Nervous summit: How Ukraine lost, and than returned chances on visa-free regime

Author : Serhiy Sydorenko

Source :

Serious problem appeared on the way to visa-free regime. France blocked further progress in coordination mechanism for its suspension. Without it, EU refuses to abolish visas for citizens of Ukraine
22:30, 28 November 2016

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"This is the happiest moment" - said Poroshenko, entering the building of the European Council on Thursday morning. In front of Ukrainian leader stayed three EU leaders – Tusk, Juncker and Schulz, Presidents of the European Council, European Commission and European Parliament.

This phrase was said without special intonation, so Donald Tusk, the host of the Ukraine-EU summit asked Poroshenko again: "(Happiest) for you?"

This strange dialogue gone with smiles on politicians’ faces and may be seemed a joke, but clenched Proshenko’s hands on photographs from the ceremony left no doubt that he saw in it more cause for worries than jokes.

The night before diplomats learned that on the way to visa-free regime appeared a serious problem. France blocked further progress in the coordination mechanism for the suspension of visa-free regime. Without this mechanism, as you know, the EU refuses to abolish visas for the citizens of Ukraine.

And this time multiple sources have reported that the delay may last until summer 2017. On the issue of visa-free crisis on Thursday journalists talked as a fait accompli, although there were no official reports to confirm this. European Parliament President Martin Schulz added legitimacy to these rumors by saying on the resistance of the key EU countries.

Juncker in rage

News about new obstacles didn’t please all politicians, including those in the EU. Moreover, it is not an exaggeration to say that the top management of the EU raged. "Europe is losing the remnants of trust, losing Ukraine" - so arbitrarily told Jean-Claude Juncker’s position media sources.

In the office of President of the European Commission sounded an idea that during the Ukraine-EU summit he should made a radical statement, placing the issue squarely: the EU should change its policy and immediately provide Ukraine with visa-free regime.

This would mean institutional conflict between the European Commission and the EU Council, and Juncker was ready to go for it. But on Thursday morning, an hour before the Ukrainian summit tension significantly decreased.

It is known that Juncker had a telephone conversation with Merkel and Hollande, and media sources say that before this, leaders of France and Germany also had a conversation with Donald Tusk. And there is a reason to assume that their conversation was important.

Related: Ukraine’s highway to visa-free regime with EU

Also there is not fully clarified role of Angela Merkel in this process. German Chancellor is one of the few leaders of the EU, who has a strategic vision and understands the dangers in case of disruption of Ukrainian visa-free regime.

Finally, at the press conference after the summit, Tusk and Juncker radiated optimism and assured reporters that the approval of visa-free in 2016 again was the "real scenario". But does this mean that the danger has passed? No. The situation is not as good as it may seem. In particular, the problem of France is not solved so far.

In Paris, there is no clear common vision of what to do with Ukraine and the visa-free regime. There are many people who want to withdraw from political responsibility and postpone a decision indefinitely. Juncker’s considerations are based on communication with Hollande, who apparently promised him something. But he does not have absolute power in France.

Now or never

The logic of “visa-free sceptics” in Paris is like this: the abolition of visas for Ukraine will give a trump to nationalists, including Le Pen, who speculate on this and convince voters that tomorrow thousands of refugees will come here and take your job. I do not care that it's not true - voters may believe.

At issue is not only about Ukraine. The mechanism of suspension, the approval of which was slowed down France, was invented by Turkey when it came to the abolition of visas for Turkish citizens. In France, few people know about Ukraine, and voters are not too afraid of Ukrainian immigrants, but they are familiar with Turkish migrants – both in their homeland, and in neighboring Germany. Exactly the Turkish factor was used by French nationalists, said the media source.

And there is a counterargument. To reduce the impact on the election, it’s the most profitable to adopt Ukrainian visa-free regime right now. And this logic can work. And, according to "European truth", such thoughts sounded in Brussels.

But if the visa-free regime won't be approved in the next month and a half, there is a chance that it will be buried forever. Because if the visa liberalization issue will be postponed to the time of elections, no one will return to this question after it.

Related: Russia claimed about adoption of new conditions of European Commission on OPAL gas pipeline

Whoever becomes the next president of France, it will be much more skeptical to Ukraine and will not hurry to fulfill obligations to Kyiv. And half months after the presidential elections in France parliamentary elections will take place, and the right-wing forces have a big chance to win there.

Will the president Le Pen president and Republican prime minister want to liberalize the visa regime for Ukraine and Georgia? The question is rhetorical. But enough skepticism.

Currently we have really big chances that course of events will be positive way. Commissioner Johannes Hahn on Friday in an interview with "European truth" acknowledged that approval of the visa-free by the end of 2016 – it is an ambitious goal, but it is also achievable.

"I heard a statement of Juncker. The goal to have visa free regime by the end of the year – is ambitious, if not to say - overly ambitious. But the main question – is the political will. If there is political will – there will be no problem, because technically this issue could be solved very simply, "- he explained.

The fact that task is not difficult technically was confirmed by all parties. We will not go into the technical details, but it’s correct to say that 99% of suspension mechanism text is agreed. And those questions that are left - do not have extra large political weight.

Of course, it is too early to relax. The threat of disruption is still significant. But there is no doubt: the EU has a powerful political lobby that will stand for visa-free regime for Ukraine.

"Europe will have a problem with trust, if we would not fulfill the promise and provide the visa-free regime", - said the commissioner.

Ukraine will also work on that issue – the talks between Ukrainian Presidential Administration Deputy Head Kostyantyn Yeliseyev and diplomatic advisers of Merkel and Hollande were already held.

So, we hope for the best. We have all reasons for that.

Related: Trialogue on visa suspension mechanism can take place tomorrow in Brussels

Related: Yanukovych's interview. Second attempt. Online broadcast

Related: Integration instead of membership: EU's energy cooperation with Ukraine

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