Ukraine: ‘3%’ away from the EU Visa-Free Green Light

The EU has warned Ukraine it needs to finalise anti-corruption reforms to get a thumbs up for visa-free travel by the end of the year. Speaking after talks with Ukraine PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk in Brussels on Monday (7 December), commissioner Johannes Hahn said “the fight against corruption was, is, and stays at the top of our joint priority list.”

With the commission due to file a recommendation to member states on 15 December on whether to grant the visa-free perks, he noted: “I’m pretty sure we’ll have a very positive report … but I don’t want to predict the final outcome.” He said foreign firms also need progress on anti-corruption to invest money in Ukraine and warned Yatsenyuk against calling early elections next year because they would distract from reforms.

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said the fight against corruption is “key” to closer relations. An EU source listed the outstanding reforms as: seeing the new “Anti-corruption Prosecutor” start work; seeing the “Anti-corruption Bureau” start work; seeing the new “Anti-corruption Prevention Agency,” which scrutinises politicians’ declarations of interest, start work; and tweaking two laws on confiscation of criminal assets.

The source said Ukraine has ticked “97 percent” of the boxes in the EU’s visa-free list.

He said it’s “impossible, in practice” to finalise the changes by 15 December. But he predicted the commission will, in any case, issue a thumbs up, albeit with a list of outstanding items to be completed before EU states take the final decision.

“We can’t give a negative recommendation because of the Ukrainian public. They’ve done so much over the past six months, in terms of street rallies, or civil society pressure, to get parliament to enact proper laws,” he said.

A second EU source said the visa wall might come down “at some point in 2016” if Ukraine does its 3 percent homework and member states endorse the commission’s positive recommendation. For his part, Yatsenyuk claimed Ukraine has already “delivered” on 100 percent of the visa requirements. His main message was the EU should stop Germany and Russia building a new gas pipeline, Nord Stream II, bypassing Ukraine, and should extend Russia economic sanctions.

“We believe this project [the pipeline] has to be stopped … we don’t think it’s in the interests of Ukraine or the European Union,” he said, adding “it gives more of a monopoly to Russian gas.” On sanctions, he said Russian hybrid forces resumed shelling of Ukrainian positions on Monday morning. He also said the EU economic measures should stay in place until Russia has complied with the “Minsk” ceasefire accord on “withdrawal of its armies, and [given] back to Ukraine all the Russian-backed terrorist-controlled territories.”

Mogherini noted: “We agreed on the need for full implementation of the Minsk agreement on all sides,” accenting the “all” by way of allusion to reports of Ukrainian violations. EU sources say Nord Stream II will be discussed by EU leaders at the 17 December summit under the banner of the EU’s “energy union” project.

Energy ministers from seven EU states – the Baltic countries, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia – wrote to EU Council chief Donald Tusk asking for the debate. The prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia also requested the talks in a separate letter. The first of the EU sources cited in the story said it would be “impossible” to stop Nord Stream II on political or strategic grounds. But he noted it will have to comply with EU single market laws.

Yatsenyuk also visited commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who, earlier this year, promised the positive visa-free recommendation, and who, on Monday, gave him a hug and a kiss in front of cameras. The commission chief also cuddled Russian leader Vladimir Putin at the climate summit in Paris last week.

Source: euobserver.com

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