European border: challenges and opportunities for Ukraine

In Kyiv, on October 25, 2019 roundtable “The European Border: Opportunities and Challenges for Ukraine” has been organised by Europe without Barriers think tank with the support of the International Renaissance Foundation. The subject of discussion was the issue of border functioning between Ukraine and the EU and its impact on the life of local communities.

The event was attended by representatives of the EU Advisory Mission (EUAM), the Delegation of the European Union to Ukraine, State Border Guard Service, State Fiscal Service, Ministry of Finance, International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), International Organisation for Migration, Government Office for the Coordination of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Polish-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce, Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Ukraine, Embassies of Estonia, Slovakia, Hungary, Georgia and Moldova, experts and scientists.

The meeting was started by the moderator of the meeting, Executive Director of Europe without Barriers, Member of the Inter-Agency Working Group on Integrated Border Management Iryna Sushko. She welcomed participants and outlined the main line of discussion.

When we talk about the border in our expert environment, we always have a certain standard that we want to strive for, and that standard is a European standard. We want our border to be an exemplary border model. Inter-Agency Working Group on Integrated Border Management is also working to this end because the issue of border work is an integrated, complex issue that requires the involvement of many agencies

The Executive Director of the International Renaissance Foundation Olexandr Sushko also welcomed participants, having reminded that the problems of freedom of movement are not limited to visas and spoke about the role of the border in Ukraine’s relations with the EU.

The Polish-Ukrainian border is a landmark, for Ukraine, it is the longest border with a country of the European Union and for Poland, it is the longest border with a non-EU country. Therefore, many of the processes taking place at the border along the Ukrainian-Polish border are significant, are the ones that are carefully investigated not only in Kyiv and Warsaw, but also in Brussels, and many of these processes are essential to European policy

Following this the Head of the EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) Mr Antti Hartikainen welcomed the adoption of the Integrated Border Management Strategy in Ukraine, emphasised its benefits, and stressed the need for its effective implementation, calling on to continue effective work of the Inter-Agency Working Group on the issues of Integrated Border Management for the effective implementation of the Strategy. Mr Hartikainen also stressed the need for the proper functioning of customs control, as the Ukrainian government is losing billions due to the malfunctioning of customs.

Now we are focusing more on customs issues and this is very well taken into account in the IBM Strategy. The new Ukrainian IBM strategy is based on the latest EU regulations and practices. In my opinion, the Ukrainian IBM Strategy is even more advanced than what we have in many EU member states.

I would also like to highlight that when we are talking about border management, border control or customs in order to have proper international cooperation you need have trusted partners, and partners in foreign countries need to be able to trust you. When you expect that someone provides you with some valuable information, you also need to be able to provide them with valuable information. Cooperation is a two-way street.

Ms Barbara Rotovnik from Borders and Migration Sector of EU Delegation in Ukraine expressed gratitude for the organisation of discussion to Europe without Barriers and International Renaissance Foundation. She emphasised the significance of the recently held meeting of Inter-Agency Group on Integrated Border Management.

This meeting is a sign of Ukraine’s political commitment to IBM and the implementation of the Strategy. In addition, we also need to ensure an appropriate and committed technical level support for the implementation of the Strategy and its monitoring.

Ms Rotovnik recalled that the drafting of IBM Strategy was supported by four high-level experts from the EU and assured on further support by two of the experts for the last phase of the drafting of the Action Plan.

Also, she paid special attention to the importance of criminalisation of smuggling.

Let me mention the criminalisation of smuggling. Ukraine must take into account the level of damage to the state financial interests; for instance if someone will smuggle a truck full of shoes (total value 300 000 EUR) into the country he/she will avoid paying taxes (VAT 20% and Customs duties) of around 60 000 EUR to 80 000 EUR. Let’s assume that every day 1 truck of goods will be smuggled into a country. The revenue loss will be around 21 million EUR/year; non-criminalised smuggling undermines trade facilitation measures. On top of the damage to the state budget smuggler, get benefits in terms of advantage in competition against fair traders.

Besides this Ms Rotovnik announced a 50 mln project of support for Integrated Border Management from the EU. EU already works on to launch technical assistance in the framework of this project in cooperation with the International Centre for Migration Policy Development.

Director of the Department for Organisation, Work, Planning and Control of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine Andrii Vihtiuk thanked the European partners for their joint work on the Integrated Border Management Strategy. He described the priorities of state policy in the area of ​​border management, which includes both border security and the accessibility of border crossing for law-abiding citizens. He also recalled that while the topic of IBM became more popular in the media after the adoption of the Strategy, work on the concept and its implementation began in 2010.

It is not just a new Strategy adopted, it is a new vision of integrated border management. In fact, as Mr Hartikainen said, Ukraine has done what many European Union countries are still developing.

He also listed the basic principles of integrated border management, based on European ones, and adapted to Ukrainian realities:

  • Implementation of border control procedures
  • Responding promptly to an offense
  • Control over the maritime border
  • Selective control based on risk analysis
  • Introduction of mechanisms of international cooperation
  • Ensuring effective counteraction to cross-border crime
  • Detection of illegal migrants and their return
  • Implementation of an assessment system that determines the real status of the implementation of integrated border management tasks
  • Strategy is not only a security tool, it is also, first and foremost, a work aimed at free movement of citizens

Ruslan Minich, an analyst from Europe without Barriers, presented the results of a border communities study conducted within the project.

We went to Mostyska and Sokal districts, where there are two checkpoints – Shehyni, one of the oldest and busiest checkpoints, and Uhryniv – the newest checkpoint where joint controls are applied. In addition to the communities located on the border, we also spoke to communities located a little further away – Sokal and Mostyska as district centres, Lviv as a regional centre also feeling the impact of the border. We spoke to representatives of the authorities working with the border – border guards and customs officer – representatives of local authorities, businessmen, priests, teachers.

He also told of the preliminary results of the study based on big data, in which the data of the mobile operator about the border crossing at six checkpoints were compared with the official data of the State Border Service.

Our first question was – who crosses the border. Most of them are Ukrainians, much fewer foreigners. That is, the border is very important for the Ukrainian side. Next, we asked the question – who are these Ukrainians. And it turned out that two-thirds are either local residents living near the border or residents of Lviv region.

He noted that a large part of the border crossings is small cross-border trade, which is estimated at border areas as the only way to survive, and as a negative activity – in cities farther from the border. According to him, developing tourism projects and other local initiatives could be an alternative to such employment in the border regions.

Minich also stressed the need for local community development to open pedestrian crossings at the Ukrainian-Polish border, where only one such crossing functions, and to reconstruct road infrastructure, as well as conclude joint control agreements with neighbouring countries.

Head of the Department for Organising Border Control and State Border Protection of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine Yurii Lysiuk commented on the issue of joint control agreement, stressing that the current Agreement with Poland is in force, but Ukraine cannot conclude agreements with Slovakia and Hungary because of issue of Schengen legislation.

Vice-President of the Polish-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce Oleh Dubish said that Poland replaces Russia as the main destination of Ukrainian exports, and drew attention to the procedural and infrastructural aspects of the movement of goods across the border.

In terms of infrastructure, I always talk about loan line at such meetings. I want to say that there are some disturbing processes. Last time, the procedures of obtaining that money from the Polish side were difficult enough, today we have other problems … The big problem is the payment of value-added tax by Polish companies.

Mr Dubish proposed to create of a joint commission that could respond quickly to issues concerning “Polish loan” because now, in his opinion, the realisation of projects on reconstruction of roads and checkpoints stopped at the project stage.

He also told about the North-South flows of goods. According to him, since the port of Gdansk has recently outpaced Hamburg, the Ukrainian-Polish border may experience increased load from the movement of goods between the Baltic Sea and Turkey.

Head of the Department for Organising Border Control and State Border Protection of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine Yurii Lysiuk spoke about the implementation of the IBM principles in Ukraine and the reforms implemented by the Border Guard within the framework of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.

The network of Joint Contact Points is actively developing. Today, we have two at the border with Poland and one at the border with Hungary and Romania. In the near future, we plan to start the work of the Galats trilateral Ukrainian-Romanian-Moldovian contact point. Negotiations are underway to establish a joint contact point with Slovakia.

According to him, the functioning of such points allows border guards to respond quickly to changes in the situation and effectively plan joint actions with foreign colleagues.

He also talked about joint control. Today, this type of control is carried out at ten checkpoints – six at the border with Moldova and four – with Poland. Joint control reduces the border crossing time by 15-20% and saves money on infrastructure construction.

Today there are two main schemes for joint control. The first is the location of the infrastructure for the emplacement of all control services on the territory of one of the parties – for example, on the border with Poland, all the infrastructure at such points is on the Polish side. The second way is joint control on the territory of the country of entry, when, for example, citizens leave Ukraine, checks are carried out on the territory of Moldova and one checkpoint – on the territory of Poland, and on entry into Ukraine – checks are carried out on the territory of Ukraine ( only in the case of Moldova). A special case is Ustylug-Zosin, where on departure we conduct checks on the Polish side, and on entry – Ukrainian border guards work on their territory and the Polish colleagues – in Poland.

He also added that the greatest progress on joint control has been achieved with Moldova.

In addition, Yurii Lysiuk told about two experiments: data interchange between border guards and customs services (more about the experiment), and carrying out checks of passengers at the Kyiv-Przemysl train during the movement. He also added that most of the checkpoints on the western border were built at the times of the USSR, and their daily flows are now twice larger than their bandwidth. Among other problems, he referred to the poor condition of roads and service areas. According to him, the issue of availability of service areas influences also the issue of the electronic queue.

The representative of the Department of International Cooperation of the State Fiscal Service Mykola Tatarchuk reminded that the SFS will perform customs duties until the transfer of this duties from the SFS to the Customs Service that is expected in the near future. He also expressed the position of the SFS regarding the need for BCP infrastructure development, positive accession of joint control experience and the criminalisation of excise goods smuggling.

Issue of development of BCPs infrastructure is extremely important for our service, especially regarding equipping them with modern scanning and weighing systems. Also, we need to further elaborate the positive experience of joint control. According to our department, criminalisation of all smuggling will not contribute to the improvement of trade, since today violation of customs rules regarding common goods is punished severe enough. What about smuggling the excise goods, especially tobacco products, which we systematically contract on the western border, the criminalisation of this group of goods should be effective.

In addition, Mr Tatarchuk spoke in favour of granting customs officers the right to carry out investigative and search activities, which would allow them to more effectively combat attempts to transport illicit substances across the border.

Representative of the Ministry of Finance’s Debt Department Olena Tepla spoke about the features of a loan from Poland aimed at the construction of border infrastructure, which is divided into three parts – funds for the reconstruction of roads, the reconstruction of checkpoints and the reconstruction of infrastructure buildings of the State Border Guard Service.

To date, 11 contracts have been signed with Polish companies worth 83 million euros. A total of € 59 million has been signed to the roads. A total of € 68 million has been earmarked for this area, so another € 9 million remains unused… Road contracts concluded in 2017 after a long process of agreement with the Polish Ministry of Finance came into force in May 2019, and € 5.8 million has already been used to pay a 10% advance payment to Polish businesses.

She also informed that in the road part there are already ongoing design works, during which various questions arise: on the implementation of additional works, on payment of taxes, on the import of equipment into the territory of Ukraine. However, Ukravtodor meets monthly with Polish companies, and these issues are resolved.

With regard to the arrangement of the checkpoints, which amounts up to 25 million euros, the SFS has signed agreements with Polish contractors, which came into force at the end of June this year, and are now in the process of implementation. In the third direction, which provides € 7 million for the reconstruction of the SBGS buildings, public procurement has been announced for the third time. According to her, the problem of procurement was the lack of interest from Polish companies, possibly due to lack of knowledge. However, as of October, there have been finished two public purchases in this area and six more purchases are ongoing

Olha Stefanishyna, counsellor for Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, stressed the importance of public policy continuity in the area of integrated border management.

Today, we are not talking about individual types (of policy), we are saying that there should be an integrated system where citizens and businesses may enjoy the opportunities we receive both under the Association Agreement and within the framework of the visa liberalisation. Only now, long after we have adopted the first Concept for Integrated Border Management, having implemented more than one concept under previous governments, only today I do feel the rhetoric that says we are all – not just bodies dealing with infrastructure – we are all moving in one direction.

Olha Stefanishina also stressed the importance of resolving the problem of permits for Ukrainian road carriers on the Polish border, which is a violation of the spirit of the Association Agreement.

A representative of the International Organisation for Migration, Roman Horbovy, voiced a proposal to involve IOM to the work of the Inter-Agency Working Group on Integrated Border Management. He said that IOM has been tightly cooperating with Ukrainian authorities, acting into IBM field, for over 20 years, dealing with technical cooperation, focused on institutional development, enhancing migration policies and legislation regulating migration and border management.

Hannes Plinte, CEO of GoSwift, company dealing with an electronic queue implementation in Estonia and working on a pilot project in Ukrainian Transcarathia, spoke about the experience of such innovation at the border in Estonia, Lithuania and Finland.

According to Mr. Plinte, for Estonia, the problem of waiting at the border with Russia has arisen since its accession to the European Union in 2004. The electronic queue, which has been in operation since 2011, brings a number of significant benefits:

  • This contributes to security because the border management services have advance information about who will cross the border
  • It also contributes to road safety as drivers cross the border faster and are less tired
  • This optimises the work of border services
  • It creates additional jobs

He also talked about different models of e-queue creation and operation. For example, in Lithuania and Finland, electronic queues were created with the participation of the state, and in Estonia – without state funding, solely at the expense of the private business.

Also in Lithuania, the electronic queue does not work constantly, but only when it is needed, usually from Friday to Sunday.

Borut Erzen, Head of the Border Management and Security Program at the International Center for Migration Policy Development, also thanked the organisation for the discussion and commented on the topic.

He noted that it is very important not only to create a quality strategy but also to ensure its effective implementation. In his opinion, it is also very important to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the strategy.

This is a very important part of the implementation of IBM – monitoring and evaluation. The strategy has to be live paper open to changes and adjustments.

Event organised within the framework of the Building Safe and Human Borders Through Public Assessment of the Polish-Ukrainian Border project supported by the International Renaissance Foundation. The material reflects the position of the authors and does not necessarily coincide with the position of the International Renaissance Foundation.

Source: Europe without Barriers