Ukrainians cheer on first day of visa-free EU travel

Ukrainians on Sunday (11 June) celebrated the first day of visa-free access to the European Union, with thousands crossing the border as President Petro Poroshenko proclaimed a dramatic “exit” from Moscow’s grip.

The move is symbolic for Kyiv, where a pro-EU revolt in 2014 toppled the previous Russia-backed government and was followed by Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula sparking a protracted ongoing conflict with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

“The visa-free regime for Ukraine has started! Glory to Europe! Glory to Ukraine!” Poroshenko tweeted early Sunday as many travellers started crossing the border and posting selfies.

Only those with biometric passports – containing a microchip with personal data, including fingerprints – can take advantage of the visa-free travel for the time being, for stays of up to 90 days every six months that don’t include work.

The exemption does not apply to Ireland or Britain, nor to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, which are part of the EU’s Schengen passport-free area despite not being members of the bloc.

Later on Sunday, Poroshenko met with Slovak counterpart Andrej Kiska on the Slovak-Ukrainian border, unlocking a mock “door to the EU” painted like a Ukrainian passport.

“We have waited so long for this,” he said. “I am sure that this day, 11 June, will go down in the history of Ukraine as a final exit of our country from the Russian empire and its return to the family of European nations.”

“Welcome to Europe,” Kiska told the crowd. “I want to call on you to continue carrying out reforms.”

“Today we bring down the barrier between the people of Ukraine and the people of the European Union,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a video address.

“Ukraine has delivered reforms its citizens were asking for and we of the EU have kept our promise. This is what we call a win-win solution.”

“It feels so good”

The EU approved the visa-free travel last month after long delays and Kyiv’s embattled reforms, fulfilling a key promise to cement ties with Kyiv following the broad trade and political association agreement sealed in 2014.

Kyiv is now seeking to boost European integration with cheaper rail links and more low-cost air connections with EU cities, Poroshenko said on Saturday.

Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin cheered on Twitter after passengers on flights from Ukraine were able to enter Warsaw, Budapest, Frankfurt and other airports.

“#Bezviz (no visa) is just the beginning!” he wrote, himself crossing the border to Hungary and posting photos from the passport control area.

View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

By midday, thousands had crossed the border into EU countries, the foreign ministry’s consular department wrote on Twitter. Only four people were denied entry.

“I’m going abroad for the first time in a decade, and it feels so good,” said Ukrainian Ulyana Golosyak who crossed the border to Poland from western Ukraine despite her husband accompanying her in case of complications.

View image on Twitter

“He thought something could happen that I would be turned back and would need to be picked up,” she told AFP. “I’m happy I can cross the border with this passport.”

View image on Twitter

View image on Twitter

EU Leaders Urge Internet Giants to Fight Online Extremism

 

HIGHLIGHTS
EU leaders on Thursday urged Internet firms to combat online extremism
EU said that social networks have improved in removing hate content
But Jourova called for further progress – particularly from Twitter
EU leaders on Thursday urged Internet firms to do their utmost to combat online extremism promoting attacks or face the possibility of legislation if the industry self-regulation fails.

European Union leaders meeting at a summit in Brussels increased the pressure on US giants like Facebook and Twitter to rein in online propaganda amid a recent spate of terror attacks in Britain, France and Belgium.

“We are calling on social media companies to do whatever is necessary to prevent the spread of terrorist material on the Internet,” European Council President Donald Tusk told a press conference during the EU summit in Brussels.

“In practice, this means developing new tools to detect and remove such material automatically,” Tusk said. “And if need be we are ready to adopt relevant legislation.”EU Leaders Urge Internet Giants to Fight Online Extremism

The EU joined forces with US-based Internet firms more than a year ago to combat online extremism, responding to growing alarm in Europe over the use of social media as a recruiting tool, especially by the Islamic State group.

Until now, it has pushed for the industry to regulate itself, but EU officials earlier this month gave mixed reviews to firms like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google’s YouTube.
In its first annual report, the bloc said the four companies are now removing twice as many cases of illegal hate speech and at a faster rate when compared to six months ago.

But EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova called for further progress – particularly from Twitter.

French President Emmanuel Macron said leaders of the 28 EU countries had discussed at length increasing the efforts to remove online extremist content.

“Opening up the possibility of legislating at the European level is an advance that satisfies me,” Macron told journalists.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told her counterparts the onus must be put on the firms to remove extremist material and said law enforcement should access encrypted communications between suspected terrorists in defined circumstances, a British government official said.

In the last few months, armed jihadists have carried out attacks in London, the northern English city of Manchester, Paris and Brussels.