases, it could be extended to 50 kilometers.

Travel further into Poland and the remainder of the EU would still require a visa.

The EU and Russia have been discussing scrapping visas, but talks have moved slowly due to concerns among some EU states that this could spark a rush of illegal immigration from Russia.

Russia is ready to liberalize its visa regulations for EU tourists and businessmen as soon as European leaders approve, President Dmitry Medvedev said earlier in July 2011, adding that Russia is ready to ease visa rules as early as “in half a year” should Europe favor this.

Implementing the European Commission proposal of Kaliningrad residents will require discussion and approval by EU member states and the European Parliament.

Four similar local border traffic agreements are already in force, covering Hungary and Ukraine, Slovakia and Ukraine, Poland and Ukraine and Romania and Moldova.

Others covering Poland and Belarus, Latvia and Belarus, Lithuania and Belarus, and Norway and Russia are expected to enter into force soon.

Renamed into Kaliningrad after being annexed by the Soviet Union in 1945, the city was originally called Königsberg, and was part of Prussia and then Germany. As the three Baltic States regained independence, the city became an exclave separated from the rest of Russia.

The distance from Kaliningrad to the border with Poland and Lithuania is respectively 35 kilometers and 70 kilometers; the closest city of mainland Russia Pskov is 800 kilometers away.

Kaliningrad is the only ice-free Russian sea port on the Baltic Sea coast. Fisheries, machinery, fuel, cellulose, paper and foodstuffs industries are at the basis of the Kaliningrad regional economy.

Most joint capital enterprises have been opened together with Lithuania (603), Poland (568) and Germany (358). The Kaliningrad region attracts Lithuanian investors due to proximity of the market and cheaper workforce.

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