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17th Jan 2022

Ukraine visa call puts Dutch PM in tight spot

  • Rutte greets senior EU officials in The Hague to mark launch of Dutch EU presidency (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The European Commission has said Ukraine is ready for its nationals to enter the EU without visas, putting the Netherlands in a tricky position.

A commission report on Wednesday (20 April) said Ukraine had met all criteria, including techncial items such as passport security and political demands such as the creation of new anti-corruption agencies.

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  • Some EU states want to move ahead on visas to reassure Ukraine after the Dutch vote (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU commissioner in charge, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said the visa move would help in “strengthening business, social and cultural ties” and praised Kiev for “achieving far-reaching and difficult reforms.”

“I hope that the European Parliament and the Council will adopt our proposal very soon,” he added, referring to the EU Council, where member states meet.

The commission assessment concludes eight years of bilateral talks on the issue and has symbolic value.

Ukraine shortly after the pro-Western Orange Revolution in 2004 lifted visas for EU nationals for the sake of better ties. But EU consulates maintained harsh entry conditions, making Ukrainian people feel unloved by Europe.

The recent Dutch referendum, in which voters urged the government to scrap the EU-Ukraine association treaty, also caused pain.

Politicians from eastern and central Europe immediately welcomed the commission's recommendation on Wednesday.

“European choice of Ukrainian people irreversible,” Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite said on Twitter. The Czech Republic “will always support clear EU perspective for UA [Ukraine] - this is [a] key step,” Czech EU affairs minister Tomas Prouza said.

An EU source told this website that a council working group on visas will hold initial talks between member states in the first week of May.

The source said some EU capitals are keen to give Ukraine a positive response to compensate for the Dutch referendum.

Dutch people's concerns

But the commission decision puts Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte in a tight spot.

Rutte's own political party, the Liberals, have said visa liberalisation is premature.

The party's foreign affairs spokesman, MP Han ten Broeke, earlier this month said he did not believe that Ukraine has met all the required criteria. “The European Commission is free to propose what it wants; that does not mean that we agree,” he said.

Rutte is also holding off on a decision on the EU-Ukraine association treaty until after the UK referendum on EU membership in late June.

The visa-free accord and the EU treaty rejected by Dutch voters are not officially linked. But if he agrees to visa-free while the treaty question is unsolved, it would expose him to accusations of not listening to Dutch people’s concerns.

Whatever he does, his decision will be amplified by the fact the Netherlands currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

The EU source said other issues would also come into play.

The contact said some EU states could opt to delay the visa decision to see if Ukraine is really implementing anti-corruption reforms.

They said that if the migration crisis gets worse or if the Russia-Ukraine conflict escalates it might make EU politicians reluctant to let Ukrainians travel more freely.

Turkey jumping the queue

Meanwhile, the EU has promised to give visa-free travel to Turkey by the end of June as part of a deal on taking back irregular migrants.

Turkey still has far to go to meet technical criteria. If it jumps the queue in front of Ukraine for political motives, it could be a “disaster” in terms of EU-Ukraine relations and internal EU relations, the EU source said.

The commission, while provisionally welcoming Ukrainians to Europe on Wednesday, also spelled out the limitations of what is on offer.

Visa-free travel would cover only people with biometric passports for stays of 90 days or less.

They would need to “prove sufficient financial means and the purpose of the travel” prior to getting in and they wouldn’t have the right to work while in the EU.

The visa perks would not extend to Ireland or the UK, which don’t take part in Schengen. But they would also cover Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

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