On April 6, the European Parliament adopted a resolution exempting Ukrainian nationals from the short-stay visa requirements. The bill had long been awaited in Ukraine (considering President Poroshenko’s repeated statements that it would be passed shortly). There is scarce media information to date, except that the resolution was adopted by 521 ayes vs. 75 nays and 36 abstentions. EU procedures require that the visa-free resolution be twice approved by the EU’s council of ambassadors and ministers, and signed by the President of the European Parliament and its Chairman (currently from Malta). The final decision will come into force on the 20th day from the date of official publication. In other words, Ukrainians can expect to travel to the EU countries (barring Great Britain and Ireland) without visas some time this June.
Pressured by the international community, official Kyiv could just barely meet all the visa free regime criteria. Now the European Union has the final say in the matter. Considering that Ukrainians have been sacrificing their lives during the Maidans and ATO combat missions, with Ukrainian national and EU flags in hand, for almost four years, this resolution is something to be well expected from Europe. Needless to say, Ukrainians are the only ones who can carry out reforms in this country, but Europe should also do something to help Ukraine. The West should take an interest in Ukraine, considering that this country is in the front ranks, fighting the Russian aggressor. Ukraine isn’t a buffer zone, it is a country struggling to survive and retain its national identity and values upheld in the West.
On May 29, 1935, Mr. Lancelot Lawton an expert on Ukraine, gave an address in a committee room of the House of Commons, entitled “The Ukrainian Question and its Importance to Great Britain.” He said, in part: “The chief problem in Europe today is the Ukrainian problem. Of deep concern to this country because of its effect upon European peace and diplomacy, it is at the same time closely bound with British interests of a very vital nature. To an extent unrealized by most people, it has been a root of European strife during the last quarter of a century. That so little has been heard of it is not surprising; for suppression of Ukrainian nationality has been persistently accompanied by obliteration of the very word Ukraine and concealment of the very existence of Ukrainians…”
Ukraine remains Europe’s key problem. Banning short-stay visas is important, of course, but it won’t serve as an effective medicine in treating the Ukrainian political system, just as it won’t help fight corruption in Ukraine. It could only help figure out the right trends, so doing homework remains on top of the agenda – I mean when combating domestic corruption. What this visa-free regime will actually amount to? Anna Hopko, chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada’s foreign relations committee, wrote on her Facebook: “Freedom of movement is one of the key civil liberties – for Ukrainians, it means being free to travel across Europe. This means [accumulating] capital for one’s future, an actual opportunity to establish contacts, bringing Ukraine’s humanitarian space closer to that of Europe; mutual penetration and enrichment for our societies.”
This visa-free regime will be a welcome signal for foreign investors, proof that the European Union has recognized a degree of stability and law and order in Ukraine. It will help improve contacts between Ukrainian big and small businesses and those in the West, and build Ukraine’s foreign inland investment image. Before deciding on this visa-free regime, the EU demanded that Ukraine pass bills that would make its business, property registers, and taxation procedures more transparent. When this visa-free regime comes into force, this will be a victory won by Ukraine jointly with the European Union. This will mean that Ukraine is part of Central Europe. This will mean lower loan rates and include Ukrainian manufacturers into the European VAT network, making exports and market access easier.
All this won’t happen soon, but the ball is rolling.
This visa-free resolution sounds like a convincing answer to all questions in Ukraine about it being a secondary issue, considering that most Ukrainians simply can’t afford trips abroad. In fact, the red tape has been the main obstacle, considering that civilized Europe is but a short flight or several days of car ride from Ukraine. Yes, one’s family budget and Ukraine’s financial situation remain a problem, but this situation has been known to tend to change so frequently, the lifting of the visa barrier will help improve it. The road, rail, and air traffic between Ukraine and Europe will receive a fresh impetus, and so will business competition. Ticket prices will drop. Each former visa bearer in Ukraine will save thousands of hryvnias, no longer having to buy one, being free to plan business or pleasure trips to next door countries, such as Poland, Romania or Hungary, having to pay about as much as s/he would have while on a trip within Ukraine.
There are aspects to this visa-free regime, other than historical, social or economic. Larysa Ivshyna, editor in chief of Den/The Day, wrote on her Facebook: “Another thing that makes this visa-free regime so important is that it has produced a great psychological impact. Ukraine is back to Europe, after having spent hundreds of years somewhere in the back waters of Magdeburg Law… But this is just the first step…”