The simplification of the visa regime and the initialing of the economic part of the Ukraine-EU Free Trade Agreement do not mean that the isolation of Yanukovych’s regime has ended
EU Commission Trade Spokesman John Clancy said recently that Ukraine and the EU have completed the legal proofreading of the text of the agreement on a deepened and comprehensive free trade area, and that the technical initialing will take place on July 19 in Brussels. Earlier, after much debate, the EU Commission recommended that the EU Council signs amendments to the agreement on a simplified visa regime with Ukraine. The simplification will embrace the issue of one-year visas to Ukrainians who are relatives of EU citizens, drivers working on international routes, technical crew accompanying journalists, or those accompanying sick people for treatment abroad. Also, getting a visa will be simpler for representatives of civil and religious organizations visiting EU member-states to take part in international events. The biggest privileges go to business representatives and journalists who travel to EU member-states on a regular basis. They will obtain five-year multi-entry visas and will be required to submit a shorter list of documents to confirm the purpose of their trips.
Such five-year multi-entry visas are supposed to be granted free of charge to MPs and oblast council deputies, judges of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, as well as prosecutors on the national and regional level and their deputies. This has sparked a huge debate, since most of the people involved in the current political repressions in Ukraine are included in this group. Moreover, government representatives are already trying to interpret the completion of FTA initialing, planned for July 19 and the signing of the Agreement on a Simplified Visa Regime, scheduled for July 23, as a sign that the EU does not have an isolation policy against the current Ukrainian government and the expansion of European integration, as Viktor Yanukovych constantly reminds us. Andriy Kliuyev, for instance, said that “Ukraine is continuing its European integration in specific everyday actions rather than words.”
However, Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission, and Elmar Brok, Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, have opposed the signing of the agreement on a simplified visa regime, to show their protest against the violation of human rights in Ukraine. Why was this decision ultimately made, despite the current situation? In her comment on this to Deutsche Welle, Rebecca Harms, co-Chair of the Green Party faction in the European Parliament, said that simplified entrance to the EU will benefit Ukrainian democrats and she did not want citizens to be punished for their government’s bad policy. However, there are also other considerations.
The European Commission’s decision to recommend that the EU Council signs the simplified visa regime agreement with Ukraine is just the first step in a long chain of subsequent steps before the document becomes part of European legislation. First, it must be approved by the EU Council that consists of the relevant government ministers of all 27 EU member-states. It then has to be ratified by the Verkhovna Rada and the European Parliament. No intrigues with Ukrainian MPs are anticipated, but the decision of European MPs’ remains undetermined.
The situation with the initialing of the Association Agreement and FTA between Ukraine and the EU is the same, which the latter linked to the termination of political repression and the violation of other democratic freedoms in Ukraine. In fact, this will only be the completion of the initialing process that kicked off on March 30, 2012, when the parties only initialed the political section, as well as the first and the last pages of the economic section. Instead, according to the above-mentioned John Clancy, technical processes for the preparation of the document for signing, including the translation of the text into official EU languages, will follow. With that, the decision on the signing will depend on the political situation in Ukraine, just like before, he notes.
Both the recommendation to conclude the simplified visa regime agreement, and the completion of the initialing of the Association Agreement and FTA, signal that the EU is still waiting for Ukraine and is keeping the door open, ready for deeper cooperation at any moment. All Ukraine needs for this, is to change its government’s policy or the government itself. The parliamentary election in October 2012, which is very much in the spotlight in the EU, will play a crucial role in this.