Friday, March 27, 2009

Viktor Baloha: Europe's reluctance to ease visa regulations for Ukrainians may force Kyiv to turn to reciprocity

During the talks within the framework of President Victor Yushchenko’s state visit to the Czech Republic Ukrainian side never heard positive answer to our wish to achieve easing EU visa regulations for Ukraine. This provides additional arguments to say that our agreement with the EU on easing visa issuing procedure, which has been in force for more than a year now, for some reason remains in fact a formal document and that Europe is not keen to open its boarders for Ukrainians, President’s Chief of Staff Viktor Baloha said.

Viktor Baloha reminded that back in 2005, as one-sided act, in accordance with President Yushchenko's Decrees, European Union countries' citizens were granted right of visa-free travel to Ukraine. The number of EU citizens coming to Ukraine has doubled since then.

Yet, Kyiv introducing very liberal regulation of boarder crossing did not result in adequate steps from Europe. After expansion of the Schengen Agreement, Ukrainians faced additional complication in their travel to European Union states. First of all this refers to Ukraine’s neighboring EU member-states, our country had had traditionally liberal visa regulations with. In result of different limitations and problems the number of Ukrainians travelling to the EU has halved.

According to Viktor Baloha, examination of implementation of Ukraine-EU agreement on easing visa issuing procedure shows that for now the agreement does not allow easy travel of Ukrainians to the EU. In fact it is harder to get a visa of a “new” Schengen state, than that of an “old” one, due to additional bureaucratic procedures and requirements. In addition every fourth Ukrainian, who applied for Schengen visa, was forced to pay additional charges, which exceeded the 35 Euros fee fixed in the agreement. The list of documents required to get European visa was not cut either.

“Almost every Ukrainian, who has ever been to Europe on business or vacation trip, has his story of problems with getting the visa. Such treatment is humiliating and clearly conflicts the spirit of agreements between Kyiv and Brussels. Ukrainian side has many times tried to draw attention of our European partners to our concerns about Ukrainians facing difficulties with getting European visas. However, no substantial shift has yet happened and position of the Czech Republic has just proved that”, - Viktor Baloha said.

President’s Chief of Staff had assumed earlier that it was possible that Ukraine revised its visa agreements with the EU based on reciprocity principle. According to him, a few tens of millions of hryvnyas income does not in any way compensate the inconvenience, Ukrainians are facing while trying to enter European countries.

“Ukraine should think over the efficiency factor of eased visa regulations for our country’s interests and for interests of our citizens. Currently, in accordance with President’s Decree, relevant state authorities are preparing their suggestions. One of these suggestions is returning to visa entrance to Ukraine for EU states’ citizens, who will be getting visas at boarder checkpoints. At the same time it should be clearly understood that this does not mean revision of Ukraine’s European integration course, but protection of our interests. With such actions Kyiv expects to induce governments of European states to real, not declarative steps forward in our direction”, - said Viktor Baloha.