Though Ukraine has never been so close to getting a visa-free regime with the EU, till recently the process could still be delayed or even disrupted. The EU has been taking the final decision not only based on technical criteria envisaged by the Visa Liberalization Action Plan (VLAP)[1] but also taking into account the factors of security and migration risks, raised from the latest refugee crisis in the European Union and due to the conflict in the east of Ukraine.

The VLAP appeared to be one of the most effective stimuli for Ukraine to advance reforms in the sphere of fight against corruption, security of documents and migration management. The result of an independent survey, conducted by the Civic Organization “Europe without Barriers” (EWB) revealed that the three abovementioned issues appeared to be in the focus of the EU policy makers and NGOs with regard to the abolition of the visa regime with Ukraine. Overall, interviewees saw corruption as the key problem, acknowledging that it is much harder to fight corruption than to introduce new laws or passports. Corruption is seen as the factor undermining success in many different parts of the VLAP: “The best border control does not help if the guards are not earning enough money or view their service as something they can sell.”[2] The armed conflict in the east of Ukraine brought into the focus the issue of document security. EU countries express their concern regarding the entry of terrorist and armed radical groups to the territories of EU with Ukrainian passports[3]. The visa liberalization mechanism gives the opportunity to enhance documents’ security by introducing biometric data for the travel and identification documents.

As found during EWB external survey[4], some migration stereotypes about Ukraine circulating in the European Union’s Member States could come up as a threat to the political support of visa liberalisation to Ukraine. It is thought that this would lead to more poverty and an increasing number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Ukraine, motivating more Ukrainians to try to get to the European Union. Also, the high number of approximately 1.6 million IDPs may lead to the conclusion that they will not be able to return to their homes anytime soon, making emigration an interesting option for them.

In this context, Ukraine’s progress in reforms within the visa liberalization process appeared to be under the close look of the EU. Ukraine needs to demonstrate real steps towards fighting corruption as well as regulating the security situation and migration flows.

[1] On 22 November 2010, Ukraine received from the European Union an Action Plan on visa Liberalization (VLAP). The document is divided into the “legislative” and “implementation” phases.

[2] Results of EWB’s in-depth interviews in 11th European Union’s Member States (EU MS).

[3] Results of EWB’s in-depth interviews in 11th European Union’s Member States (EU MS).

[4] Results of EWB’s in-depth interviews in 11th European Union’s Member States (EU MS).

Maryana Kuzio is a European integration and Visa Liberalisation expert at the NGO “Europe without Barriers” (September 2011- April 2016). She holds an MA in International Relations, from Ivan Franko National University in Lviv, specialising in European Politics and MA in five Universities of Europe (Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary research and Studies on Eastern Europe) at the University of Bologna. Main fields of her activities are: research and monitoring aimed at providing independent expertise of domestic reforms in the areas of document security, migration and readmission, public order and security and fundamental rights. She has practical experience of advocating and lobbying necessary internal reforms in Ukraine, as well as carrying out advocacy campaigns in the European Union’s Member States directed at abolishing the EU visa requirements for Ukraine and the whole Eastern Partnership region.

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