On December 18, the European Commission passed the sixth report on Ukraine's implementation of the requirements of a Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP). UNIAN gathered expert opinions on what this decision means and what Ukraine needs to do for its citizens to travel across the Schengen states without visas.
Despite the fact that the European Commission report says that Ukraine has met the requirements of the VLAP, it implicitly recognizes that Ukraine has not yet completed implementation of some points of the plan with regard to the fight against corruption. However, the European Commission agreed to launch the process of abolishing visas, without waiting until Ukraine completes implementing these provisions, based on the promise of the Ukrainian authorities to finish the work.
In particular, the Ukrainian prime minister and the president of Ukraine guaranteed completion in the first quarter of 2016 of the effective launch of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, the establishment of Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, amending the law on the Prosecutor's Office, the final establishment and start of work of the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption, amendments to the Law on Agency on Asset Recovery, as well as the laws on special confiscation and seizure of property, and changes to the state budget, which will provide funding for all these agencies...
So on December 18, European Commissioner for Migration, internal affairs and citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said that the European Commission would offer in early 2016 the European Council and the European Parliament to include Ukraine in the list of countries, whose citizens may enter the Schengen zone for a short period of stay without visas, only with biometric passports.
According to him, the short term is up to 90 days. But this period will not apply to those who are engaged in gainful activity. In particular, the visa-free regime will apply to tourist visits, short-term training, business travel, trade fairs and conferences.
In addition, according to the European Commissioner, until the final decision on the abolition of visas will take place from 3 to 7 months.
A gentleman's word
Political analyst Taras Chornovil calls the decision of the European Commission a gentleman's agreement between the leaders of the EU and Ukraine. Roughly speaking, as mentioned above, despite Ukraine's partial fulfillment of the requirements for visa liberalization, the start has indeed been given to the next stage - the decision of the European Council and the European Parliament on the issue of a visa-free regime for the Ukrainians. But it has been given for the "word of honor" - a promise that Ukraine will fulfill its commitments.
According to him, if the Ukrainian parliament adopts these positive changes in the coming months, it will be possible to count on a positive decision by the European Council, as the current announcement does not actually mean a visa-free regime, but only an estimate of the expert group.The flaws of the Ukrainian side relate to a number of things. In particular, it's about the necessary legislative changes in anti-corruption laws. But most importantly, according to the analyst, it is about the implementation of these laws, because the main issue for the European Council is not the adoption of the laws, but their actual practical work and the results they have. "If they fail, it is obvious that we have not met the criteria," said Chornovil.
Vadym Karasyov, a political scientist, director of the Institute of Global Strategies, shares this view. "This decision - is an impetus for Ukraine to fulfill all technical requirements for visa liberalization. Oral or written gentleman's guarantees of the president or the prime minister are one thing, but the quality laws that would fully open the door to the visa liberalization - is another. Therefore, the Parliament will have until the end of this session, or the start of a new session, to make some adjustments in these laws. Thus, the lawmakers will put the final point in resolving the issue of visa liberalization," he said.
Benefits for all
Constant squabbles within the coalition majority could prevent the adoption of anti-corruption amendments / Photo from UNIAN
However, it's still an open question, whether the Parliament approves all required anti-corruption amendments. The reason is the constant squabbles within the coalition majority and the lack of votes for systemic laws. "But, for the visa-free regime to start working, the Europeans need to see real effects of the new anti-corruption bureau. They also need to see how the anti-corruption prosecutors work, and that the National Agency for prevention of corruption has at least been created and begun its work," said Chornovil.
In turn, Vadym Karasyov is convinced that visa liberalization is a reform for the people, the first real tangible Euro-reform for people who are able to travel to Europe unhindered for 90 days with a tourist visa.
Considering the abovementioned, this is probably the first real story of success, which Ukraine and its authorities really need. "If the reforms bring no result in 2016, there will be total disappointment. People will realize that a lot of promises are the fakes of the authorities, rather than the actual results of the country's European path of development," he said.
In addition, the analyst notes that the successful implementation of this reform will have a positive effect on other European aspirations of Ukraine. "It will influence positively the process of European reforms in a sense that the people will assess more soberly all the costs and all the benefits of European integration. Thus, we will be reducing costs and increasing the benefits, advantages and preferences from the free trade area, the Association [Agreement], and the EU membership in the future," he said.
Biometric passports and various markers allow Schengen states and the EU to monitor the borders by opening them / Photo from UNIAN
At the same time, in his opinion, the opening of borders for Ukrainians does not significantly threaten the Europeans. "The means of control over movement of large numbers of people are becoming more sophisticated, flexible and hi-tec. Biometric passports and various markers allow Schengen states and the EU having more control over their borders not by closing them, but by opening them, instead. The paradox is that, in order to control the borders, it's necessary to open them. Europe has left behind the era of the "iron curtains" and other kinds of walls," says Karasyov.
However, in his opinion, the Europeans do realize that reforms in Ukraine, if any, are implemented slowly and under pressure. "Therefore, the following requirement was put out forward for the Ukrainian authorities to meet: do what you have to do, and then we'll resort to some concessions. Conventionally, they have shown our authorities that they have to fulfill their obligations," the expert says. "That is, it's a sort of a dualistic policy. On the one hand, giving a positive signal to the Ukrainian society, and on the other - encouraging the authorities to carry out the reforms that are really needed."In turn, the expert at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs foundation, Oleh Bielokolos, notes that Europeans see and understand that the Ukrainian society has taken a huge step forward in its development, and it's not something they saw two years ago. "Therefore, the Europeans understand that Ukrainian society needs to be given a really strong signal that the Maidan was not in vain. After all, it was not for the visa free regime that people had taken to the streets, but for dignity. And in the EU wants to show that the Ukrainian society, indeed, will see a positive signal from Europe," he said.
The final decision will depend on the European Council / www.culturavietii.ro
At the same time, there's no reason to start celebrations over Ukraine's visa liberalization success right away. Firstly, that's because, the final decision will depend on the European Council, which will hold its meeting only after the New Year.
Secondly, that's because the actual implementation of a visa-free regime will start only after at least six months following the positive decision of the European Council. Given the acute political crisis in Ukraine, which may cause various consequences, including the possibility of early elections; given the unpredictable neighboring aggressor state, ready to escalate the situation in the east of Ukraine and in Crimea at any time, it's too early to wrap up the issue of the visa-free regime.
In this context, Taras Chornovil said that the elimination of the Schengen zone is unlikely. However, renewing the barriers within the Schengen zone is rather possible. "This means that the countries of the Schengen zone would re-establish internal borders, but that does not mean that it would somehow affect the visa policy... We will still be able to travel to all these countries, we will just need to present out passports at each border," he said.Thirdly, Europe itself is now not as stable to fully open the borders. For example, according to the diplomat, an expert at the Maidan of Foreign Affairs foundation, Oleksandr Khara, if the Syrian war escalates, this will trigger a new wave of migrants to Europe. Then a number of governments of the EU member states will have grounds to impose strict requirements on its borders. "And this may cause a chain reaction leading to an actual collapse of the Schengen agreement... So far, it has mostly affected Germany - 50% of Syrian refugees have settled. Next go Norway and Greece. Italy suffers mostly from the refugees from Libya. If these migration flows increase, the probability of collapse of the Schengen zone will grow as well... The chances are small, but they are out there," he said.
In turn, Vadym Karasyov notes that, despite pressure of migration and the growth of anti-immigrant sentiment, the EU and the Schengen part of the EU will cope with them, and not through the elimination of the Schengen zone, but with a more thorough and higher-tec control over the Schengen borders. "What is the advantage of Europe? It knows how to deal with crises. The crisis is a chance for Europe, it is evidence of the institutional and political health of the EU, heath of values of the European community," says the analyst.
Of course, the report of the European Commission of December 18 made Ukrainians rejoice. However, the final victory will be when Europe tells Ukraine next summer, what is the actual date when the Ukrainians will be able to enter Schengen states without visas, unconditionally.
By Kostyantyn Honcharov, UNIAN