On Tuesday 15 March the Ukrainian Parliament passed a crucial anti-corruption bill which the country hopes will convince the EU to grant visa-free travel to its citizens this year. Visa liberalization, or the lifting of visa requirements for travel to EU countries, is part of the Association Agreements that the EU has been negotiating with its Eastern neighbours Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Visa liberalization for Moldova was completed in April 2014, while for Georgia it looks set to be completed by the summer following the European Commission’s approval earlier this month. Ukraine, on the other hand, has proved to be a laggard in this process due to continued political instability and the delay in enacting the necessary reforms, a situation that Kyiv is hoping to change with Tuesday’s vote.
The legislation is aimed at creating better public oversight over the assets of government officials and their relatives by obliging them to file electronic declarations of their income and holdings, and to face criminal liability for any incorrect or falsified information. Most importantly, the data will be accessible to everyone online. The EU believes that such a level of transparency can bring Ukraine into alignment with its own standards. All in all, the passing of the bill was hailed as “unprecedented” by observers in the country, marking one step further in its path towards European integration. Nevertheless, another significant issue remains to be solved before the visa-free regime can come into place, namely the appointment of Board members to the recently created National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption., which has been hindered by disagreements within the special government commission charged with this task.
Beyond the issue of persisting corruption, Ukraine is faced with a number of other obstacles to its closer integration with the EU. Firstly, it lacks a stable government. Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk has been barely hanging onto power since three smaller parties quit his coalition government and President Petro Poroshenko has been pushing for his resignation. Secondly, although all EU Member States have formally ratified the country’s Association Agreement, the Netherlands will also hold a public referendum on its approval, which will take on April 6. While the outcome of this referendum will not be binding but only advisory, a ‘No’ vote is likely to cause turmoil within the EU, since it would be a further sign of the disconnect between its leaders and citizens. In light of the ongoing refugee crisis, and the upcoming Brexit vote, this would certainly add to doubts over the EU’s future.