Sunday

24th Mar 2019

Ukraine moves a step closer to EU visa-free travel

  • Ukrainians will be able to skip the visa queues later this year if things go well (Photo: The Hamster Factor)

Forty five million Ukrainian nationals could, if things go well, be able to enter most EU states without a visa by the end of the year.

The prospect comes after European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in Brussels on Thursday (17 March) that the latest reforms in Ukraine “allow the commission to make proposals for visa liberalisation in April”.

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  • Kiev passed anti-corruption reforms on the eve of Poroshenko's trip to Brussels (Photo: Marco Fieber)

“We have shared interests in making it easier for our citizens to travel to each other’s countries,” he said.

The commission had linked the step to new anti-corruption measures in Kiev.

Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko, speaking alongside Juncker, said the visa-free news was an “important event” for his country.

He said Ukraine had just passed a law forcing officials to declare their financial interests on the internet and had also appointed members of a new anti-corruption agency.

EU nationals can already travel to Ukraine without a visa after it unilaterally lifted requirements in 2005.

Juncker’s recommendation in April must be approved by EU states in a qualified majority vote in the Council. It must also win the backing of the European Parliament.

The EU would then sign a bilateral treaty with Ukraine, which would also oblige Ukraine to take back people who enter the EU from its territory through irregular means.

The first visa-free trips could start the day after they sign.

Turkey

The perks would extend to most EU countries, but not Ireland or the UK, which are not members of the EU’s Schengen travel area.

Ukraine would also have to negotiate separate arrangements with Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which are in Schengen but not in the EU.

EU sources declined to say how long the whole process might take.

On past form, Moldova in 2013-2014 completed the process from its commission recommendation to the bilateral visa treaty in six months.

When the commission on 9 March proposed to lift visa requirements for Georgia it said the measure could enter into force by the end of summer.

The EU is also preparing to fast-track Turkey’s visa-free application as part of a deal on stopping irregular migrants.

But Turkish officials fear that France could create obstacles in order to appease anti-immigration feeling at home. Cyprus, for its part, insists that Turkey, which doesn't recognise it, has to first accept readmissions of migrants from Cypriot terrritory.

Some countries, such as Hungary and Lithuania, have said that Ukraine should get a visa-free regime before Turkey.

"Ukraine has become the 73th benchmark" of Turkey visa talks, a top EU official said on Thursday, referring to the 72 criteria that Turkey has to meet for the EU to drop visa restrictions.

Crimea anniversary

Meanwhile, Poroshenko on Tuesday gave Juncker and EU Council chief Donald Tusk a list of Russian officials who should be denied EU entry.

The list of some 30 names concerns people deemed guilty of abducting and jailing Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadiya Savchenko.

Tusk reiterated previous EU calls on Russia to free her. But neither he nor Juncker mentioned Poroshenko’s list.

The EU has a separate blacklist of 146 Russians and Ukrainians deemed guilty of violating Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” and has also imposed economic sanctions on Russia.

Tusk said these would stay in force until Russia implemented the so-called Minsk ceasefire pact in Ukraine. “Unfortunately we don’t see anything like that from the Russian side,” he said.

He noted that Friday would mark the two-year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. He added that the EU's policy of not recognising the annexation would remain in place.

Moscow, prior to the Ukraine conflict, was also in talks with the EU on visa-free travel for Russian people, but the talks were suspended when the conflict broke out.

Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election

Smer, Slovakia's ruling party, wants the country's media to give politicians a right-of-reply, or face stiff fines. Advocates of a free press are alarmed, and it poses a problem for the European Commission, whose vice-president is a Smer presidential candidate.

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