Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine – Is the EU Ready to Support It?

On the 12th November 2015, Verkhovna Rada adopted anti-discrimination laws, which were the final requirement for Ukraine in order to fulfil technical benchmarks for the visa liberalisation with the European Union.Two weeks prior to the European Commission’s assessment report, the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels, the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, EPP Group in the European Parliament and International Renaissance Foundation, co-organized a conference to discuss this important topic with experts of Ukrainian NGO – Europe without Barriers (EWB). The conference took place in the European Parliament under auspices of MEPs Michaela Sojdrova, Sandra Kalniete, Jaromir Stetina. The expert discussion was moderated by Olena Prystayko, the Executive Director of the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels. Michaela Sojdrova, EPP group, expressed her full support of Ukraine in its reforms, particularly in visa liberalization process.  Sandra Kalniete, Vice-Chair of EPP group: “Visa free regime will be practical and symbolical measure to support Ukraine on its path to reforms, especially taking into consideration the high price that the Ukrainian folk pays for them”. Jaromir Stetina: expressed rather moderate support to visa liberalization process and referred to the problem of internally displaced people (IDP) in Ukraine. Liubov Nepop refuted that Ukrainian citizens are migration threat to the EU. “Precisely because of the implementation of visa liberalisation plan Ukraine becomes a state which guarantees freedom and human rights for its citizens, so that they don`t apply for refugee status”. Visa liberalization is more about feeling of belonging to Europe, rather than the right to move freely in the EU. This opinion was shared by Olga Kvashuk, representative of the International Renaissance Foundation.

Iryna Sushko, founder and director of the EWB: “Ukraine has spent 5 last years on difficult and comprehensive work on technical issues, which are necessary for the visa liberalization. Ukraine should keep the track initiated by visa liberalization process with reference to other reforms, too”. Maryana Kuzio, policy analyst of EWB, agreed that visa liberalization is a very comprehensive process which goes through a few filters, particularly those of the civil society. “Although the contemporary political conditions are uneasy, Ukraine has made all the necessary provisions, including quite controversial anti-discrimination laws”.

Roman Andarak, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, agreed that visa liberalization process was a propelling force for the other reforms in Ukraine. Since 2010, when Visa Action Plan has been granted to Ukraine, Ukraine regularly worked on the implementation of the benchmarks and reported about this. This shows commitment of Ukraine to this process.

The issue of migration was tackled in more details by Kateryna Kulchytska, EWB analyst. She presented Migration Security Map. The map certifies that 1,5 mln. of the IDPs comprise 3,5 % of the overall population and they mostly stay inside Ukraine. Ukrainian residents make only 5% of the asylum seekers in the EU, so they do not pose a threat to the EU.

Piotr Kazmierkiewicz, migration expert at the Institute of Public Affairs (Poland), supported such opinion. He went even further saying that Ukraine should have been given visa free in 2011. “Establishment of visa-free regime with Ukraine might not be essential for European economy, but it is of utmost importance for European security”.

In the framework of the visit of “Europe without Barriers” to Brussels, supported by the International Renaissance Foundation and organized by the Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels and the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, the experts also met MEPs, EU official from DG Home, European External Action Service, European Economic and Social Committee and COEST representatives. Experts also met Liubov Nepop – acting Head of the Mission of Ukraine to the EU.