Who could find more idealistic approach towards the European Union than the one we saw during the Euromaidan in Ukraine? The events of 2013-2014 in Kyiv have proven true aspiration of Ukrainian citizens to share European values and to stand for a rapprochement with the European Union. Since then, slogans and manifestos from the street have turned into the roadmaps and set of legislative acts on the tables of cabinets and ministries. The Association agreement became a strong driver of reforms in a wide spectrum of questions, ranging from the fight against corruption to the implementation of anti-discrimination legislation.
Efforts of both politicians and civil society activists didn’t remain underestimated: Brussels commended Ukrainian government for the positive measures taken in the aforementioned areas. On the 18th of December, 2015 the European Commission reported that Ukraine had met the criteria for visa liberalization. Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, assured everyone that the European Union would soon be ready to abolish visa-barriers for short-term journeys to the Schengen area and appreciated the work that had gone into meeting the EU requirements:
“I congratulate the Ukrainian leadership on the progress made towards completing the reform process which will bring important benefits to the citizens of Ukraine in the future. The hard work towards achieving this significant goal has paid off. Now it is important to keep upholding all the standards.”
As for now, endless queues, excessive bureaucracy and unjustified refusals all constitute a price for Ukrainians who want to cross the border. Despite statements about the warming of relations between the EU and Ukraine, European dirigeants constantly create new obstacles and formalities for visa applicants. Consequently, during the last two years, there has been a tendency of significant increase in the number of visa denials by the majority of the Schengen area states. According to the statistics, in 2014-2015 Belgian consulates gave a negative response to every tenth applicant, while some other Member States’ share of refusals increased three/four/five/six-fold.
There are lots of EU citizens who have never crossed the external border of the Union, and who cannot possibly imagine the difficulties that ‘outsiders’ face in order to reach the ‘sacred land’. However, current refugee crisis and security issues questioned one of the EU four freedoms – free movement of people. Recently, most of the European Union leaders have decided to suspend the Schengen agreement and restore border control for the period of up to two years. Taking into account that the free travel area has existed for twenty years and that there has never been such a precedent, this decision can be seen as being of great importance and may cause unpredictable consequences, not only for the Member States, but also for third countries. It is also a sign that, for high-level European policy-makers, security prevails over the very basic right to move freely within the EU. Furthermore, it is not yet clear whether Ukraine will be considered as a threat to national and regional security of the Member States or as a reliable political and economic partner.
Therefore, the questions remain open: How will the decision made on the restrictions of freedom of movement affect the perception of security? and What will the position of the European Union towards visa liberalization with Ukraine in the next few months be?
Stanislav OSTAPENKO & Anastasiia SALIUK