The European Parliament has reached an informal agreement with the Maltese presidency of the Council of the European Union to grant Ukrainians visa-free travel to the European Union.
Under the newly struck deal, Ukrainian travellers with biometric passports will be authorised to enter the EU for up to 90 days during a 180 day-period.
EU ambassadors this week confirmed the agreement, which will need to be formally approved by the EU Parliament and adopted by the EU Council.
Carmelo Abela, Malta’s Minister for Home Affairs and National Security said in a statement the agreement comes as MEPs feel Ukraine satisfied the conditions necessary for visa-free travel.
“We have demonstrated our strong commitment to visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens, now that Ukraine has met the necessary conditions for a visa-free regime,” Abdela said in a statement.
Negotiations to grant Ukraine visa-free access to the EU began in 2008, in order to further develop “friendly relations” and “steady development of economic, humanitarian, cultural, [and] scientific” ties, according to the initial 2007 agreement) which opened the door to future dialogue on easing travel restrictions.
Ukraine had to meet EU benchmarks on border, migration and asylum management; public order and security; anti-corruption, as well as a myriad of other items, the Commission had highlighted.
Yevropeiska Pravda, an online Ukranian newspaper, reported visa-free travel could be authorised as early as June 2017.
The newspaper said it has seen a copy of the EU’s detailed calendar on implementing Ukrainian visa-free travel.
The question of where to look for growth and opportunity for Kyiv, whether westward toward Brussels, or eastward to Moscow with whom the country has long historical links and who Russia is keen to keep in its sphere of influence, has proven to be a contentious issue.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been promising visa-free travel to the EU for close to three years. The issue was a part of a 2014 association agreement between Brussels and Kyiv designed to create a free-trade area and expand crime-fighting capabilities.
But the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych rejected the deal, sparking the Euromaidan mass demonstrations in the capital, which pitched pro-western demonstrators against Yanukovych’s government.
Yanukovych would eventually be ousted, outraging Russia who would annex Crimea later that year, helping to spark a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine which continues today.
MEPs, however, found by 2015 the country had made sufficient progress, “despite the exceptional circumstances that Ukraine currently faces”, according to their latest assessment of Ukrainian reforms.
Mariya Gabriel, Parliament’s Rapporteur, said in a statement visa free travel for Ukrainian travellers “is an important step forward towards reforming Ukrainian society by bringing people together, building bridges across borders. We at the European Parliament are convinced that Ukrainian citizens now deserve the right to travel freely to the EU. The time has come for the Council to deliver results.”
The visa-free travel regime will exclude both Ireland and the United Kingdom.