EU Council approves visa-free travel for Ukraine and cement ties with Kiev

Visit of Stepan Kubiv, Ukrainian First Vice-Prime Minister and Minister for Economic Development and Trade, to the EC, March 2017. (Copyright European Union; Source: EC – Audiovisual Service; Photo: Georges Boulougouris)

Last week the Council of the European Union finally adopted a regulation granting visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens. Thanks to the formal adoption by the bloc, Ukrainian holders of a biometric passport can travel to an EU country for up to 90 days out of any 180-day period for business, tourism or family purposes. And, although the new regulation will need the signature of the European Parliament to be adopted, last Thursday’s move represents the last act of a long, delicate story between Ukraine, the EU and Russia, as well as the fulfilment of a key promise from Brussels to cement ties with Kiev.

Background

Ukraine and the EU started conversation on a closer relationship and a possible visa-free regime in 2008, when the Commission launched a dialogue on visa liberalisation with Ukraine with the aim of examining all the relevant conditions necessary for EU visa-free travel. Between 2010 and 2012 the question gained momentum, with the signature of a Visa Facilitation Agreement, and the initialisation of a free trade and political association with Kiev. After a sudden stop following the EuroMaidan Revolution that ultimately caused the fall of Viktor Yanukovych’s filo-Russian government, dialogues between Brussels and Kiev intensified when President Petro Poroshenko rose to power.

On 18 December 2015, the Commission adopted its sixth and final progress report on the implementation by Ukraine of its Visa Liberalisation Action Plan, and the following year, as reported by the European Sting, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk announced at the 18th EU-Ukraine Summit in Brussels that Ukraine had fulfilled all EU requirements for it to obtain a visa-free regime. On 20 April 2016 the Commission presented a legislative proposal to lift visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens holding a biometric passport, by amending the Regulation on Visa requirements for nationals of Non-EU Member Countries.

“Divorce” with Russia

Last Thursday’s act so represents the final step of a long and fragmented progress that eventually took Ukraine closer to the European Union and put a clear separation between Kiev and Moscow. Speaking to the Ukrainian 1+1 TV channel on Thursday night, Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko said that, after last week’s resolution, he believes Ukraine finally departs from Russia and “returns home” to Europe. “I would say that today Ukraine has finally drawn up its divorce with the Russian Empire and that’s the way we should philosophically perceive it”, he said. “It’s not just about visa-free border crossing, it’s about returning Ukraine to a historical place in the European family of nations,” Ukrainian president said. Mr. Poroschenko is expected to sign the legislative act on the visa-free regime in Strasbourg tomorrow.

Cemented ties

EU’s Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos also welcome last Thursday’s resolution, and declared: “Today’s decision is an acknowledgment of the successful and far-reaching reforms carried out by Ukraine, often in very challenging circumstances”. “I am pleased to see that we are reaching the end of the process and I welcome the Council’s adoption of visa liberalisation for Ukraine – a final step towards visa-free travel to the Schengen area for Ukrainian citizens”, he added. “Visa-free travel will bring important benefits for citizens on both sides. It will reinforce social, cultural and economic ties between the EU and Ukraine as well as strengthen people-to-people contacts”, he also said.

“The adoption of the regulation on visa liberalisation for Ukrainian citizens is an important development, which will help strengthen ties between the people of Ukraine and the EU”, was the comment of Carmelo Abela, Maltese Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. And indeed last week’s move is not intended to be an isolated act that will only impact the movement of people between countries, but surely a move that is part of a wider reform that will also have implications for business and trade. The path for newer economic reforms between Brussels and Kiev is already visible.

Business opportunities

Earlier this month The Committee on International Trade (INTA) of the European Parliament has backed a proposal to boost Ukraine agri-food market access. With a vote on May 4, by a count of 31 for, 4 against, with 3 abstentions, INTA approved the increase of the annual tariff rate quotas for imports of n 36 types of Ukrainian goods, mostly food, including, barley, tomatoes and urea. “The European Parliament strongly supports the ongoing reforms in Ukraine. By granting temporary trade preferences, we want to strengthen small and medium enterprises and provide the necessary impetus for increasing trade flows. These developments have not just economic but political value for Ukraine”, said Jaroslaw Walesa, Polish MEP, straight after the approval.

“The decision to increase quotas on Ukrainian agricultural products is important for us as it will expand our export opportunities,” Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Taras Kutovyi said in a statement. According to Mr. Kutovyi, the decision of the European Parliament to increase the tariff rate quotas for Ukrainian agricultural products would bring Ukraine an estimated 200 million USD in additional exports revenues. Last year, Ukraine’s agricultural exports to European Union countries increased by 1.6 percent to 4.2 billion dollars, as reported by Ukrainian new agency Interfax.

New path

Both last week’s adoption and the proposal by INTA will need the approval from the European Parliament to officially come into force. However, it seems that Ukraine is now officially on the path of substantial reform that will bring Kiev closer to Brussels, and so to the West, and that a season of stronger economic and social relations is ready to start. The visa-free regime will enter into force 20 days after publication in the Official Journal of the amendment to Regulation 539/2001. The EU is Ukraine’s largest trading partner, accounting for more than 40% of its trade in 2015. EU investors held investments worth around €16.4 bn in Ukraine in 2014.

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Comments

  1. Had to be done long time ago, without bending our arms behind our backs.
    Sorry.
    KievHandy

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