The UAE ambassador to the EU Sulaiman Al Mazroui and Ilze Juhansone, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Lativia and chairman of the Permanent Representatives Committee at the EU. Image Credit: WAM

Brussels: European travel for Emiratis has become much simpler following the formal signing of an agreement between the UAE and the European Union (EU) to waive visas for the Schengen area. This agreement, effective on Wednesday, essentially provides privileges to UAE citizens to travel to 34 countries with ease and without the need for electronic or online applications.

It comes more than a year after the European Parliament voted to allow visa-free travel to Europe for Emiratis to all 26 Schengen states (plus 8 countries where Schengen rules apply). It will allow UAE citizens multiple entries and a stay of up to 90 days within a period of 6 months or 180 days in the Schengen zone.

The signing took place at the Council of the European Union between UAE ambassador to the EU Sulaiman Al Mazroui and ambassador Ilze Juhansone, permanent representative of the Republic of Latvia and chairman of the Permanent Representatives Committee at the EU.

Speaking exclusively to Gulf News, Al Mazroui said: “This is a historical moment in relations between the UAE and the EU. The Schengen visa waiver agreement was an initiative that’s been there for three years and today it has been successfully concluded by the signing ceremony at the EU council.”

“Although the UAE was admitted last on the list of candidates for Schengen waiver, we got it first,” says Al Mazroui. This statement was also echoed by Mohammad Meer Al Raisi, Undersecretary of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who was also present at the signing.

Major achievement

Al Raisi told Gulf News this was a major diplomatic achievement: “The UAE has political influence globally and we enjoy strong relations with EU countries.” Al Raisi emphasised that EU countries will benefit from an increase in trade and investments as well as the number of tourists coming from the UAE. He thanked both Shaikh Abdullah [Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister] and Dr Anwar Gargash [UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs] for their direct involvement and hard work.

Al Raisi also wanted to address Emiratis directly, saying he hopes they will all be good ambassadors for their country, protective of their country’s reputation and respectful [and mindful] of the countries’ laws and regulations that they are visiting.

Commenting on why there was some delay in the actual signing the agreement, ambassador Al Mazroui said it was due to several factors including a tactical delay by the liberalisation and justice and committee to avoid entry by force of a few countries who wanted to put their name on the visa waiver list. Elections that took place in the European institutions (the parliament, council and the commission) as well as linguistic hiccups played a role as well.

Countries exempted

In terms of reciprocity, the UAE exempted 33 countries before this waiver initiative, which, according to Al Mazroui, was good for the UAE’s economy and it increased tourism and business and brought an influx of investment. Fifteen of the original EU countries were exempted in the 2001 UAE list. In March 2014, the UAE as a goodwill gesture exempted 13 EU states; Al Mazroui said this was a provisional, good message to the EU that the UAE is seeking reciprocity. “Today’s signature completes the process of reciprocity,” he said.

The UAE is by far the largest Arab trade partner with the EU — over €50 billion (Dh206 billion) of trade according to the latest figures.

Al Mazroui says the UAE being the second largest Arab economy is very important for the EU. Furthermore, there are 510 weekly flights between the UAE and the EU, which is a major indicator of the relationship.

Larger impact

Commenting on the larger impact of this diplomatic achievement, Al Mazroui said the UAE has been appreciated by the EU as a leader in the Gulf and the Middle East in general on all levels — as a partner in various political positions, in economic achievements, and as a safe haven for expats who live in the UAE and enjoy a high quality of life. For them, the UAE is an example of how a country in that region should be, he says.

Ambassador Juhansone in her statement at the signing that the negotiations rounds with the UAE went very smoothly. “I am confident we will keep having good cooperation between us and together we will ensure a smooth implementation of the agreement,” she said. Juhansone said UAE-EU ties will be strengthened as a result of this agreement.

The UAE is now working on the next steps to get visa waivers in other parts of the world. Al Raisi said their target is to one day, get Emiratis a visa waiver for all countries around the world.