The European Parliament gave its final approval to a visa waiver for the Ukrainian nationals who will now have up to three months of visa-free travel rights across the Schengen area. The measure is expected to come into effect in June after it is formally adopted by the Council ministers. There are, however, mounting concerns that this move could cause an influx of refugees following Russia’s invasion of southeastern Ukraine. Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said that there were 1 million migrants from Ukraine in 2016 but she was immediately accused of exaggeration.
The EU has prepared for this contingency with the Commission having the right to suspend Ukraine’s visa waiver in case of a large increase of asylum requests. The Ukrainian crisis has lasted since November 2013 when pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich’s government abandoned an Association Agreement with the EU, thus giving preference to Russia. Mr. Yanukovich was removed from power after 88 people were killed in two days in the country’s capital, Kiev.
EU’s rapporteur on the visa-free proposal Mariya Gabriel commented that “Ukraine has achieved all the benchmarks, so the visa requirement should be lifted.” She also added that the move sends “another very strong message that Ukraine is a key partner for the European Union in the Eastern Partnership”. The political part of the Association Agreement was signed in March 2014 by the new Prime Minsiter Arseniy Yatsenyuk after which the EU tried to stabilize the country by providing generous financial assistance.
The economic part was signed by the new President Petro Poroshenko who described the move as Ukraine’s “first but most decisive step” towards EU membership. He also set 2020 as a target for an EU membership application. In June 2016, the country joined the Deep and Comprehensive Trade Area with the bloc. EU-Ukraine relations are currently governed by the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). Brussels is increasingly seeking a close relationship with Ukraine, going beyond cooperation, towards piecemeal economic integration and deepening of political cooperation.