No lifting of the visa barrier for Ukrainians, says Juncker

Two-day visa granted to Ukrainian journalist for visiting Brussels, 2013. [Georgi Gotev]

The European Union wants Ukraine to pass a set of judiciary and human rights reforms before granting Ukrainian citizens visa-free access to the 28 countries of the bloc, the head of the EU Commission told Ukraine’s President in a letter today (5 November).

Grappling with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country, and a shattered economy, Ukrainian authorities are keen to obtain better terms in their relations with the EU.

An agreement on visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens to the European Union is seen in Kiyv as a key priority to be achieved next year, when a free-trade pact with the EU is expected to come into force despite Russian opposition.

“Progress in reforms in the area of the fight against corruption remains a key priority for achieving visa-free travel to the EU for Ukrainian citizens,” EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in the letter seen by Reuters.

EU visa-free travel agreements usually concern specific groups of people who are more likely to travel, such as researchers, businessmen or students.

In the document, sent to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Juncker urges quick establishment of independent anti-corruption bodies to reduce graft in the ex-Soviet state.

Ukraine should also amend labour legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and should create an agency dedicated to recovering assets confiscated from graft, Juncker told Poroshenko. 

Lifting the visa obligation for Ukrainians has been a longstanding demand by Kyiv. Ukrainians currently need to get visas to visit the European Union, sometimes having to wait in humiliating queues at EU embassies for days at a time. As many have family members within the EU, frequent trips can become an ordeal.

Brussels has been insisting on technical criteria, while Kyiv has been calling on the EU to issue a strong political signal to the Ukrainians by lifting the visa barrier by the end of this year.

The unprecedented migrant crisis is hardly making Ukraine’s case easier. Recently, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) reported a spike in asylum seekers from Ukraine, which started in March 2014, at the time of the Crimea invasion, and has continued growing.

>> Read: EU agency reports spike in Ukrainian asylum seekers

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