On Monday 19 October the National reform council discussed the implementation of criteria required for EU granting visa-free regime for Ukraine. President Poroshenko called on the government and the parliament to take all the steps, foreseen by the Action plan on visa liberalization. He as well emphasized that the MFA of Ukraine should provide relevant information to the European Commission by November 9.
There might have been no need to hold this extraordinary session of the National reform council, if on October 8th Parliament adopted the draft laws of the so-called “visa-free package.” Out of the 13 essential laws proposed, only two were adopted. Out of these 13 five were adopted only at the first reading, one was sent back for revision, three were suspended, and two never made it onto the agenda.
The results of the Parliament’s consideration of these laws were somewhat surprising. Indeed, in recent months, Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly and publicly expressed their determination to fulfil all the necessary requirements as soon as possible to achieve a visa-free regime for Ukraine. “If we have chosen full integration with the EU, and we have really chosen it, the visa dialogue is a litmus test for all our actions towards the European Union,” said Pavlo Klimkin, minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine, in his comments to Evropeiska Pravda before the parliamentary voting on October 8. “Not supporting the laws and other criteria necessary to establish a visa-free regime with the EU means betraying the will of Ukrainians and failing in the Ukrainian mission of EU integration.”
Ukrainian authorities are well aware of the steps they need to take. These steps are outlined in detail in official documents and EU representatives have continuously counselled their Ukrainian counterparts in personal meetings. On the eve of the October 8 session of Parliament, the EU Delegation to Ukraine issued a statement reaffirming the key requirements for the establishment of a visa-free regime. In particular, it emphasised the need to ensure the independence of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office.
The statement reads, “Valid concerns expressed by civil society and experts as to the composition of the Selection Committee for the Anti-corruption Prosecutor Office should be urgently addressed. The independence of the Office of the Anti-corruption Prosecutor should be further safeguarded. Clear selection criteria for its staff as well as non-discretionary rules for the appointment and dismissal of its head should be ensured.”
On top of everything, the process should have been further stimulated by the motivating factor of a possible positive report of the European Commission in December, 2015;it could mean that Ukraine fulfilled all benchmarks needed. If it would happen, theoretically Ukrainians could be travelling within the Schengen Area without visas as early as 2016 .
But so far it seems this earlier optimism has failed to yield real results.
“It seems that there is a decrease of real political will to achieve results,” said Oleksandr Sushko, head of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation. “The closer we are to the goal, the greater resistance we face from the system, even on things that could produce quick results. It raises doubts whether the stated intentions of top-officials to achieve results by the end of the year are sincere. There is reason to believe that the president and prime minister are aware of what is necessary to achieve a visa-free regime. So, for example, it is surprising that the Cabinet of Ministers introduced draft amendments to the Labour Code that do not meet the requirements. There is a strange communication between the Ukrainian government and the European institutions that are trying to correct the situation, including advising the government with regard to the anti-corruption prosecutors. On the Ukrainian side there is a kind of deafness. There is a conscious failure to act on several essential criteria of the Visa Liberalisation Action Plan.”
But Ukraine still has chances. Several experts point out that a positive assessment of Ukraine’s steps to achieve visa-free regime still very much depends on the readiness of Ukrainian authorities to undertake decisive steps on the earlier agreed “benchmarks” with European Commission. During the above-mentioned meeting of the National reform council this readiness was reaffirmed once again.
Same as the president Poroshenko, head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine Jan Tombinski stresses: Ukraine should report on the implementation of the second phase of the Action Plan on visa liberalization in November. In this case the EU will have time study the information and make a conclusion in December. So little time is left and a lot of work to be done.
“We are like students who are postponing their preparation for the exam till the last night,” – says Iryna Gerashchenko, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration. Verkhovna Rada is expected to consider the necessary draft laws during its session on the first week of November. In his turn, President Poroshenko stated that all the procedures related to the establishment of the Anti-corruption Prosecutor are to be completed within the next month.
The Visa Liberalisation Action Plan (VLAP) for Ukraine was created in November 2010. It contains a clear list of steps required to establish a visa-free regime for Ukrainians travelling to the Schengen Area. The European Commission prepares annual reports on the status of the Ukraine VLAP. The most recent report was published in May 2015 and contains recommendations for the implementation of the remaining requirements. The document addresses legislation and other steps related to the fight against corruption, migration, and discrimination.