Ukraine has recently been on the news because of the brawl in the Parliament – not a reason to be proud of – but still better than hitting the headlines because of the soldiers and civilians being wounded or killed. There is, however, another news concerning Ukraine, which can be called an achievement, something Ukrainians have been eagerly looking forward to. It has been announced that Ukraine is now closer to a visa-free regime with the European Union than ever.
The dialogue regarding the possibility of a visa-free entry for Ukrainian citizens wishing to visit the EU countries for the purpose of a short-term travel was initiated in October 2008 (whereas the EU citizens could already visit Ukraine without a visa), and an Action Plan on Visa Liberalisation was presented in 2010. The road map to measure the Ukrainian state`s readiness for the visa liberalisation had been applied to the Western Balkan states first. The Ukrainian plan was designed to consist of two phases: the phase of planning and introducing the relevant legislation and the phase of implementing. The plan did not have specific deadlines so it was up to the Ukrainian side to decide how fast Ukraine would like to move forward. Once elected, Ukraine`s current President, Petro Poroshenko, declared that achieving a visa-free regime for Ukrainians in the EU should be a priority. As a result, at this moment Ukraine is not only in the second phase, but is in fact in the final stage of implementing the requirements for introducing a visa-free regime for its citizens.
On December 18th, 2015 the European Commission approved the sixth progress report on the Ukranian implementation of the specified Action Plan, confirming that Ukraine met all the benchmarks outlined in the plan. These cover the following key spheres: document security; border and migration management; public order and security; external relations and fundamental rights.
Among the most recent achievements on the way to the visa liberalisation for Ukrainians, there are:
- Adoption by the Ukrainian Parliament of an anti-discrimination law in mid-November 2015. Although this initially seemed to have sparked controversy in the Parliament, an anti-discrimination amendment to the Labour Code, which prohibits discrimination based on the sexual orientation, was adopted.
- Adoption of the law in the National Agency of Ukraine for Identifying, Tracing and Managing Assets Derived from Corruption as well as establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Though politicians and members of the Parliament played an important role in passing these laws, a tremendous amount of work has been done by the civil society that has led the campaign for the visa liberalisation for many years. One of such civic organizations that has been working hard on monitoring and collecting all the necessary data and conducting relevant research, as well as policy recommendations concerning the situation with visas for Ukrainian citizens is Europe without Barriers.
The positive report of the European Commission signals that Ukraine has indeed progressed, but there are two more EU institutions that play a decisive role in giving Ukrainians the right to enjoy the long-desired visa-free regime with the EU countries. Now the approvals of the European Council and the European Parliament are pending. For Moldova, for instance, it took several months to get these organizations` consent.
Not all EU member states are supportive of Ukraine entering a visa-free space of the European Union, especially taking into account the current refugee crisis in Europe, which has already served as a test of the union`s strength and solidarity. It is not an easy time for Ukraine either, since Ukrainians are still fighting the war on its eastern front.
However, the good news is that migration experts state that there is no real danger of Ukrainians massively migrating to the EU once the borders open. The border control will still be there, and those who would like to live and work in the EU can still do that even now using means available to them, while the majority would still prefer to visit the EU countries for a short span of time – for tourism and visiting friends. Now, while visas are still a requirement, many of them are often discouraged because of the difficulties and sometimes even humiliation, associated with obtaining a visa. This segment will be the one to benefit from the visa liberalisation implementation.
Obviously, the free movement within the EU that Ukrainians have been longing for, includes only short-term stay and does not encompass work or study. It is also true that at the border citizens of Ukraine will still be required to provide a thick packet of documents, which they always have had to present at the embassies and consulates. In spite of this, the implementation of the visa-free short-term travel will still be a huge step forward for Ukrainians, who displayed their will to be part of the united Europe when they revolted against their government`s decision to halt signing of the Association Agreement with the EU in November 2013. As the Executive Director of Europe without Barriers, Iryna Sushko pointed out, “the failure to secure the visa-free regime in 2016 could seriously weaken the European aspirations of Ukrainians, for whom the abolition of visas is an organic movement and integration in the European community”. Ukrainians do not want to give up their European dream. This ambition has taken Ukraine far- yes, Ukraine lost part of its territory, and is still fighting to defend its eastern borders, but the progress in the visa-liberalisation process demonstrates that there are also changes for the better. Hopefully, more positive changes as such are to come.
Sources: www.euroactiv.com, Iryna Sushko; “Visa Liberalisation as an Effective Instrument to Support Reforms”