MEP: Decision on visa-free regime with the EU can be taken this autumn


European official is certain of positive decision on visa abolition, which has become key moving point to introduce a number of reforms, focusing mainly on fighting corruption.

Kyiv, June 17, 2016. Of all the areas of EU – Ukraine cooperation, the greatest progress has been made in the implementation of legislative changes necessary for visa liberalization with the EU. The European Commission has positively assessed the implementation of all requirements. “In my estimation, the final decision is likely to be taken this autumn. However, no matter when it is taken, it will be in favor of Ukraine, for liberalization of visa regime,” said Andrej Plenkovic, Member of the European Parliament, Chair of the Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association, at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “I think, most of the political groups in the European Parliament are aware of the political importance of liberalization of visa regime for Ukrainian citizens, including as a sign of confidence in our dialogue,” he added.

Mr. Plenkovic reminded that the abolition of visas requires positive decision of 28 EU member states and the European Parliament. Similar processes occur in relation to Georgia, Kosovo and Turkey. He also noted that some member states initiated discussing the possibility to introduce some changes- “protectors” to the law in this area, which would give the EU more opportunities for maneuver to restore visa – in case of problems after the abolition. “This decision, as far as I know, will concern the decisions on the above four countries,” added the MEP.

Ukrainian experts noted that the prospect of visa-free regime, due to huge public demand, has become a very important catalyst for reforms. In particular, this concerns anti-corruption measures, which were among the necessary requirements for the abolition of visas. Among these key changes – the law on electronic declaration of income for officials, free access to public information, the law on public funding of political parties and setting up new anti-corruption agencies – the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption and a number of others. “Maybe it’s not very noticeable to the general public, but even some advanced EU countries do not have such anti-corruption legislation and anti-corruption bodies that appeared in Ukraine. Now the main challenge is implementation,” said Olena Sotnyk, MP (“Samopomich” faction), Secretary of the Parliamentary Committee on European integration.

The legislative changes within the framework of the free trade agreement with the EU are introduced slower. This is partly due to the fact that implementation of the agreement does not have such a politically important factor as the legislation to liberalize the visa regime. In addition, MPs are not always aware of the importance of innovations. Liubov Akulenko, CEO of the Ukrainian Center for European Policy, also mentioned the significant role played by the loss of the Russian market and falling prices for raw materials exported by Ukraine. For the economy to survive and develop, businesses need to reorient to the European market.

Olena Sotnyk reminded that Ukraine has to implement nearly 500 directives within 3 years to harmonize our legislation with EU standards. “We implemented almost 90% of the planned changes over 2015. Most of them cover such sectors as energy, in particularly, natural gas supply, ecology, transport and trade,” informed the MP. Liubov Akulenko noted that Ukraine has to introduce the European sanitary, phytosanitary and technical standards as part of implementation of the Agreement. Besides, Ukraine has to expedite a procedure for clearance of goods and introduce the antitrust legislation, where the main difficulties are expected.

A major challenge is the fact that Ukrainian SMEs are often not willing to switch over to the European standards, noted Liubov Akulenko. This process may take 5-6 years. However, the expert added, there are already some positive trends. “In 2015, Ukraine received official permission from the EU to export milk. 10 companies were given such permissions. For us, this is a huge victory – a “green light” to enter not only European but also Chinese, Saudi Arabian and other markets. Just because the company complies with the European standards means that it can be dealt with,” she stressed. Besides, the textile industry that has begun to develop in recent years, and especially IT companies, are promising.

Rather low quotas on imports of Ukrainian goods to the EU without import duties make the problem, which depends not only on Ukraine. “In the Committee we decided to start discussing the possibility of repeated negotiations to increase the quotas. Hopefully, this will be done next year,” noted Olena Sotnyk.

The Member of the European Parliament for his part reminded that the process of the Association Agreement implementation has not yet completed. Further developments can be partly affected by the result of the referendum conducted in the Netherlands on April 6. “I hope that with the help of our colleagues from the Netherlands and intelligent diplomacy, […] we will find a rational solution with all 28 countries in the dialogue with Ukraine. This solution should allow the agreement to be ratified, and should take into account concerns of those citizens who voted down the Agreement during the referendum,” he noted.

Andrej Plenković added that the EU is ready to work closely with the government and the Verkhovna Rada to help them to coordinate with each other and work faster and more efficiently. This interaction between the Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet is the key to reforms. “The Association Agreement is a kind of “lighthouse,” a roadmap for Ukraine. All decisions relating to the Agreement are very important for successive reforms in the country. This can be achieved only in case of a clear political consensus that it should be one of the top priorities for the government,” stressed Andrej Plenković. He informed that yesterday, the European and Ukrainian experts discussed the prospect of the adoption of inter-institutional agreement regulating specific nuances of relations between the government and parliament that are not stipulated by the Constitution. “There is such practice in the EU and it works,” noted Andrej Plenković. The European experts have submitted a report on the monitoring mission results to the Ukrainian parliamentarians. The report includes 52 recommendations on increasing the institutional capacity of the Verkhovna Rada.

Andrej Plenković also noted that Croatia’s experience in European integration would be useful to Ukraine. Croatia joined the EU just three years ago. Croatia also can share the experience of peaceful reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories, because it also solved this problem.