Article by: Vitalii Rybak
There is one major point in Ukraine’s European integration—and that is definitely an upcoming visa-free regime for short-stay travels to Schengen zone for Ukrainian citizens. However, there are constant delays in granting the mentioned visa liberalization.
Here are seven things you should now about talks on visa liberalization between Ukraine and the EU:
- This process has lasted for six years already. Action Plan on Visa Liberalisation was first presented to Ukraine during the Ukraine-EU Summit in Brussels on 22 November 2010. It took us, Ukrainians, more than five years to fulfill all the requirements. Actually, the implementation of electronic declarations system was the last one.
- Ukrainian officials have promised a visa-free regime since 2014. For example, Petro Poroshenko promised during his 2014 presidential campaign that visa liberalization would be granted to Ukraine during the first year of his presidency (until summer 2015).
- The European Commission proposed to abolish visas for Ukrainian citizens a year ago. An important milestone was achieved: on 18 December 2015 the European Commission published the final Sixth Progress Report on the implementation of the Action Plan on Visa Liberalisation by Ukraine and noted that Ukraine meets all the benchmarks.
- Recently visa liberalization for Ukraine has been connected to the visa suspension mechanism. Due to European refugee crisis, many EU member states supported the implementation of a mechanism which would allow suspending the exemption from the visa requirement for six months if there were reasons for such measure.
- Right now in the EU, there is no united position on the suspension mechanism. Multiple sources have reported that France blocks the talks on visa suspension mechanism due to the proximity of presidential elections. French officials are afraid that right-wing populists like Marine Le Pen and her “National Front” party would use visa liberalization as an additional argument for anti-migrant rhetoric.
- Ukrainians are becoming slightly more eurosceptic. Constant delays on the EU side are making an impression that the EU does not really want to grant visa liberalization for Ukraine that much. Pro-Russian opposition and internet trolls are using these delays to persuade the population that no one wants to see Ukraine in Europe. However, polls show no dramatic changes in public opinion regarding the EU— there are only slight eurosceptic shifts. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials have also become more cautious with their statements and do not set possible dates for visa liberalization anymore.
- A decision on visa liberalization for Ukraine is postponed until at least January 2017. European Parliament is set to discuss visa-free regime with Ukraine and Georgia on 18 January 2017. Yet the discussion on the suspension mechanism will take place sooner — during the Coreper-2 meeting on 7 December 2016.
These theses are prepared by Vitalii Rybak for Internews.