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UKRAINE

EU countries agree to lift visa rules for Ukrainians fleeing war

EU countries have agreed to grant Ukrainians fleeing the war immediate leave to stay in the Bloc without a visa for one year, which can be extended if necessary.

EU countries agree to lift visa rules for Ukrainians fleeing war
Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

A special meeting of European interior ministers on Thursday agreed to apply a little-used measure known as the Temporary Protection Directive to any Ukrainians who want to come to an EU country.

The 90-day rule has been in place for Ukrainians since 2017, and this allows them to enter any EU or Schengen zone country without a visa and stay there for up to 90 days, but until now what happens on day 91 had been unclear.

The activation of the Temporary Protection Directive means that any Ukrainian citizen can stay within the EU or Schengen zone for a year without having to apply for a visa or make a claim for asylum.

During that time they will be permitted to work and children can access education.

The status applies immediately and covers both Ukrainians who have already arrived and those who come in the days or weeks to come.

After the meeting, EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson tweeted: “Historic decision – the EU will give temporary protection to those fleeing the war in Ukraine. The EU stands united to save lives!” 

The measure was welcomed by the interior ministers of countries including France and Sweden.

Anders Ygeman, Sweden’s Minister for Integration and Migration, said: “This is an act of solidarity with Ukraine – that the EU supports those who flee the horrors of war caused by Russia.”

The Directive gives Ukrainians a similar status to that of someone who has been granted asylum, but different countries have different rules on requirements for registering residency. 

The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that 1 million Ukrainians have already left the country and this number is expected to increase in the coming days as Russia intensifies their attacks. 

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, speaking on Sunday, said: “We welcome with open arms those Ukrainians who have to flee from Putin’s bombs and I am proud of the warm welcome that Europeans have given them.

“We are mobilising every effort and every euro to support our Eastern Member States – to host and take care of these refugees.”

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POLITICS

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Germany's investments in defence in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine will transform it into the biggest contributor to NATO in Europe, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday.

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Alongside the United States, Germany is “certainly making the largest contribution” to NATO, Scholz said in an interview with the ARD broadcaster.

Speaking at the close of a summit of leaders from the Group of Seven rich democracies, Scholz said Germany was in the process of creating “the largest conventional army within the NATO framework in Europe”.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Scholz announced a 100-billion-euro ($105-billion) fund to beef up Germany’s military defences and offset decades of chronic underfunding.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Bundestag approves €100 billion fund to beef up defences

He also promised to meet NATO’s target of spending two percent of GDP on defence, answering years of criticism from close allies that Berlin was failing to contribute enough to the alliance.

Russia’s invasion had led to a renewed conviction “that we should spend more money on defence”, Scholz said.

“We will spend an average of around 70 to 80 billion euros a year on defence over the next few years,” he said, meaning “Germany is the country that invests the most in this”.

Scholz’s announcement in February was seen as a major policy shift, upending Germany’s traditionally cautious approach to defence as a result of its post-war guilt.

Germany had steadily reduced the size of its army since the end of the Cold War from around 500,000 at the time of reunification in 1990 to just 200,000.

NATO allies are from Tuesday gathering in Madrid for a summit, where the United States is expected to announce new long-term military deployments across Europe.

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