As predicted by experts, the European Commission on June 17 recommended that Ukraine be granted EU candidate status. Although the final decision is to be made at the EU summit on June 23-24, such a signal indicates that the meeting will end positively for us.
"We have one clear message, and that is: Yes, Ukraine deserves a European perspective. Yes, Ukraine should be welcomed as a candidate country. This is on the understanding that good work has been done, but important work also remains to be done," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, adding that Kyiv must take a number of steps.
Here is their list:
enact and implement legislation on a selection procedure for judges of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, including a pre-selection process based on evaluation of their integrity and professional skills, in line with Venice Commission recommendations;
finalize the integrity vetting of the candidates for the High Council of Justice members by the Ethics Council and the selection of candidate to establish the High Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine;
further strengthen the fight against corruption, in particular at high level, through proactive and efficient investigations, and a credible track record of prosecutions and convictions; complete the appointment of a new head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office through certifying the identified winner of the competition and launch and complete the selection process and appointment for a new Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine;
ensure that anti-money laundering legislation is in compliance with the standards of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF); adopt an overarching strategic plan for the reform of the entire law enforcement sector as part of Ukraine's security environment;
implement the Anti-Oligarch law to limit the excessive influence of oligarchs in economic, political, and public life; this should be done in a legally sound manner, taking into account the forthcoming opinion of the Venice Commission on the relevant legislation;
tackle the influence of vested interests by adopting a media law that aligns Ukraine's legislation with the EU audio-visual media services directive and empowers the independent media regulator;
finalize the reform of the legal framework for national minorities currently under preparation as recommended by the Venice Commission, and adopt immediate and effective implementation mechanisms
Ukrinform asked experts whether these conditions are feasible for us. How long may it take to implement these requirements? Will we have time to meet the deadline set by the European Commission? After all, which points will it be easier to implement and which ones will it be more difficult to implement, and why?
"Most of these conditions are our internal tasks, with which we have certain internal political problems, or our commitments on reforms in the field of justice and anti-corruption policy, which we have not fulfilled on time. In other words, this is what should have been done yesterday," said political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko.
According to him, it is necessary to draw up a schedule to fulfil these conditions. It is logical that it should be drafted jointly and mutually monitored by the Office of the President, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, and the leadership of the Verkhovna Rada, Fesenko said.
"The schedule will be quite busy. For each requirement, it is necessary to clearly state what should be done, who should do it and when it should be done," the expert said. He also added: "What is stated in the recommendations of the European Commission is our first homework, relatively speaking for the summer and autumn semester. The deadline has also been set - by the end of the year. The content of the first package of tasks is quite voluminous, but we can do it. If not one hundred percent, then we can definitely do it 80-90 percent."
However, it would be better to show the maximum result. Rather, it is a test for the future of how we will be able to move forward.
"Then we will have negotiations with the EU on the necessary structural reforms and their implementation, bringing our legislation to EU standards. This is a huge amount of work. According to the experience of countries that have successfully passed the path to EU membership, the negotiations on reforms and the implementation of these reforms take at least five or six years, and the path from candidate status to EU accession takes about ten years. But if there is a delay in reforms, unsatisfactory results in the process of their implementation, the path to the European Union may be much longer," Fesenko said.
Some Western Balkan countries received EU candidate status about 15 years ago and have not yet come close to joining the European Union. We must also remember this sad experience and not repeat the mistakes of these countries.
"It seems to me that it is easier to implement points that relate to legislative changes. There is now a consensus in the Verkhovna Rada on European integration. The main thing is to work quickly and qualitatively on the relevant bills and agree on their content with our partners in the EU. It may make sense to create joint working groups. And you can vote according to the expedited procedure," the political scientist said. "There are some procedural problems with the appointment of a new head of the Specialized Anti-Prosecutor's Office. But now, I think, this problem can be solved. As for the verification by the Ethics Council of the integrity of candidates for members of the High Council of Justice and the selection of candidates for the establishment of the High Qualifications Commission of Judges of Ukraine, it's hard to say. Here it is necessary to ask those who are involved in the activities of the concerned institutions. It was in this area that the opposition of the 'judicial mafia' was felt. Maybe in times of war, it will be a little easier to overcome [this opposition]."
But there are also bureaucratic procedures. And it is with them that failures can occur, as was the case with the competition for the selection of the head of the Specialized Anti-Prosecutor's Office. But if we need to focus on these issues, they can also be addressed.
"A lot of people say now that the war is holding back a lot of things. I do not agree with this at all. The war is by no means a factor that will not allow us to fulfill the tasks set by the European Commission. Because they have, so to speak, a 'continuing effect' and we started implementing these tasks much earlier. Now they have just been spelled out more clearly -- as a summary of what we need to complete. This is the first point," said political scientist Ihor Reiterovych.
The second point, he said, is that all the requirements set by the European Commission can be implemented directly at the level of the President of Ukraine (the appointment of the head of the SAP), the judiciary (the selection of judges) or the Verkhovna Rada (the adoption of amendments to the current legislation).
"So this is not a problem that requires a special end to the war, the return of territories, and so on. These are things of such an institutional nature. They can be implemented even during the war. By the way, the parliament speaker has already said that the Verkhovna Rada has established effective work: MPs first discuss all important issues via Zoom for 7-8 hours, then they are submitted to the session hall, voted on and… thus decisions are made."
Therefore, all this is finally reduced to a simple but very ephemeral concept called "political will."
"And if there is political will […] then we can appoint the head of the SAP even tomorrow. The person has been selected, the competitions are over. All that needs to be done is the signature of the head of state. The situation with judicial reform is somewhat more complicated, as the High Council of Justice revolted, sabotaged and so on. But, again, the war here opens up certain prospects: all those who left and did not return to work and those who dishonestly perform their duties can be dismissed, and their positions can be occupied by those who even during the war performed their duties in the context of litigation, etc."
And again, this is a matter of weeks, maximum months, but certainly not years.
"Therefore, the deadline until the end of 2022 is not something impossible," Reiterovych said.
He says there may be some problems with the anti-oligarch law. Why?
"It's not about the register of oligarchs, but about something more specific, taking into account the [opinion of the] Venice Commission. And there is another important clarification 'within the judicial system,' which means it should be a legal act, rather than a decision of the National Security and Defense Council. But this can be solved, for example, by introducing amendments to the antitrust legislation or by passing a law on lobbying. I emphasize that this is a matter of months, not years," the political expert added.
In general, Reiterovych said the list of conditions from the European Commission is adequate and justified, as the issues of the rule of law, the fight against corruption, etc. are fundamentally important to the EU.
"And again, this list is quite realistic to complete by the end of 2022. What else would I add? I think that in addition to the list, we also need to bring real cases against high-ranking officials who have been detained for corruption to a logical conclusion. Again, the authorities, as they say, have all the cards in their hands. There are decisions on Trukhin, Kuzmin and so on. If these cases go to court and verdicts are handed down (no matter what, the main thing is that the procedure is completed), this will also be a positive thing for us as we can tell the European Commission that we are fighting corruption not only in words, but in deeds," Reiterovych summed up.
Political scientist Oleh Saakian also said that there is nothing impossible for Kyiv in these requirements.
"The implementation of these points depends solely on political will. There is not a single point that is impossible for us, which makes them quite realistic. Some of these requirements may even be implemented in the coming days - the Verkhovna Rada will vote for them. That is, the whole list of requirements of the European Union is quite adequate. In general, we can say that Europe does not put a spoke in our wheel in this issue. This is an absolutely predictable and minimum package of requirements, which is positively seen even by the Ukrainian-skeptical part of European society," the expert concluded.
So, everything is in our hands. If we were able to withstand the first, most difficult days of the war, we will also be able to meet the EU requirements.
Myroslav Liskovych, Kyiv
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