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You're reading: ‘Mission impossible?’ A visa liberalization view from within the EU

The liberalisation of Schengen visas for Ukrainian citizens constitutes without a doubt one of the top priorities of the cooperation between the EU and Ukraine, alongside with the negotiations on a free trade agreement. Indeed, when Ukraine and the EU approved their first action plan on justice and home affairs in 2001 they foresaw the suppression of the current visa regime with the Schengen area as a long-term goal. After 10 years of uncertainty of when and under what conditions Schengen visas would be lifted for Ukrainian citizens, Brussels presented an action plan on visa liberalisation to the Kyiv authorities on Dec. 22, which was first available to the public on Kyiv Post online. The visa liberalisation process follows in principle a pattern of conditionality whereby Ukraine should fulfill a set of benchmarks before the abolition of the visa regime. Will this action plan be finally the decisive step that paves the way to travelling to the EU without visas for Ukrainian citizens?

A few notes on the context surrounding the Schengen liberalisation process should be taken into acount. First, it entails only the so-called short-term visas, which allow for up 90 days travel in the Schengen area within a six-month period. Actually, short-term visas are the only ones under EU competency. Both the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union must approve abolishing the visa regime. As a result, this lifting does not include long-term visas (issued according to each EU member state provisions), which are compulsory in wider forms of mobility such as student exchanges, work stays, etc. It should then be clearly stated that the abolition of Schengen visas entails only a limited part of a much broader concept of mobility from Ukraine to the EU. Actually, the Schengen visa regime has its roots in the abolition of internal border checks within the Union, with the signature of an agreement in the Luxembourg village of Schengen in 1985, then the geographical center of the EU.

Second, we must recall that, as a first step towards visa liberalisation, a visa facilitation agreement between Brussels and Kyiv entered into force in June 2008. Officials foresaw the easening of the visa application procedure for certain categories of people, among them students, researchers and business people. This regime stipulates waiving the visa taxes in some cases, fixing visa fees at 35 euros (although they can be higher when EU member states outsource the visa issuance to private companies) and eventually including multiple entry visas are also envisaged.

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