Thursday, February 4, 2010

EU castigated over Ukraine visa issue

Ukraine's deputy foreign minister has launched a scathing attack on EU member states for refusing to discuss the thorny issue of visa liberalisation.

At present, Europeans wishing to visit Ukraine do not need a visa and Kiev eventually wants reciprocal visa-free facilities for its citizens travelling to the EU.Speaking at a breakfast briefing in Brussels on Thursday, Kostiantyn Yelisyeiev stressed, "We are not asking for the immediate introduction of a visa-free regime because we realise we have to take certain measures."But what we are saying is that the EU should be doing much more to help facilitate this."He singled out four member states – Germany, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands – for particular criticism, saying they were obstructing the start of "serious" negotiations on the issue.Yelisyeiev, who is in Brussels for meetings with commission officials, said it was "unfair, selfish and unjust" that the "free movement" of Ukrainian citizens was being restricted.In particular, he said it was "humiliating" that some EU embassies seek personal health details, such as whether a visa applicant has HIV."This needs to be corrected as soon as possible," he added.He said that pending the introduction of a full visa-free regime, arrangements should be put in place to ease travel restrictions for certain groups.These include people wishing to visit Europe for tourism purposes, members of religious minorities and NGOs."We have been trying to talk to the commission about this for 18 months but the EU seems to want to avoid the matter," he said. He said it was wrong for the EU to cite the supposed threat of illegal migration as a reason for keeping existing visa restrictions in place.The issue, he said, would be one of those under discussion at the EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev on 4 December. Other issues will include climate change, the eastern partnership and the agreement of association between Ukraine and the EU.On this, he said there had been "significant progress."Speaking at the same briefing, Ukraine's EU ambassador Andri Veselovsky said he was optimistic his country would "be ready" for consideration for EU membership by next spring."It will then be time to start talking seriously about this issue," he said.