No EU visa waiver for Ukraine this year
Ukrainian people are unlikely to get an EU visa waiver by Christmas, despite pledges to the contrary and “optimism” by EU officials.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker made the boldest promise at a summit with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in Brussels on Thursday (24 November).
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“The problem will be resolved before the end of the year”, he said.
Donald Tusk, the European Council head, said he was “optimistic” on the visa-free accord.
Ukraine's president Petro Poroshenko said there would not be any hidden surprises and that mere “stylistic” details of the visa accord remained to be agreed. “There’s no black cat in a dark room,” he said.
The delay on the visa pact comes amid testing times in EU and Ukraine relations.
The future of an EU-Ukraine association and trade treaty is in doubt after a Dutch referendum in which people voted to scrap it.
The future of EU and US solidarity with Ukraine in its conflict with Russia is also in doubt after the US president-elect, Donald Trump, said he wanted to “normalise” ties with Moscow.
The visa irritant goes back to the pro-Western Orange Revolution in 2004, when Ukraine lifted visas for EU nationals in hope of reciprocity.
“Visa-liberalisation is a testimony to the rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU, Poroshenko said on Thursday.
EU states, including France, last week publicly said that they still planned to lift visas, but behind the scenes, France has taken a hard line, causing delays.
The EU has bound itself to first “adopt” a new law on suspending visa-waivers, for instance, in the event of mass overstays.
France has said such a suspension should cover all passport holders of the waiver country in question, instead of some categories of travellers only.
Even if France’s line were adopted by member states and the EU parliament next week, the legal preparations and translations of the waiver suspension bill would take too long for it to be “adopted” by year-end, with a knock-on delay for Ukraine.
France’s position has prompted some EU diplomats to speculate that president Francois Hollande wanted to delay the visa deal until after French elections next year, in order not to give ammunition to anti-immigrant and anti-EU parties.
Juncker and Tusk dismissed that notion, however.
Juncker said he had spoken with Hollande and with German chancellor Angela Merkel by phone on Thursday morning and that they wanted to go ahead.
Tusk said France had been “very constructive” in recent days.
Poroshenko said he had also received personal assurances from Hollande.
He added that the EU was “under attack” by “populists, nationalists, and eurosceptics”, as well as by Russia, which supported anti-EU parties in member states.
He underlined the importance of a solution to the Dutch referendum problem.
He said the EU association treaty was “a symbol of the new Ukraine, of the fight of our country for our European future”.
He noted that Thursday’s summit marked the third anniversary of Ukraine’s pro-Western Maidan revolution in 2013, which began when the former regime rejected the EU pact.
The Dutch government is considering adding a protocol to the treaty that would say, among other caveats, that Ukraine is not in line to join the EU or to get any more money.
Poroshenko said that “under no conditions” would he agree to “lower the ambitious character” of the original accord.
Tusk and Poroshenko said they had received assurances from the US president-elect on his future foreign policy.
Tusk said Trump’s comments on Russia, made by phone, were “calm” and “more promising” than some of the statements that he made during his campaign.
He said he expected EU diplomats to prolong economic sanctions on Russia before an EU summit in December.
Poroshenko said there was “strong bipartisan support” in the US to also uphold sanctions on Russia.
The European Commission has said Georgia has also fulfilled conditions to get visa-free travel.
Georgian people have more hope than Ukrainians of a breakthrough by the end of the year.
Their visa-waiver can be put in place as soon as there is further “progress” on the waiver suspension bill instead of waiting for its full legal “adoption” of the bill, as in Ukraine’s case.
That progress could occur as early as next week, diplomat said, if member states and MEPs agree to the French conditions.