Visa-Free Status & Association of Ukraine with the EU

Perhaps the main recent event in the process of Ukraine's "European integration" came at the end of February when the lower house of the Dutch parliament called for ratification of the Agreement on the Association of Ukraine with the EU. It is an issue which seriously divided the parliament: 89 in favor, 55 against. But this is not the end of the process as now the deputies of the upper chamber must approve the decision of the deputies of the lower chamber, after which it will be ratified by the king - and only this will complete the process.

It was not the last surprise that the House of Representatives presented to Ukraine on the last day of work (it closed on February 24 and reconvened after the elections held on March 15). Deputies considered, but refused to vote for, a draft of additional conditions for Ukraine filed by the deputy of the Socialist Party, MP Harry van Bommel. Adoption of this document could at least somehow mitigate the decision of the deputies and explain it to the voters. After all, they actually went against the direct will of their own citizens.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Ukraine became a hot topic in the Dutch parliamentary elections. It is curious that the current government in every possible way tried to avoid this, but delaying the implementation of the results of the referendum held last spring only contributed to the problem.

Van Haersma Buma, a candidate for prime minister from the Christian Democratic Party (CDP), said that he would "throw the agreement on the Ukraine-EU Association in the trash". As for the ratification of the Association Membership, the candidate stated that if he is elected as Prime Minister, he would initiate the withdrawal of the signature of The Netherlands from the ratification. Nobody doubts he will do it- according to preliminary information, the number of votes in the upper house of parliament is sufficient to approve his decision.

Against the ratification of the agreement is also Gert Wilders, leader of the ultra-right Party of Freedom. According to recent polls, he was equal in popularity with the current prime minister of the country, Mark Rutte. This is impressive, but the protest against the ratification of Association Membership (AM) in fact unites the entire opposition spectrum of The Netherlands politikum: the Ultra-Right, Christian Democrats, and even the Socialists. It seems that at the end of the elections, the topic will not lose relevance. Moreover, the report of the Research Institute of SEO Economisch Onderzoek claims the economic gain of The Netherlands from AM with Ukraine will be about EUR 177 million, and many politicians consider this too small a bonus against the background of possible risks.

"The EU Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission reached a decision on granting Ukraine a visa-free regime. This decision will be confirmed by the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the EU member states (COREPER)," it was stated of Ukraine's mission to the EU in February.

On March 9, the European Parliament's Justice Committee supported the decision to support the introduction of a visa-free regime for Ukraine. It must be confirmed in the European Parliament Committee on civil rights, then deputies at the plenary meeting of the European Parliament, as well as by members of the EU Council. After that, the publication in the official journal of the EU and a pause of 20 days - only after that you can say "yes, there is" about visa-liberalization.

The EU also approved the suspension mechanism for visa-free travel, a decision without which the aforementioned decision would not have been ratified at all. So far, it concerns only Georgia, but it was developed, we may recall, with the target of Ukraine (and even mostly for Ukraine).

"We expect that in early April, the European Parliament will put the final point in the issue of visa liberalization and will make an appropriate decision. After that, the ball will move to the field of the member states of the European Union, that is, the Council of the European Union, which must make a decision within a relatively short period of time. And, I expect that by mid-June, Ukraine will get a legal decision on visa-free travel arrangements," said Konstantin Yeliseyev, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine. He goes on to state that there are no political obstacles for Ukraine to be "visa-free" as now this issue lies solely in the technical and legal plane, moreover, "the president gave clear instructions to all our diplomatic institutions in the member states of the Schengen zone to do everything possible to obtain visa-liberalization and avoid unexpected barriers."

Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Pavel Klimkin, says Switzerland is also considering the possibility of granting Ukraine visa-free status (Switzerland is not included in the Schengen Area), but will do so only after the EU does.

The EU Ambassador to Ukraine, Hugo Mingarelli, in an interview with UNIAN on granting visa-free status to Ukraine, spoke of the end of June. However, he cautiously noted that he does not expect objections to the process from the elections in France (the second round is scheduled for May 7). We will wait for their results.

Dimitri Dolaberidze

16 March 2017 17:22