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Visas for Ukraine

“President Viktor Yushchenko has instructed the Foreign Ministry to see to it that Ukrainian nationals, who wish to travel to EU member-countries and Switzerland, enjoy simplified visa procedures,” said Deputy State Secretary Markian Lubkivskiy. According to Lubkivsky the task must be completed by September 2005 and should mean multiple five-year visas for Ukrainian citizens.

“Visa facilitation is a key priority. I believe that it will send a strong signal to Ukraine’s people,” said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy. “I want to see an end to the frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive processes that make it so difficult for Ukrainians to visit us,” continued the Austrian EU Commissioner.

Speaking late last month in Brussels Ferrero-Waldner noted progress in talks: “We have already held several meetings with Ukraine to prepare the mandate for negotiating visa facilitation, and I hope the member states will also act quickly. This way we show that we really do see Ukrainians as our close partners and friends.” Visa regimes are expected to form part of the agenda at the Ukraine-EU Cooperation Council in Luxembourg on 13 June.

On 1 May, Ukraine unilaterally introduced a visa-free regime for EU nationals and Swiss citizens, partly to facilitate travel before and after the Eurovision song contest held in Kyiv. Although, the visa-free regime remains in effect until 1 September 2005, President Yushchenko wants to further extend the visa-free regime. Ukraine's State Statistics Committee has noted an increase in foreign tourists of 17 percent since visa rules were relaxed for EU and Swiss citizens.

According to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko the measure underscores "... the truly open nature of Ukrainian society, implement the policy of integration into European society and create proper conditions for attracting investment." But keeping free travel for EU citizens will eventually mean allowing Ukrainians to enter the EU without visas.

The EU will need to beef up its border management, especially in new Member States, to meet the growing demands from its larger neighbors in the east, Russia and Ukraine, for visa-free travel. For more than ten years, borderless travel in 12 EU Member States, and now Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland, has been a fact of life following the Schengen Agreement. But whilst freedom of movement is one of the most basic rights for citizens of the EU, MEPs accuse Member States of failing to settle upon a common policy on migration and managing EU borders.

Assisting new members in adapting the future external borders, is the EU's so-called 'Schengen facility' with a budget of €960 million for the period 2004-06. "These funds are efficient and sufficient to implement the Schengen agreements before the end of 2007," notes Robert Rybicki, Justice and Home Affairs Counsellor at the Polish Representation to the EU. Additionally, an EU 'burden-sharing fund' of €2.5 billion could be shared among Member States according to criteria such as the length of their borders and how many visas are issued annually.

Tuesday, 31 May 2005

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