Ukraine’s step closer to visa-free regime with EU: French factor

Author : Volodymyr Poselskyi

Source : 112 Ukraine

The mechanism suspending visa-free regime would come into force no earlier than in late February - early March 2017
12:40, 30 November 2016

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As confirmed by the decision of the Permanent Representatives of the Member States of the European Union on November 17 this year, the citizens of Ukraine will be able to travel without visas to the Schengen countries and four other EU countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus) immediately after the entry into force of a reinforced mechanism for the suspension of the visa-free regime which is now being developed in the EU.

Let us try to understand this mechanism.

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

What is the debate?

In fact, the idea to establish an emergency mechanism for suspension is not new. Moreover, such a mechanism is in force today!

For the first time about the need to introduce a mechanism of temporary suspension of visa-free travel the EU spoke with the entry to the Schengen Western Balkans in 2009-2010, when the significantly increased number of requests for asylum from people from these countries.

In May 2011, at the insistence of some member states, the European Commission proposed a mechanism, and in December 2013, it was finally adopted.

Related: Postponing visa liberalization by 2017 will only complicate Ukrainian issue

Its idea is this: in emergencies, in particular in the event of significant and sudden (more than 50%) increase in the number of illegal immigrants, requests for asylum refusals of readmission of own nationals from any "visa-free" countries, the Commission may adopt temporary suspension of visa free regime (for a period of 6 to 12 months) for the citizens of this country based on the appeal of one of the Member states.

Despite dissatisfaction with the member countries due to increased flow of migrants from the Balkans, this tool has not been used.

However, in the context of the migration crisis and prospects for expanding the visa-free travel to Georgia, Ukraine, Kosovo, and especially Turkey, the European Commission in its legislative proposal on May 4, 2016 proposed to the EU Council and European Parliament to adopt a strengthened mechanism for suspending visa-free regime.

May 20, the Council of Justice and Home Affairs agreed position of the Member States on this issue, based on a proposal from the European Commission.

Related: EU Trilateral group to discuss visa-free suspension mechanism today

It was about how to expand the grounds for the suspension of the visa-free regime, including adding back items to a significant increase in risk to comply with public order and internal security of the Member State, as well as a significant increase in refusals of readmission of third-country nationals who traveled through this country.

Also it was proposed to allow not only Member States but also the European Commission itself to initiate the suspension mechanism based on its own monitoring; reduced from six to two months comparative period, which stated deterioration; allow visa-free to the European Commission to suspend for one month (instead of three as yet) from the time the appeal of one of the Member States or through its independent initiative. In addition, the Commission has submitted to the EU Council and the European Parliament an annual report on compliance with visa-free third countries. And approval of the proposal in this edition was failed.

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

July 18, Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament adopted its amendments to the Commission proposal. EC's proposal of suspension mechanism had removed all mentioning of the fact that the visa-free stop can occur in "emergency situations" and as a "last resort", the MEPs have offered to return these points.

Related: EU Ambassadors give "green light" for talks on visa liberalization

Also EP prefers to limit the use of this mechanism with clear criteria, and also take into account the human rights situation in the country concerned. According to the EP, the Commission's decision to suspend visa-free regime should be made after information and prior consultation with the European Parliament and the Council of the EU and to take into account the overall political strategy of the European Union in the visa area.

Besides traditional differences between the more liberal approach MEPs and rigid approach of the Member States (represented at the level of the Interior and Justice), the dispute also relates to which of European institutions would have more authority and control mechanism for suspending visa-free.

Related: Klimkin: Ukraine cannot get visa-free regime due to EU weakness

What is next?

Complex but familiar to EU interinstitutional negotiations between the EU Council and the European Parliament with the participation of the European Commission on the text of the relevant legal regulations of the EU continue.

This is the so-called "trialogue" recently mentioned in the news.

Their goal is to coordinate the European position to vote on the matter in the first reading. As you know, under the ordinary legislative procedure of the European Parliament and the Council adopt regulations on an equal basis as two chambers bicameral parliament.

For the approval decision European Parliament must vote at first reading the text, which then approves the Council, or the latter institution will submit the document to its amendments oblige the European Parliament to consider it at the second reading. Thus, the legal procedure delayed significantly.

Related: Juncker: Ukraine could get visa free regime by late 2016

Trialogue lasts for several months and in recent weeks, negotiations have been effectively blocked.

French Interior Minister Bernard Kaznov approached the negotiations with a clear signal:

"Given the current situation in the Schengen area, control of migration flows should prevail over all other tasks. If we want to reinforce Schengen, we cannot go on visa liberalization without safeguards, controlled schedule of this liberalization. "

Based on the vision suspension mechanism as a tool that "allows you to go back in when a country fails to comply with its obligations," the French party insisted on the development of hard suspension mechanism as a precondition for visa liberalization, especially for Turkey.

This approach is also a political component. Therefore, the ideal scenario for Paris is generally defer questions to the presidential election in May next year.

Related: EU may postpone introduction of visa-free regime with Ukraine

Discussion of Permanent Representatives of the Member States on November 23 confirmed the intransigence of France's position and unwillingness to compromise with the European Parliament.

At the very controversial statement of the French permanent representative to the effect that the expansion of visa-free regime threatens the very existence of the Schengen area, delaying negotiations has caused a mini-crisis in relations between the representatives of the European authorities before the Ukraine- EU summit.

So when visa-free is possible?

Now the European Commission President Juncker insists that this year we must complete technical talks and reach a compromise between the EU Council and the European Parliament. Although even in this scenario, entry into force and the final decisions will take place in 2017.

Related: Minsk agreement, visa-free regime and fight against corruption will be discussed at Ukraine-EU summit

The session of the European Parliament (November 30 - December 1) would consider visa-free ... but not for Georgia and Ukraine, and for residents of the Marshall and Solomon Islands.

On the agenda this year last December session of the European Parliament December 12-15 issue visa-free suspension mechanism and does not appear (although it is not yet fully confirmed).

However, according to preliminary data posted on the website of the European Parliament concerning the procedure for adopting the mechanism of suspension, MEPs plan to consider an appropriate regulation 2016/0142 (COD) in the first reading at the January session, namely 18 January 2017.

So if this term is respected and the Council and the European Parliament still reach a compromise, the mechanism suspending visa-free regime will come into force earliest in late February - early March 2017.

Related: Visa liberalization for Ukraine is on EU ambassadors’ meeting agenda

If this optimistic scenario is not realized and mechanism of suspension is not agreed soon, then further steps will be more difficult, given the beginning of an active campaign in France, and likely victory of neoconservative Eurosceptic, Putin’s friend Francois Fillon.

Related: Presidential elections in France: Pro-Russian Fillon vs moderate Juppe

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