The EU recongnizes Ukraine’s continued implementation of criteria necessary for visa liberaliation with the EU, but in view of recent developments demands taking immediate actions to ensure full implementation and sustainability of past reforms, in particular as regards the anti corruption benchmark. This is discussed in the first ever report of the European Commission on the Visa suspension mechanism published on 20 December 2017, which assesses the visa liberalization benchmarks of countries of the West Balkans and Eastern Partnership.
In the report, the European Commission states that recent developments such as the introduction of tight time limits for pre-trial investigations, as well as the public disclosure of the National Anticorrution Bureau’s (NABU) undercover investigations at the end of November by the General Prosecutors Office seriously undermine NABU’s capacity to effectively conduct investigations, and raises concerns about the efficiency of the National Agency for Preventing Corruption (NAPC), and increasing pressure on civil society, including through criminal investigations and physical attacks. As well, it notes that the draft law allowing the parliament to dismiss the heads of anti-corruption institutions is still registered, and that the set-up of an independent anti-corruption court would finally allow bringing those accused of corruption to justice.
The European Commission puts forward six demands to Ukraine:
- Enhance cooperation with EU relevant agencies to prevent risks stemming from irregular migration;
- Step up targeted information campaigns clarifying the rights and obligations entailed in visa-free travel;
- Ensure the independence, effectiveness and sustainability of the anti-corruption institutional framework, in particular by setting up an independent and specialised high anti-corruption court in accordance with the Venice Commission opinion and Ukrainian legislation. In parallel, the independence and capacity of NABU and SAP must be ensured and reinforced, reversing current trends undermining their work;
- Restore as a matter of urgency the credibility of the NAPC and establish an effective verification system of asset declarations, including through the automatic verification software with direct and automatic access to state databases and registers;
- Repeal the amendments extending the scope of asset declaration obligations to civil society declarants and ensure that civil society can play its role without undue obstacles and interference;
- Step up efforts to combat organised crime, including by dedicating sufficient resources and expertise in the National Police, introducing a clear delineation of competencies and improving cooperation between law enforcement agencies.
The European Council had approved a new mechanism to suspend visa-free regimes with third countries in February 2017. The document lists five reasons through which the visa-free regime can be stopped. Four of them concern migration: the EU reserves the right to restore visas for any country which become a source of migratory threat. The fifth reason for stopping the visa-free regime concerns a roll-back in conducting reforms.
The Ukrainian government’s latest spiral of attacks against the National Anti-Corruption Bureau led to discussions within the EU about a possible suspension of Ukraine’s visa-free regime with the EU. The regime was opened in June 2017.
/ based on reporting by Yevropeiska Pravda
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