On Monday, June 23rd, the EU Council made the decision to start the second phase of liberalising the visa regime with Ukraine.
The second phase is final in the so-called visa dialogue, which Kyiv and Brussels have been holding for six years now.
Experts claim that Ukraine has all the chances of getting a visa-free regime in the nearest future.
BBC Ukraine investigated when the owners of documents with the trident on the cover will be able to cross the western Ukrainian borders without any obstacles. What problems does official Kyiv have on the way to a complete suspension of visas to the EU?
The possibility of a visa-free regime with Europe was first seriously mentioned in Ukraine in 2005. Then the newly-elected President Viktor Yushchenko abolished visas for EU citizens with his order. Before this, a foreigner had to pay 50 USD for the right to enter Ukraine once.
Back then it was said in Kyiv that they are expecting a similar step on part of the Europeans, and when they did not see it, they were disappointed.
“Back then we had a period of certain Euro-romanticism,” says former Minister of Foreign Affairs Volodymyr Ohryzko. “From the emotional point of view, possibly, there was some offence. From the practical, pragmatic point of view – we simply have to accord with certain criteria, and then there would be no offence.”
The list of criteria Ukraine has to meet in order to receive a visa-free regime with the EU was discussed in 2008 within the frameworks of the so-called ‘visa dialogue.’
In 2010 the new head of state Viktor Yanukovych named the abolition of visas with Europe as one of the priorities of his activity. In May of the first year of his presidency he stated that the according agreement could be signed by Ukraine and the EU by the end of the year.
In reality, by the end of 2010, Ukraine only received an action plan from the EU: the list of measures Kyiv has to take in order for the EU to suspend visas.
That this way is not impossible is testified to by the example of Moldova. Having began the visa dialogue with Europe and received the action plan later than Ukraine, Kishinev got a visa-free regime starting April 28th of the current year.
Today Kyiv is close to repeating the success of the southern neighbour, experts claim. The decision to transition to the second phase of the visa dialogue means that Ukraine has approved all the acts necessary to abolish the visas, and now it has to put them into practice.
Story with discrimination
“For example, if they approve the law regarding biometric passports, then we have to issue them, for them to be in the pockets of Ukrainian citizens. There is a law regarding non-discrimination – then this means that this non-discrimination has to happen,” explains Volodymyr Ohryzko.
At the moment the biggest burden in executing the already approved laws lies on the government, conclude the experts. Civil society should not be idle either: it is them who are most interested in the abolition of visas for Europe.
First deputy head of the World Policy Institute Sergiy Solodkiy says that Ukraine has to take advantage of the fact that on government level the EU now sympathises with Ukraine very much, therefore they can turn a blind eye to some imperfections.
For example, the expert says, until recently the EU demanded the Parliament pass the law which would prohibit discrimination of workers by the employer on grounds of their sexual orientation. In the Verkhovna Rada the majority was not for this bill.
Then the Ministry of Justice and the MFA addressed a petition to the High Specialised Court in examining civil and criminal cases, and court issued a special letter in which they concluded that the current Constitution and Labour Code prohibit discrimination on all possible grounds, including sexual orientation. Therefore, the Ukrainian government concluded that a special law may not be passed in this regard.
This turned out to be enough for the EU, emphasises Mr. Solodkiy, exclusively out of political sympathy for Ukraine.
Will Brussels behave similarly in other spheres of the visa-free dialogue? We will see in the nearest future. “But we should not be idle and wait for the sympathies on part of the EU to work in our favour. We have to work,” assures the expert.
Problems in the east
How much time can the second phase of the visa dialogue take, which will lead to the abolition of visas to the EU?
“And how long can the war last?” Volodymyr Ohryzko answers the question with a question.
Ukrainian diplomats and experts and even the EU ambassador in Ukraine Jan Tombinsky say that in normal conditions the second phase would take, like in Moldova before, no more than several months: the decision to use biometric passports has been made, camps for illegal migrants are already working, the Parliament has approved all legislative acts that were demanded of it.
Military action in the east of the country alter the course significantly.
“If mercenaries with heavy weaponry are able to get through to Ukrainian territory without obstruction, this means that we have significant problems with border control. This is a huge disadvantage, therefore we have to enforce the border as quickly as possible, so that there are no ‘holes’ here,” says Sergiy Solodkiy.
Does this mean that until Ukraine solves the contradictions in the east of Ukraine, it cannot even dream of a visa-free regime with the EU? Experts say that this is too categorical of a statement and use the example of Moldova again.
Its citizens were provided with the visa-free regime regardless of all the problems with Transnistria. However the border security there is on a somewhat different level than in Ukraine.
In any cause, BBC Ukraine’s interviewees state that Kyiv has to solve the Ukrainian-Russian border problem.
Jan Tombinsky and former head of the Ukrainian MFA Andriy Deshchitsya stated that Ukraine might receive the visa-free regime before the end of the current year.
Sergiy Solodkiy calls such evaluations optimistic: one of the compulsory demands to cancel visas is the provision of biometric passports and their availability to Ukrainian citizens. On the other hand, the first biometric passport in Ukraine, according to the already approved government order, will only be issued in January 2015.
“And if we don’t have biometric passport, how can we have the visa-free regime starting January 1st?” The expert asks rhetorically.
However, he notes, if the EU, in light political sympathy to the Ukrainian government, makes a step towards Kyiv and cancels the visas on the first day of the next year, this will not be surprising either.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Radoslav Sikorsky during his recent visit to Kyiv sated that the provision of the visa-free regime will happen in the middle of the next year.
Experts say: the cancelation of visas to the EU will only be really felt by owners of biometric passports, which will only be issued in Ukraine next year.
Someone who has an old issue document in their pocket will either have to get a new passport and go to Europe without extra formalities or, as before, get a visa – possibly, according to the current rules.
Accordingly, knowing social media users are already writing about lines that will take months that will start emerging at the passport offices for the new documents as soon as they begin issuing them.
“If the Ukrainians have problems getting biometric passports, this will mean that the government cannot deal with its duties outlined in the second phase of the visa dialogue,” says Sergiy Solodkiy. “Imagine what kind of scandal will arise if the government de facto fails the visa-free regime. If I were in the Ukrainian government’s shoes, I would already take all the necessary precautions and do everything possible for all those willing to be able to get biometric passports.”
Volodymyr Ohryzko calls not to panic preemptively. “There are enough production facilities in Ukraine. Polygraphic factory “Ukrayina” will be able to this easily. There will be no lines for the new passports,” says he.
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina