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Who & Why – Visa-Free with the EU (or not)

January 4, 2016

Ever since agreement was finally reached between the Ukrainian leadership and the European Commission regarding Ukraine’s admissibility per European criteria for Visa-Free tourist travel within Schengen, it has been repeatedly raised as a significant “European integration” achievement by both President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatseniuk – and perhaps quite rightly.

The implementation of Visa-free – should it occur – will mean Ukrainians no longer need to pay for a Visa, provide proof of employment, list their assets, convince Schengen nations that they have enough interests in Ukraine to (more or less) guarantee their return, provide proof of funds, stand in queues, have Visas refused due to erroneously completed applications (more often than not) etc.

The Visa-free regime – should it occur – applies only for tourism and allows 90 days from 180 days within the Schengen zone.  To study, do business etc within the EU still requires the appropriate Visa.  In short the Visa-free agreement mirrors that which Ukraine has had in place for citizens of the EU since 2005 – no more and no less.

visa

However, having trumpeted the European Commission (not to be confused with the European Council, European Parliament, or Member State agreement yet) giving Ukraine the “thumbs up” for reaching all protocol, technical, legislative and political benchmarks, why then does it seem that somebody, perhaps deliberately and nefariously, is attempting to undermine this already proclaimed achievement prior to its actual implementation?

It appears that during the early hour vote (about 0400 hours) to adopt the Ukrainian 2016 budget in late December 2015, (hopefully a budget that still meets the IMF requirements after so many early morning amendments), that the introduction of a new system of financial transparency for civil servants, providing for the declaration of assets in electronic form in the public domain, has had its implementation delayed from 1st January 2016 until 1st January 2017.

(Yes it was part of/attached to the 2016 Budget Law – albeit the budget has now passed and been signed by the President, yet has still not been published officially.)

This transparency system relating to civil servants was an EU requirement for Visa-free – and this delay in implementation until 2017 was sanctioned after the European Commission gave its “thumbs up” to Ukraine, recommending the European Parliament and Member States find time on their legislative timetables to sign off on Visa-free during 2016 for Ukraine (as well as Georgia, Kosovo and Turkey this year too).

Despite any claims to the contrary, nobody knows the Ukrainian political class like the Ukrainian voting constituency.  Thu this seemingly inexplicable(and there has been no explanation) move, whether the Ukrainian constituency prioritises Visa-free with Europe or not, will come as no surprise whatsoever a population well versed in the fecklessness and odious nefariousness of the Ukrainian political class and State institutions.

Nothing in Ukraine proclaimed by the political class is worth anything, nor believed, until it actually happens.  The entire Ukrainian constituency knows when its political class is spewing forth empty rhetoric, or indeed blatantly lying – they can see their lips moving.  When statements of intent actually materialise in Ukraine it is met with mild surprise, so removed from the norm are such occurrences.

Thus the Ukrainian constituency will only believe that they have Visa-free travel when they actually have it and it has come into force – and not a moment before.

There are more interesting perceptions and questions to raise than those of the domestic constituency however.

How will the European Commission, and European Member States perceive the quietly passed delay of an EU requirement after the European Commission gave a “green light”?  Surely assurances will have been given by Ukraine that the law regarding civil service financial transparency would be passed if it had been the last legislative hurdle to meet for the European Commission to give the go ahead prior to this final piece of the legislative puzzle, with such legislation being implemented post haste.

It is almost certain the European Commission would not agree to such a delay in the implementation of such legislation whilst still giving its recommendation for Ukrainian Visa-free.

To be fair the law has been passed – but it is more than reasonable to expect that the EU would have anticipated immediate implementation upon its passing – not a deferral for 12 months before it came into effect.  Perhaps a 3 month window for implementation at a maximum.

 

It is strongly rumoured that Visa-free for Ukraine (and the other aforementioned nations) will have been signed off by all who need to do so sometime between June and September, thus coming into force immediately thereafter.

But should it?

Should Visa-free come into force before the civil service financial transparency requirement comes into force?  For some unknown reason, the effective implementation date has been delayed for 12 months, so should the EU not reciprocate by timing Visa-free to synchronise with the effective dates of all required Ukrainian legislation?  Quid pro quo.

May be that is how things will work out, and may be it won’t be – but knowing the fecklessness and nefariousness of the Ukrainian elite, perhaps it should be sychronised as a matter of principle (and a mechanism to prevent further delays).

Unless the effective implementation date of 1st January 2017 was pre-agreed with the European Commission, the EU should be bluntly requiring answers as to why this (anti-corruption/transparency) law has had its implementation date deferred until 1st January 2017.

What is the reason?

It is surely not one of lacking technical ability to create a simple database for electronic submissions by civil servants listing their assets and (illegitimately accrued) wealth.  Ukraine is awash with top quality programmers.  It is ranked 4th globally for the number of Microsoft and Apple certified programmers.  It has the IT skills to knock up a simple platform/database in double-quick time.

Is it perhaps that a database would not be functioning on 1st January 2016 when the original draft law regarding civil service transparency was due to come into effect due to poor governmental planning, and as the budget is an annual document, the decision was made to make the law come into effect at the conclusion of this budgetary year?  A matter of neatness as far as calendar dates are concerned – for there is no reason that it could not have taken effect on any date during 2016 providing the IT platform existed to accept the submissions.

The question of who deleted 2016 and inserted 2017 must also be asked – for it may shed some light upon the why it was done.

It must surely be somebody within the Verkhovna Rada budgetary committee, Ministry of Finance, or the Cabinet of Ministers.  It was most certainly not those among the hoi polloi within the Verkhovna Rada voting chamber that made such an amendment.  At 0400 hours in the morning, the Verkhoivna Rada parliamentarians didn’t even see the budget they voted through, they voted in accordance with the relevant party leadership “nod” following no end of last minute amendments.  Undoubtedly almost none – indeed perhaps none – will have been aware of the amendment that is subject of this entry when they voted the budget through.

What can be gained, other than a final hurrah and huzzah for one last financial year in the opaqueness of the current system, for whomever is responsible for the last minute amendment?  Is it a final opaque year for manic corrupt gains, or a final opaque year in which to hide more effectively the mass of illicit income already acquired more thoroughly prior to false 2017 declarations of “Church Mouse” poverty?  A year perhaps where a current and highly influential (and nefarious) official will bow out of public life, but for now has no desire to declare anything.  Which such officials are likely to fall into that category?

Hopefully the EU will be demanding answers to the “who” and “why” of this last minute amendment that has the noxious smell of “bad faith” about it from an EU-Ukrainian perspective, and the odor of continued nefarious corruption about it from a domestic perspective.

When the EU gets that answer, they would be well advised to share it with the Ukrainian constituency – regardless of whether or not it will delay any Visa-free agreement.  A public explanation is due, not only for any unnecessary risk that Visa-free may now have, but more importantly as to why a much needed transparency law has been delayed by 12 months.

It would be a wise policy to amend this law immediately to effect implementation by Easter 2016 for matters of trust between the European Commission and the Ukrainian leadership – although the Ukrainian constituency will only believe in the Visa-free rhetoric when it actually comes into effect.

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