Oleksandr Klymenko Official website
Articles | 1251 | 12.10.2016

The promised land of visa-free

On November 24th the EU-Ukraine Summit should decide the fate of visa-free regime between Ukraine and the EU. Should Ukrainians start planning a trip to Paris or Barcelona for the weekend in the “visa-free” format?

It is very doubtful.

Europe obviously does not want to give us visa-free, but cannot admit it openly, and is therefore looking for any formal excuse. It is symptomatic that visa-free issue was not even included in the agenda of the forthcoming European Parliament session to be held October 24-27 in Strasbourg. Motivations of the Europeans are easy to understand, looking at the chaos and lawlessness that are happening in our country today they – well – they just don’t want us, and that’s that.

So they are looking for an excuse to refuse, and the Ukrainian government is giving them that reason by failing introduction of electronic declaration with flying colors.

Let’s see how we lost the visa-free in detail.

It started out quite well. Activities of bureaucratic apparatus of the EU have accelerated since September: visa-free for Ukraine was reviewed by two European Parliament committees – on Legal Affairs and Civil Liberties. This is a feature of European bureaucracy: slow to saddle, but fast to ride. The Ukrainian government, of course, hastened to proclaim “Peremoga”, but preferred not to notice the warning from the EU that introduction of visa-free may be suspended. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry reacted by pointing fingers: if the decision is delayed, it’s the fault of “European bureaucracy”.

Formally, the main obstacle is the actual failure of e-declarations system, which was not launched due to technical and formal errors embedded in the original project. Unofficially the reason is reluctance of Ukrainian officials to declare their “hard-earned” riches.

Firstly, one and a half years ago, during development of declarations that state officials fill out, the form has not been coordinated with the Ministry of Justice, which signs off to give legal force to all official documents. Nonetheless the National Agency for Anti-Corruption chose not to alter the form. And this is understandable: their version, as it turned out, is filled with opportunities to get away from declaring real state of an official’s finances.

Secondly, the idea of e-declaration, as good as it is, was immediately torpedoed by numerous pro-government officials and MPs. For instance, the minion of Arseniy Yatsenyuk, MP Tatyana Donets, proposed a “softening” of responsibility for incomplete disclosure of data, in particular by offering to make exception for automobiles. Her own declaration, incidentally, contains a fleet of 2013 Jaguar, 2014 Land Rover and 2006 Porsche Cayenne. The “Euro-optimist” Mustafa Nyem proposed to add a norm complicating the definition of the term “family member”. Another MP close to Petro Poroshenko proposed the introduction of “zero declaration” so that the owners of luxury villas and Jaguars were able to show their property by paying off taxes for it, and continue to use it.

In fact, we are in a situation where both sides are unwilling. EU does not want to give us visa-free, and those in power in Ukraine do not want the e-declaration: too many of them just got to the feeder and had not yet had time to hide assets, launder money to offshore and rewrite estate in the name of their mother-in-law’s cat.

Honestly, I’ve never been a big dreamer of the European future and had an unbiased view of Ukraine’s European perspective. But current processes outrage me. It turns out that those who sowed hope for Europe in the hearts of Ukrainians and spent two years hammering into their minds a thought that visa-free is what the revolution and the war were unleashed for, are now burying the slightest prospects of this European future for Ukraine with their own hands.

Seems that this “European future”, which is still a bird in the bush for us two years down the road, turned out too expensive for the country, while the bird in the hand is long gone…