The European Commission on Wednesday, Dec 19, approved its second assessment of the fulfillment of the visa liberalization benchmarks by the Western Balkan countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia as well as the Eastern Partnership countries: Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
This annual report shows that the visa liberalization requirements for the concerned countries continue to be met but that action – in some cases immediate – is required for a number of countries in specific areas to ensure this continues to be the case.
Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said that visa free travel is "a great achievement" which brings benefits for both sides.
"It also comes with responsibilities and obligations. I welcome that all concerned countries continue to fulfill their obligations, but call for swift and enhanced efforts to continue curbing irregular migration, and fighting corruption and organized crime," he said.
The European Commission states that Ukraine should take urgent measures in its fight against corruption and address outstanding recommendations from last year’s report.
The report indicates that Ukraine has not abolished the obligation for anti-corruption activists to file e-declarations. Brussels calls on Kyiv to do it urgently. Also, the EU expects a quick launch of the High Anti-Corruption Court, a full-fledged system for checking electronic declarations, National Anti-corruption Bureau and Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor's Office, which, according to the European Commission, continue their work, but issues regarding their effectiveness and independence have not been resolved. In particular, the NABU has not yet been audited, "the politically motivated appointment of auditors is of concern." In addition, the report expects restoration of independence of and trust to the SAPO.
The report indicates that irregular migration from Ukraine, as well as from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, remains high. According to the report, in 2017, the number of EU entry refusals for Ukrainians increased by 47% - up to 33,000, and continued growing in 2018. But the number of Ukrainians who stay in the EU illegally was up by only 13% in 2017, while there was no growth in the first half of this year.
At the same time, Brussels is concerned about the increase in the number of unfounded asylum claims on the part of citizens of Moldova and Georgia. Also, the European Commission pointed to organized crime in the EU with the participation of citizens of all eight countries.
It is about smuggling, in particular drugs, illegal human trafficking, money laundering, cybercrime, and embezzlement.
The European Commission noted that Ukrainians are primarily involved in cigarette smuggling to the EU and in cybercrime.