The civic initiative Europe without Barriers is appealing to the governments of the EU Member States and EU institutions to make a decision on suspension of the visa regime for short-term trips to the EU for citizens of Ukraine in 2014. In a letter written to several key officials in the EU, including Herman Van Rompuy, Jose Manuel Barroso and Catherine Ashton, among others, Europe Without Barriers pleads with the EU institutions to show some flexibility to Ukrainian citizens in traveling to the EU in “consideration to the outstanding, inspiring, and yet disturbing political environment prevailing in Ukraine today.” The letter marks an event in a string of visa-related happenings between the EU and its neighbours. Let’s recap…
Yanukovych live: Ukraine is waiting visa liberalisation from EU #ukraine
— Site Maidanua.org_en (@sitemaidan_eng) December 19, 2013
Europe Without Barriers explains the reasoning behind their request to the EU Commission, writing:
“At this difficult time million-strong rallies prove the Ukrainians’ desire to be an integral part of the European Community, defending their European choice firmly and peacefully, demonstrating their commitment to European values of human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. However, while Ukrainian officials having diplomatic and official passports keep entering the EU without visas, the rest of Ukrainian citizens still suffer from artificial administrative barriers on their way to the European Union, despite some relief in the visa arrangements of the EU Member States.”
In addition, the letter emphasises that the timing is crucial:
“Taking into account the importance of the present moment, we call on the governments of the EU Member States, and the EU institutions to express European solidarity in a practical and tangible way and decide on a temporary suspension of the visa regime for the Ukrainian citizens’ short-term travels to the EU for the year 2014. We believe that at the time when millions of citizens of Ukraine are fighting for their right to a European choice, introduction of a visa-free regime would send a clear message of support from the EU and would come as an expression of trust and respect to those Ukrainians, who, according to the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, are writing the new narrative for Europe today!”
— Modern Ukraine (@modern_ukraine) December 17, 2013
The civic group also explains that their strong conviction that the ossible ramifications for not taking the step towards visa-flexibility may be a highly detrimental one:
“Instead, postponement of the prospect for the abolition of visas for the citizens of Ukraine will only increase the room for manipulation by the authorities and for pressure on the citizens of Ukraine, and will deny them the opportunity to witness the realities of life in the European Union, thus limiting their opportunities and freedoms. We also believe that this step will be perceived by Ukrainian citizens as a sign of a real attention to them from the European Community, will create an ever more significant request for reforms, and will promote the development of civic engagement. The temporary nature of such a measure will increase the Ukrainian citizens’ interest in and attention to the Ukrainian Government’s unprecedented long-term performance of tasks set out in the Action Plan on Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine.”
Go West, via the South?
Meanwhile, the EU has just signed a deal to introduce visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. At a ceremony in Ankara on 16h December, Turkey and the EU signed the Readmission Agreement, which had presented the biggest obstacle in the way of a visa-free travel for Turks into the Schengen zone.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke about the agreement, saying:
“With the mutual signatures we put today, Europe’s doors are opening visa-free for Turkish citizens. … After about three or three-and-a-half years, a full-fledged visa-free travel [regime] will begin for our citizens in Europe.”
This is in its ideal form, of course–and the signing does not guarantee a visa free scheme with the EU in and of itself. But it does, arguably, offer a road map for fulling the necessary criteria to achieve visa-free travel.
Experts are hoping that ripple effect of this agreement will reach Kyiv, as the editors of Bloomberg, write:
“Turkey and Ukraine are vastly different, of course. But they both present the EU with huge challenges and opportunities. How the EU responds will affect not only the size and scope of the EU, obviously, but also the legitimacy and power of the European ideal. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the deal may usher in’“a new era’ in Turkish-EU relations. That would be good news for both sides, and the EU should build on this success by reinvigorating accession talks. Ukraine is a more difficult case. President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an EU offer for greater integration last month. “
But it is precisely because it poses a more challenging case that the EU needs to step up their game, Bloomberg argues:
“At the same time, the EU must do more to show it cares about Ukrainians’ political and economic future. It should make it clear that Ukraine will not pay too high a price for rejecting Russia’s overtures. The EU might also acknowledge that, if Ukraine ever were to fulfill all the conditions, membership in the EU would be a possibility.”
Many have argued that the EU has not offered Ukraine more benefits from under the EU-umbrella because of corruption issues, stifling of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Ukraine’s brutal crackdowns during the on-going Euromaidan protests were met with international condemnation. Meanwhile, Moldova and Turkey have both been offered the chance to pursue a visa-liberalisation scheme with the the EU–while Ukraine has been denied.
Apparently PM Azarov told a pro gvt rally that the EU demands gay rights in exchange for visa-free travel w Ukraine: http://t.co/kxLHSfCNXq
— Nikolaus von Twickel (@niktwick) December 15, 2013
But can it be solely on the basis of human rights criteria being of concern to the EU? Evidence may prove the contrary, as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced that Turkey has been listed as having the highest number of journalists in prison for the second year in a row–ahead of Iran and China.
CPJ report: Turkey listed again as leading jailer of journalists http://t.co/YssV1QvgWA
— Today's Zaman (@todayszamancom) December 18, 2013