Ukraine-EU summit: expecting no miracle
Despite all calls of Ukraine authorities, the country is unlikely to get a long-awaited visa liberalization with the EU at the Ukraine-EU summit on November 24. The visa-free saga will continue at least until spring.
Despite the pleas of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry not to delay the process and not to link the provision of a visa-free regime with the agreement on a visa waiver suspension mechanism, the EU Council on November 17 did quite the opposite. As a result, a visa-free regime between the EU and Ukraine will put in place along with the adoption of the EU decision on the mechanism of response to migration risks.
In other words, the decision to grant the EU visa-free regime for Ukraine is out there. However, due to bureaucratic procedures, its entry into force is delayed for an indefinite period. According to The Financial Times’s source, the approval of the suspension mechanism and, therefore, the provision of a visa-free regime for Ukraine may take several weeks. According to other sources, it can take months.
Hostages of bureaucracy
From the political perspective the EU-Ukraine summit will have a significant and positive outcome because it is indeed an important political event in bilateral relations between the EU and Ukraine, ex-Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko says. "We must proceed from the fact that the summit will confirm the immutability of the position of the European Union with regard to Ukraine and its help in countering the aggressive Russia," says the diplomat.
The ex-minister believes that the summit will also evidence that the rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU remains on top agenda and that the expression of this rapprochement will be granting a visa-free regime for Ukraine.
However, he criticizes current decision on binding visa liberalization for Ukraine to the mechanism of its suspension: "I think that our European partners don’t act adequately in this case. In my opinion, they should first provide a visa-free regime, which Ukraine is supposed to get, as all the necessary requirements have been met, while their internal procedures should be carried out according to a separate scheme and plan. And after they are agreed, they should inform Ukraine and other countries on their completion."
In the current situation, in his opinion, Ukraine remains hostage to the internal document approval process in the EU. "To some extent, we remain hostage to their internal process of harmonization of the internal documents, which have no direct and immediate relationship to us. The very fact does not look as an adequate move," says Ohryzko.
The ball is on the EU’s pitch
"The question of a visa waiver suspension is not directly connected with Ukraine. This is the EU’s internal procedure. I want to believe that this mechanism will be adopted in the near future, but the European bureaucratic system is very complicated, so pessimists say we will get visa liberalization somewhere in February or March next year, while the optimists believe that it will happen this year," said Deputy Director of the Situations Modeling Agency Oleksiy Holobutsky.
According to him, however deep the bureaucracy is, the end of an infinite soap opera of a visa-free regime is not far off.
Political scientist, head of the Analytical Center Third Sector Andriy Zolotaryov opines differently. He believes that Ukraine will hardly see visa liberalization in the near future. "The summit will once again coordinate positions, the parties will share opinions but we should not expect any major decisions," says the expert.
This is mainly because Ukraine remains for Europe a source of enormous migration risks
At the same time, according to Holobutsky, if a miracle happens in the foreseeable future, the provision of a visa-free regime will be completed only in order not to lose face, because this is a long-promised move. Also, this can be done to support the president of Ukraine politically. "The visa question is one of the basic ones in the European integration policy of the Ukrainian authorities, which is a pillar of their legitimacy, and I think that European officials are well aware of the consequences in case they deprive the Ukrainian authorities of this backup," he says.
Anyway, diplomatic sources and part of the experts interviewed by UNIAN agree that some European countries are really looking for an excuse to delay the provision of a visa free regime for Ukrainians. "They are very sensitive to criticism of the Ukrainian government by non-governmental organizations. They use any critical remark as a pretext to postpone the decision. To be honest, they are not interested in that decision [to grant a visa-free regime]," the diplomats say.
In particular, it is France, Belgium, and Germany, which more than any other EU member states are affected by the influx of migrants. However, while the French are ready to delay the process up to their presidential election in the spring of next year, the Germans are prepared to do so up to their parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2017.
Wrong time, wrong place
Professor of political science at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy, the scientific director of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, Oleksiy Haran, says that the actual decision to grant Ukraine a visa-free regime has in fact been taken. And now it is important to speed up the process. "The decision had been made. Of course, we cannot jump over the EU's decision, but Ukraine has already done all it could do. Now it is important for us to speed up the process of adoption of a visa waiver suspension mechanism, not to let it be delayed," says Haran.
In global terms, this mechanism is not directly connected with the Ukrainian issue. We are talking about the procedure for all the countries with which the EU has and will have a visa-free regime. In this regard, the analyst insists that we should not create a false impression that Europe fears the invasion of migrants from Ukraine, focusing only on this aspect.
On the other hand, according to Haran, part of the responsibility for the current delay certainly lies with the Ukrainian government, which did not bother to promptly carry out the necessary steps in the issue of visa liberalization: "It’s bad luck for us because we got here in the wrong time and the wrong place. The visa liberalization procedure for Ukraine got superimposed on a migratory crisis, which is associated with the events, primarily in Syria. And it proves once again that we should not put off any decisions. We have many things being postponed... For example, the Parliament thinks it may not pass some decision now, delaying it for later. This is a wrong attitude. In this case, much of the responsibility lies with the Parliament, which did not make the necessary steps in a timely manner... You can never rely on the last moment, on the idea that we can do something later."
On the eve of the summit, the Presidential Administration of Ukraine claims that a visa-free regime with the European Union may be granted to Ukraine as early as December. However, we should not expect that this deadline is final. After all, we have already seen more than a dozen different dates called since the beginning of this year.
Realizing skepticism over such promises, sources in diplomatic circles assured UNIAN that they will try to speed up the adoption of the EU decision to grant Ukraine a visa-free regime. To this end, they are ready to use all resources available, including the allies from the United States, because they understand that the bureaucratic process can drag on indefinitely.
On April 20 2016, the European Commission proposed to the European Parliament and the EU Council to abolish visas for Ukrainian citizens. This proposal is the result of a positive assessment provided by the European Commission last December. Among other things, it confirms that Ukraine has met all the criteria in the framework of the Visa Liberalization Action Plan.
September 26 2016, the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) backed a report on granting Ukraine a visa-free regime and gave a mandate to start negotiations between the EU institutions.
November 15 2016, EP President Martin Schulz said about the readiness of the European Parliament to support the visa-free regime for Ukraine. He expressed confidence that the visa liberalization will lead to an increase in foreign investment and contribute to economic development of Ukraine. At the same time, Schulz said that part of the work must be done by Ukraine as well.
November 17 2016, the European Union at the level of the Committee of Permanent Representatives of countries-members of the EU (COREPER) approved the European Council's position on the inter-institutional negotiations on a visa-free regime for Ukraine, while agreeing with the proposal of the European Commission to provide such a regime.
At the same time, the EU Council stood for the idea that the entry into force of the visa free regime for Ukraine should take place simultaneously with the entry into force of the new temporary suspension mechanism.
After the adoption by the European Parliament and the EU Council of the proposal to liberalize the visa regime for Ukraine, the Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports will no longer need visas for short trips (up to ninety days) to the Schengen zone.
Visa-free travel will be provided to all EU Member States except Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as to four countries associated with the Schengen - Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
The exemption from visa requirements regards short-term visas valid for trips for a period of 90 days within any 180-day period for commercial, tourist or family purposes. Exemption from visa requirements does not provide for the right to work in the EU.
At the same time, the remaining conditions of entry to the Schengen area will be further applied, including the need to prove the proper financial status and purpose of travel.