24 Oct 2016, 44 mins ago

The future of visa facilitation programmes with non-European countries

Following a meeting between the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in March, the EU representative promised that the Commission would put forth a proposal for visa-free travel for Ukrainians coming to EU member states.

In December 2015 Juncker had previously expressed a wish that the EU would offer visa-free short-stay travel into the Schengen area for not only Ukrainians but also Georgians and Kosovar citizens.

Turkey has also been promised a speedy visa liberalisation programme as part of a separate agreement, which involved Turkey agreeing to take back migrants and refugees having entered Greece illegally through Turkey. This could come into effect from June this year. The agreement would allow some Turks to travel – though not work – within the Schengen zone visa-free.

In spite of encouraging statements and assurances towards such programmes from EU executives and a favourable attitude from the European Parliament, there have been some strong disagreements, in particular from the populations of certain EU member states. In Germany there were concerns that the liberalisation of visas could increase migratory flows into the EU.

The Netherlands held a non-binding referendum to ask its population whether the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement should be ratified, which was rejected by 61% of the population. This result might deter the Dutch government from wanting to implement the agreement.

Another main issue with the implementation of these programmes are some of the stringent conditions associated with them. For instance, there is doubt that the EU will be able to fulfil some of the reciprocal measures as part of its agreement with Turkey, and equal concern that Turkey will struggle to implement the pre-conditions required to secure visa-free travel for its citizens. Kosovo will also face a challenge in trying to comply with conditions aimed at reining in corruption and crime.

Between the politically-sensitive issues which arise in the context of visa facilitation programmes and the occasionally contrary attitude of both European populations and leaders of member states, the road towards the implementation of these programmes appears to be an uphill one.