Since New Year Slovakia has started to issue long-term Schengen visas to Ukrainians. Only in January, Slovak diplomats gave six thousand visas to Ukrainians, which is almost twice as much as in December of 2012.

Slovakia has greatly expanded the number of categories of people, who can apply for multiple entry visas, having included business travel and tourism in the list.

Under the rules, if a person has never been in a Schengen country, he will receive a visa for a period from six months to two years. If he has already had the Schengen visa, he can expect to get the multiple entry visas for two - five years.

Slovak diplomats are convinced that they also benefit from such simplification: for a month of the new rules, Slovak tour operators and hotel owners have already registered a considerable inflow of Ukrainian tourists. Ukrainian politicians, in turn, believe this innovation is a positive signal from the European Union.

ForUm has asked experts about the reasons of such unexpected simplification of visa regime between Slovakia and Ukraine and about possibilities of similar initiative by other EU countries.

Volodymyr Ohryzko, former foreign minister of Ukraine:

-I was happy to learn the news. I believe that this is the first fruit, which will lead to the border free relations between European peoples. Ukraine has managed to simplify issues if not with the whole Union then at least with its separate members.

I welcome such step, taken by the Slovakian party, and I think other European countries should follow the example and issue multiple entry visas for two - five years as well.

Oleksandr Sushko, director of the Center for peace, conversion and external policy of Ukraine:

- Modern Schengen law, including Schengen Code, allows applying such liberal visa policy. The matter is that not all Schengen countries use this possibility and all because of different political approaches.  
Simplifying visa procedure, Slovakia expresses its position regarding the active eastern policy of the EU. This is a political aspect of the issue, and there is an economic aspect. Winter tourism in Slovakia is very popular among Ukrainians. Taking into account the crisis and its consequences, Slovakian government just fights for tourists and for this has simplified the procedure. Multiple entry visas for three-five years stimulate Ukrainian tourists to revisit Slovakia again and again.

We can hardly expect that all EU countries will carry out similar policy towards Ukraine, but those members who want to show good political will traditionally use visa policy. Slovakia is not the first case.

Vitaly Kulik, director of the Center for study of civil society problems:

- Obviously, it is a positive signal. A real country of the European Union opens the doors for us, and using this opportunity Ukrainians can simplify the stay in all EU countries. I don't speak about some shadow schemes, but about legal travelling within the terms of visa regime and permissions.

Speaking in general, the European Parliament can ratify the Visa Facilitation Agreement with Ukraine, signed by Brussels in July of 2012, already in March.

Taras Chornovil, MP of the sixth convocation, former member of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs:

- Slovakia has always been friendly with Ukraine. In fact, there are two EU countries, which have been friendly with Ukraine: Poland and Slovakia. When Poland simplified visa procedure for Ukrainians, it was the first experience of this kind. And nothing bad has happened. The number of illegal migrants has not grown, but what has grown is currency inflow. Ukrainians do not mind to spend money in Schengen countries. This is a good method for local economy growth. Following the example of Poland, Slovakia has also given it a chance. Moreover, Ukraine has a decent diplomatic representative office in Slovakia, which has played its role as well.

Kost Bondarenko, president of the Institute of Ukrainian politics:

- Such friendliness is determined by personalities of the ambassadors and consuls of both sides, Ukrainian and Slovakian. The fact is that the legislative base of visa regime enables all Schengen countries to be friendly with Ukraine regarding visa issuing, but not all of them use this possibility. In some cases, it is due to stereotypes about our country and its people, in other cases it is due to corruption. Visa regime belongs to the regulatory approval system, and such system can imply corruption. I don't say that all embassies abuse the system, but similar cases do happen. 

Slovakia, in turn, has joined the short list of states, which show friendly position regarding visa regime for Ukrainians.

Mykhailo Pohrebynskyi, political scientists and strategist:

- I think this is not an agreed with Brussels position, but local initiative of Slovakia to increase the inflow of tourists. It has been made in winter, the very season for skiing. I think they try to "seduce" Ukrainian tourists with long-term Schengen visas, and I don't think it is advantageous for Brussels.

On the other hand, I understand that some other expert may say that with this initiative Brussels tries to "seduce" Ukraine offering it visa regime on good conditions to prevent Ukraine's entry into the Customs Union. There can be many versions and explanations to this initiative.


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