By Iverson Ng
The 18th EU-Ukraine summit was held in late November with an EU financial assistance of further €104million(about HKD860,000,000) for public administration reform in Ukraine and a discussion on how to further implement the ceasefire agreement between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian militia, or the so-called Minsk II Agreement. Moreover, the European Council and the European Parliament agreed on visa-liberalization for Ukrainian citizens travelling to the EU, yet a formal approval for the proposal will be needed. In spite of the progress of strengthening the EU-Ukraine relations, the possibility of an EU membership for Ukraine is far from realization.
Ukraine, a non-EU state, has been the spotlight of European politics since the pro-European movement in November 2013. The movement escalated into a revolution as at least 88 people died and hundreds were injured in mid-February 2014. After the end of the Ukrainian Revolution, the new government signed an EU-Ukraine Association Agreement to provide a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, strengthening the tie between Ukraine and the EU politically and economically. The Agreement seems to be a green light for Ukraine to establish a closer relationship with the EU, yet the road to be a member of the Union may take years, if not decades.
National issues ahead of EU membership
According to the EU enlargement policy, there are three main stages for joining the EU. Any country that aspires to join the Union must be first in compliance with the core values of the EU in five areas: the rule of law, freedom of expression and media, civil society, regional cooperation, and economic governance. Once the country is officially recognized by the EU as a candidate country, it can move on to formal membership negotiations. The country has to prepare to implement and enforce EU rules in 35 different policy fields (the “acquis”) in order to fulfill the conditions for membership. The candidate country will be part of the European Union after it has won the support of the EU Council, the Commission and the European Parliament, along with signatures from the candidate country and all EU countries’ representatives as well as ratifications by the candidate country and every EU country, according to their constitutional rules.
As the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine has been going on for two and a half years, the territorial integrity of Ukraine is undermined by a group of pro-Russian militia in Luhansk and Donetsk regions who declared independence from Ukraine illegally. If Ukraine wants to be part of the EU, it must first restore stability and regain full independence from external forces which undermine its sovereignty.
Let alone the military conflicts of eastern Ukraine, the corruption issue remains severe as the Corruption Perceptions Index of Ukraine ranks 130/168, according to the anti-corruption agency Transparency International. The seriousness of corruption means ineffective governance and inefficient implementations of different policies. The Ukrainian government recently appointed a 24-year-old former Ukrainian MP assistant as the new Deputy Minister for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine and a 23-year-old recent law graduate as the temporary head of the Justice Ministry’s department of “lustration”, which targets corrupted government officials. Yet, the latest appointments received more skeptics than supporters as the new appointees are “young” with “little experience”.
The Ukrainian government has been undergoing a series of reforms including anti-corruption measures, constitutional and parliamentary reforms, economic policies, and decentralization. Newly established National Anti-Corruption Bureau started investigations of high-level corruption cases and the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption launched electronic asset declaration system in September 2016 to improve transparency. Amendments to the law on asset management and recovery introduced in June will make it easier to identify, trace and manage assets obtained from illegal activities.
To reform the government, the Ukrainian parliament adopted constitutional amendments for the merger of municipalities and fiscal decentralization in the first reading, but the second reading is still pending. For the improvement of transparency, it becomes more accessible for the public to obtain information along with an empowered Ombudsperson’s office to oversee this process.
Ukraine is stabilizing its economy by implementing macroeconomic policies and financial and technical assistance with EU’s provision of a €3.4billion (about HKD 28 billion) in the macro-financial assistance programme. Looking ahead, the EU will support Ukraine’s new anti-corruption bodies and the monitoring of anti-corruption efforts by the parliament and civil society with €15 million (about HKD124,000,000), decentralization with €97million (about HKD800,000,000) and rule of law with €52.5million (about HKD433,000,000).
Ukraine and Eastern Partnership
Currently Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova are part of the Eastern Partnership, a joint initiative which aims at strengthening bilateral cooperation between the EU and its eastern neighbors and fosters commitment to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms in those countries. So far, none of the countries in the Eastern Partnership is recognized as a potential candidate or candidate country of the EU.