Kyiv, November 13, 2015. Ukraine Crisis Media Center today heard Ukraine’s biggest allies for visa liberalization are Slovakia, Lithuania, Hungary and Poland. Conversely, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden and the Netherlands were said to have a neutral attitude to the issue, while France is not engaging at all with Ukrainian experts, said Iryna Sushko, Head of the “Europe without Barriers” NGO and Iryna Savchenko, the organization’s Project Manager at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. Countries were grouped into the categories “for” and “against” Ukraine’s visa liberalization based on in-depth interviews that the “Europe without Barriers” experts conducted with high-level officials and independent experts of Sweden, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and France over June-September 2015. The number of internally displaced persons and the conflict in eastern Ukraine are problems that may negatively affect the decision of some countries regarding granting a visa-free regime to Ukraine, said Sushko.
The first set of questions that were posed to the countries related to assessment of Ukraine’s migration risks, said Savchenko. “Migration from Ukraine compared to the current situation in Europe with the migrant flow from the Middle East is regarded as a below average threat,” she said. In the set of questions on implementation of tasks required for implementation of the visa liberalization action plan all respondents emphasized that the key issue is progress in the anticorruption block and money laundering issue. “Slovakia noted that it thinks many reforms are held back by the state authorities themselves,” the expert noted. The most important aspect for the “Europe without Barriers” NGO was how the military conflict affects the visa liberalization process, as it might be used by politicians as an excuse to postpone the positive voting on granting a visa-free regime to Ukraine. However most respondents noted that the fact of the military conflict will not affect the adoption of the final decision. Among other risks related to the conflict the countries noted a lack of Ukrainian control at the border with Russia and insufficient control by Ukrainian authorities on the contact line in the conflict zone. “Other risks that the countries named are the risks of smuggling of weapons and movement of terrorists and separatists who have Ukrainian passports into the European Union,” added Savchenko. Such an opinion was voiced by the countries that directly border Ukraine as well as by the Netherlands and Sweden that are also considering such a threat despite the fact they are located far from Ukraine.
Having analyzed the political will of the countries the Project Manager of “Europe without Barriers” NGO described the following picture: in general there is support for granting a visa free regime to Ukraine but “some countries including Poland, Italy and Germany emphasized that Russia-backed anti-Ukrainian propaganda is very strong in their countries.” That’s why the expert advised the Ukrainian government and the President to support a positive image of Ukraine internationally. Moreover a number of countries noted that given the positive decision by the European Commission they are ready to support Ukraine but the crisis with migrants from the Middle East may result in postponing of the positive decision on granting a visa-free regime to Ukraine.
Iryna Sushko emphasized that apart from approval of the law package required for the visa liberalization by the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) an important component of the process is the political will of EU member states. She reminded that the European Commission is to give its assessment first according to the organization’s observation this institution is the most optimistic. After the Commission suggests lifting visa requirements the issue comes into the area of responsibility of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. Ukraine needs to provide all necessary information to those two institutions that are actually making the final decision on the visa-free regime. “Apart from an extremely important technical basis implemented by the parliament and the government the Ukrainian side needs to take preventive measures and concentrate on diplomatic work, work with each EU member state. It needs to find out what arguments or information these countries are lacking, and provide them to secure the readiness to support the visa-free regime,” she emphasized. The expert added that until all tasks are completed all criteria need to be reconsidered and the technical side of the process needs to be finalized. “It should be done so that the EU member states who are to some extent skeptical and have additional questions will not have a reason to claim Ukraine has not implemented its requirements”, advised Sushko.