Visas for Ukraine

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- “President Viktor Yushchenko has instructed the Foreign Ministry to see to it that Ukrainian nationals, who wish to travel to EU member-countries and Switzerland, enjoy simplified visa procedures,” said Deputy State Secretary Markian Lubkivskiy. According to Lubkivsky the task must be completed by September 2005 and should mean multiple five-year visas for Ukrainian citizens.

“Visa facilitation is a key priority. I believe that it will send a strong signal to Ukraine’s people,” said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy. “I want to see an end to the frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive processes that make it so difficult for Ukrainians to visit us,” continued the Austrian EU Commissioner.

Speaking late last month in Brussels Ferrero-Waldner noted progress in talks: “We have already held several meetings with Ukraine to prepare the mandate for negotiating visa facilitation, and I hope the member states will also act quickly. This way we show that we really do see Ukrainians as our close partners and friends.” Visa regimes are expected to form part of the agenda at the Ukraine-EU Cooperation Council in Luxembourg on 13 June.

On 1 May, Ukraine unilaterally introduced a visa-free regime for EU nationals and Swiss citizens, partly to facilitate travel before and after the Eurovision song contest held in Kyiv. Although, the visa-free regime remains in effect until 1 September 2005, President Yushchenko wants to further extend the visa-free regime. Ukraine's State Statistics Committee has noted an increase in foreign tourists of 17 percent since visa rules were relaxed for EU and Swiss citizens.

According to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko the measure underscores "... the truly open nature of Ukrainian society, implement the policy of integration into European society and create proper conditions for attracting investment." But keeping free travel for EU citizens will eventually mean allowing Ukrainians to enter the EU without visas.

The EU will need to beef up its border management, especially in new Member States, to meet the growing demands from its larger neighbors in the east, Russia and Ukraine, for visa-free travel. For more than ten years, borderless travel in 12 EU Member States, and now Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland, has been a fact of life following the Schengen Agreement. But whilst freedom of movement is one of the most basic rights for citizens of the EU, MEPs accuse Member States of failing to settle upon a common policy on migration and managing EU borders.

Assisting new members in adapting the future external borders, is the EU's so-called 'Schengen facility' with a budget of €960 million for the period 2004-06. "These funds are efficient and sufficient to implement the Schengen agreements before the end of 2007," notes Robert Rybicki, Justice and Home Affairs Counsellor at the Polish Representation to the EU. Additionally, an EU 'burden-sharing fund' of €2.5 billion could be shared among Member States according to criteria such as the length of their borders and how many visas are issued annually.

"EU citizens want freedom of movement. They should have minimum checks in the Schengen area," said MEP Michael Cashman. The UK socialist's report on the management of the EU's external borders will be voted upon in the European Parliament Strasbourg session in June. Cashman feels citizens from the new EU members may travel freely but still do not have full rights of free movement. "Border guards and third country nationals wishing to enter EU borders also need clarity. That's why the amendments I presented bring forward clarity, focus, certainty and accountability."

Whilst freedom of movement is one of the most basic rights for citizens of the EU, MEPs accuse Member States of failing to settle upon a common policy on migration and managing EU borders. The European Commission would like to see a 'principle of burden sharing' for border controls. An EU 'burden-sharing fund' of €2.5 billion could then be shared among Member States according to criteria such as the length of their borders and how many visas are issued annually.

For more than ten years, borderless travel in 12 EU Member States, and now Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland, has been a fact of life following the Schengen Agreement. Temporary restrictions on movement, though, remain in place for citizens from the ten new countries. They should, in theory, die out by the end of 2007, when the new members join the Schengen area of free travel. By then the new members should be ready to ensure common provisions on border management and to implement the new generation of the Schengen Information System.

Assisting new members in adapting the future external borders, is the EU's so-called 'Schengen facility' with a budget of €960 million for the period 2004-06. "These funds are efficient and sufficient to implement the Schengen agreements before the end of 2007," notes Robert Rybicki, Justice and Home Affairs Counsellor at the Polish Representation to the EU.

UK Socialist Cashman also wants a more human touch to third country nationals: "Third country nationals should have the right to enter the EU if all the entry conditions are met. First and second line checks should be done in a respectful and dignified manner by the border guards." He said national authorities should inform those rejected of the reasons for refusal, where possible in their own language.

The EU also needs to beef up its border management with growing demands from its larger neighbors in the east, Russia and Ukraine, to allow for visa-free travel. Ukraine last week scrapped visa requirements EU and Swiss citizens, at least until the end of September. According to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko the measure underscores "... the truly open nature of Ukrainian society, implement the policy of integration into European society and create proper conditions for attracting investment." But keeping free travel for EU citizens will eventually mean allowing Ukrainians to enter the EU without visas.

In 2003, the Commission proposed the creation of a European Agency for External Borders to encourage cooperation between national border surveillance agencies. This was to have started work in January 2005, but this had been delayed as Member States could not agree on where the agency should be established - Budapest, Warsaw, Ljubljana, Valetta or Tallinn.

Source: Euro Reporters

Comments