The European Union and Ukraine have a broad range of tools of integration covering different aspects of relations: Association Agreement, law enforcement and readmission cooperation, visa liberalization, Creative Europe etc. Both parties expressed intention to cooperate on joining Ukraine to Customs Union, Energy Union, and Single Digital Market.
Launch of visa-free regime was the second most scaled and successful example of EU-Ukraine cooperation after Association Agreement and start of free trade and maybe the most successful one if to consider its publicity. From 40% to 55% of Ukrainians considered launching the visa-free regime important for them according to polls. But now we faced a question: what is next? How can we further develop EU-Ukraine relations in the freedom of movement except for keeping the achieved reforms and controlling migration and security indicators?
As a response to this question “Europe without Barriers” has developed a pilot initiative of instrumental cooperation in the sphere of visa issuance, involving not only Ukraine and EU, but also other European countries who claimed their European aspirations like Moldova and Georgia.
Most EU members have a unified visa policy according to requirements of the Schengen agreement. But nowadays recognition of Schengen visas has already become a tool for simplifying visa policies and additional security filter for a number of countries outside the Union. As of today, at least 15 states (as well as Gibraltar and Kosovo, which is not recognized by Ukraine) have fully or partially allowed holders of Schengen visas to stay on their territory. Some countries recognize Schengen visas unconditionally, while others use them more as an additional security filter.
For example, the EU Quartet (Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Croatia) which has not yet joined Schengen area, recognizes Schengen visas fully and unconditionally, albeit asymmetrically – visas issued by these countries do not allow entry into the territory of the Schengen. At the same time, these four countries have mutual recognition of each other’s visas: Bulgarian, Cypriot or Croatian visa is the ground for staying in Romania and vice versa.
Another example of the adaptation of the Schengen visa policies are Western Balkans and Georgia, Ukrainian partner on the road to a visa-free regime, which also welcome holders of Schengen visas. Moldova allows entry to citizens of China, Qatar and Kuwait with Schengen visas.
In fact, the majority of Ukraine’s neighbours are already using Schengen system one way or another as part of their own visa policy. Ukraine still has only one element of such integration – holding of a Schengen visa (along with visas issued by the United States, Britain, Canada, Japan) is the reason for the release from a visa interview for citizens from the “countries of migration risk”. This norm was introduced in new visa application rules that came into force in March 2017 and included a few more steps to unifying visa policy with the one of the EU: reducing the number of visa types to four (A, B, C, D) and unifying the consular fee.
Based on the experience of its closest neighbours, Ukraine could modify its visa policy with few key amendments in the short term. For example, the first step would be to fully or partially recognize Schengen visa as the reason for entry into the territory of Ukraine, which would reduce the pressure on Ukrainian consular system, although this could simultaneously lead to a reduction of consular fees.
The experience of Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus could serve as a basis for similar integration projects on mutual recognition of visas with Ukraine’s participation. For example, mutual recognition of visas can be negotiated with Georgia and Moldova, which are united with Ukraine on the way to European integration, successful visa liberalisation with the EU and productive cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership. Such negotiations can also be conducted with Serbia, Montenegro and other countries of the Western Balkans.
Such visa unions could potentially strengthen ties between participating countries and the EU and contribute to freedom of movement within the larger European area including not only the EU but also Eastern partnership and Western Balkans.
Pavlo Kravchuk, Europe without Barriers
First published by Ukrainian Liaison Office in Brussels at blogactiv.eu