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14 Jun, 2010 11:19

European business pushes on visa free Russian travel

President Dmitry Medvedev says Russians should be allowed to travel to the European Union visa-free. It comes as European business leaders say both sides would benefit, but Brussels is holding out on a deal.

Russians flying to Turkey can pick up a visa at the airport. That easy entry policy drew more than 2 million Russian visitors last year. By contrast, to get the European Schengen visa, Russian hopefuls must fill in lengthy foreign forms, and can wait months for an embassy appointment. Bring proof of return travel, hotel and salary, along with a raft of other documents, and if the deputy consul's in a good mood, he may allow a visit between the flight dates.

You can hear the voices of Russian shoppers all over the shopping strips of Berlin. If so many are prepared to go through the procedures of getting a visa, shop owners hope many more will visit if travel becomes visa free.

EU business owners are now calling on Brussels to scrap visa requirements, as they struggle for customers after the financial crisis.

After talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Medvedev says he's ready to sign a visa-free deal, and warns of consequences if Brussels drags its feet.

“Without solving the visa issue, it will not be possible to build an extensive and long-term partnership between Russia and the EU.”

Last week's EU-Russia summit was expected to produce a roadmap to visa-free travel. Instead, EU delegation deputy Michael Webb revealed it could take "years" for an agreement. Dr Frank Schauff , Head of the Association of European Business in Russia says a few countries are holding out on a range of issues.

“There certainly are questions at stake of security cooperation between the EU and Russia. There are questions of migration. But I think on the whole most member states nowadays would assume that a visa free regime, or at least easing the regime which exists now is an appropriate step.”

Some EU members fear waves of Eastern criminals running across their borders, and migrants taking their jobs. Others are being accused of racism. Austria's luxury ski resort of Kitzbuhel limits Russian visitors to 10% of the total, as "our European guests do not feel so comfortable if the hotel is full of Russians."