Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, the chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on EU Integration
Statements being made that we will become a full-fledged member of the European Union in two years’ time are outright lie and manipulation
09.06.2024 19:17

Ukrainians are watching each step that brings us closer to European integration as if they are watching episodes of an exciting series. All of the country was watching the EU authorizing the start of accession talks with Ukraine in late December 2023. For many people, there are heroes and anti-heroes in this saga. At the end of June, we are going to watch a new episode of this series, which is the European Commission’s endorsement of a draft Negotiating Framework on Ukraine’s accession to the European Union. Ukrinform has talked to Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, the chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on EU Integration, to find out why it’s important to get this decision made right now, what challenges Ukraine will have to overcome on its path to European integration, and why this path will not be easy.

- The Office of the President of Ukraine has recently reported that Ukraine had already completed all four legislative steps set out by the European Commission in the Enlargement Package, a prerequisite for the start of European Union accession talks. What are the four legislative steps in question, and how did the Verkhovna Rada fair in tackling this work?

- Indeed, all of us at different levels of the Ukrainian government and civil society are making every effort to make sure a decision approving a draft Negotiating Framework for Ukraine is made by the end of June. And this would herald the giving of official greenlight to our negotiations with the European Union.

Why is it important that the decision be made by the end of June? Because Hungary will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union from Belgium, and, unfortunately, Hungary has already made it clear that facilitating Ukraine’s EU integration will not be a priority for Budapest. It has already announced its priorities for the EU presidency, and we are not there among those priorities. This taken into account, it is important not to lose the pace and time, which is critical for the country’s transformation effort.

We are very much hopeful that the intergovernmental conference set for the end of June, which will follow the European Parliament elections, will endorse the Negotiating Framework.

Has Ukraine done its homework? We all had to tackle seven tasks to qualify for the decision that had granted us EU candidate status. We must understand that these tasks were not just seven draft laws or seven executive decisions, but each of them was divided into separate subtasks. When it comes to these four additional tasks, they arose from the seven tasks that we had been unable to get completed by last December, when a policy decision was made that Ukraine could proceed to the next phase, which is accession talks.

As a matter of fact, Ukraine, in particular the Verkhovna Rada, had done its part of the job by the end of March. These were the laws addressing the lobbying issue among others. There were other issues addressed by the government, related to the implementation of amendments to the legislation on ethnic minorities. This all, along with the anti-corruption measures insofar as they pertain to law enforcement agencies and judiciary, was supposed to be taken into account by the European Commission while making the final decision. And at the end of March, the EC made the following recommendation to the European Council - they recommended endorsing the draft Negotiating Framework for Ukraine.

But, unfortunately, it is not 100 percent certain that this decision will be there by the end of June, and this has nothing to do with whether Ukraine has completed its homework or not. Every step on our path to European integration is continuously undermined to some extent by the position of one of the European Union member states, Hungary.

For example, we see how Hungary is currently once again blocking a decision on the use of proceeds from immobilized Russian assets for the purchase of weapons for Ukraine.

- Can there be any other internal issues in the European Union that may prevent such a decision from being made?

- From what we hear from our partners, no other country, except Hungary, is now opposed to the opening of accession talks.

For the time being, the European Parliament and the European Commission, as well as the majority of member states, are clearly in favor of such a decision.

- Let's go back to our homework on European integration, which we should have done... Your colleague, People's Deputy Yaroslav Zheleznyak wrote in one of his recent articles for The Kyiv Independent that "since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, the Verkhovna Rada has not rejected nor sent for further elaboration any of the proposed draft laws relating to the IMF Memorandum or the World Bank’s Economic Recovery Development Policy Loan (DPL) or a EU program". He believes that questions about the "irrepressible thirst for reforms" should be asked to other organizations, not just the Verkhovna Rada. Are other branches of government those who are holding back reforms needed for European integration?

- I would like to assign Grade 1 out of 10 for the work the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada has done in the field of European integration, but this would not be entirely true.

I will not agree with my colleague because, for example, one of the measures we carried out as part of the seven steps that enabled the decision granting us the EU candidate status was the law on changing the approaches to the selection judges for the Constitutional Court. When I spoke from the rostrum in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine in December 2022, I explained to my colleagues that what was proposed for adoption at that time was totally incompliant with the conclusion of the Venice Commission, and we will have to get it redone.

Our colleagues from the majority coalition were trying to get us convinced that they had agreed this with the European Commission, that, they claimed, it is fully in line with the Venice Commission’s conclusion and that what I and my colleagues said in their speeches at parliament have nothing to do with reality.

Life has proved that, after seven months, before the European Union decided to proceed to the next phase, we anyway had to revise this legislation.

Therefore, I would like us to heed to expert opinions, to those who meticulously follow the true requirements set by the European Union, and not to allow such blunders any more. In this matter, we will not be able to pass between the droplets.

We will have to be, as folks say, holier than the Pope so that skeptics in the European Union member states have no arguments against.

Certain political forces in the European Union – far-right, far-left - will use any of our errors, shortcomings or flaws to put the brakes on Ukraine’s movement towards integration into the European Union. It is therefore crucial that we end these games and move forward in a truly systematic manner.

In addition, we at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine still do not have an established algorithm for the adoption of European integration laws. For two years now, we have been guided by a Verkhovna Rada resolution that is interim and should have been transferred into the Rada procedural code a long time ago. We should have established a practice under which our Committee on EU integration, for example, not only has the right, but responsibility to check draft laws for compliance with the European Union’s legislation, in particular, in preparation for the second reading.

It is, regrettably, very often that, between the first and second readings, lots of amendments emerge that spoil something that was called European integration at the beginning, when this or that draft law was submitted.

This is also a really big challenge, which is to create an effective institutional capacity in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Today, our Committee, the Committee’s secretariat, and the relevant committees in Rada are lacking such a capacity. We have to work on this matter.

Because of this, it’s not always that the Verkhovna Rada fulfills its tasks on the first try or with high responsibility. I think that it is too early for the Verkhovna rada to rest on the laurels.

The situation surrounding the Accounting Chamber is another example. For the time being, this has not been part of the specific requirements set by the European Union, but the G7 ambassadors and the European Union’s ambassador have made it clear: do not appoint additional people to the Accounting Chamber until you change the selection rules for the candidates; do not terminate the powers of the current members of the Accounting Chamber until you change the rules for recruiting new employees; do not turn the Accounting Chamber, which is responsible for the quality of use, monitoring and analysis of budgetary funds, into a lame duck.

And what do we have now, unfortunately? An Accounting Chamber that is unable to make decisions. It is not helpful for our European integration aspirations.

I would like the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine as a legislature, a body of various political parties, from the majority coalition in the first place, to take a more responsible approach to the tasks it faces, which are going to become increasingly more difficult.

Indeed, we have now done everything that was expected of us, but we cannot make next decisions working in the same emergency mode.

- At one time, Albania had to get artificial intelligence engaged in screening the country's legislation for compliance with the European legislation, because Albania was lacking a sufficient number of legal experts and translators to do this job. On this January 25, a similar process for screening Ukrainian legislation was launched in Brussels. How does this process go?

- First and foremost, Ukrainian government officials are a little bit deceptive when they loudly announce that the screening has already got underway. No one has started the screening yet. It will not get started until after decisions are made to endorse the Negotiating Framework and open accession talks with the European Union.

Today, several months into the year, introductory briefings on screening procedures have been held. The European Commission explains to specialist employees in the Ukrainian government how the screening should be done. We must give credit to the European Commission for making these briefings open to members of public organizations, people's deputies, secretariat employees, and aides to people's deputies.

We are being told and explained how this assessment will be conducted in terms of different chapters and clusters according to which accession talks will be held. I’m hopeful that relevant decision will be made some day in July, thus enabling us to proceed to the screening process as such.

As a matter of fact, we are still very far from having the full array of European legislation translated into Ukrainian. The European Union has allowed us to use a specialized program, the Eurolex, which helps translate legislation. This program contains Ukrainian legislative acts, which will enable us to have access to a translation database with which specialists will then have to work. This is not a technical translation. We must appreciate that there are concepts in the European Union’s directives and regulations that are particularly important to translate correctly.

As far as our committee is concerned, we have already filed four or five requests with top parliament leaders to recruit more employees for our committee’s secretariat. Regrettably, these requests have remained unanswered. Inside the Verkhovna Rada, there has been created a kind of chaotic system.  But truth to be said, the Verkhovna Rada has a project sponsored by the European Union, named the European Integration Office. But this is just an interim project that in no way contributes to the Verkhovna Rada’s institutional capacity. But this is not an interim story, we should appreciate it.

In the Verkhovna Rada and government agencies alike we need to have experts who will not only be able to participate in negotiations now, to analyze legislation, but will also help in the work of the next parliament convocation and the next government. In my estimation, this is one of the prime challenges we will face.

I do hope that the Ukrainian civil society will continue to be as laboriously involved in this endeavor as it was when filling out the questionnaire on the EU candidate status for Ukraine, and will provide its expertise. But without the appropriate training of employees at the national, regional and local levels, it will be difficult for us to cope with the volume of the tasks that will face us not only at the stage of legislation screening and evaluation, but also at the stage of reforms, transformation of the country and implementation of the Verkhovna Rada’s decisions.

- You once said, in an interview, that "it is worth realizing that the path to European integration will be nothing like a red carpet road." What obstacles do you think we may face in the near term when accession talks begin?

- If you ask me, we should be very honest with the Ukrainian society. Any of the statements being made that we will become full-fledged members of the European Union or be fully ready for EU membership in two years’ time are inconsistent with reality. This is a lie, an outright lie and manipulation.

We need to take responsible approaches to what expectations we are creating in the Ukrainian society in order to be able to retain the high level of support for the progress in our European integration that we currently have.

We must also understand that we will have to make difficult decisions, which in our case will be superimposed on the extremely painful war experience. No other country that became a candidate, then member of the European Union, came up through what we did. Some decisions will be painful in the short term, for example, but beneficial for the Ukrainian society in the medium and long term.

It will be necessary to explain this, get as many different actors as possible engaged so that we all discuss it together, see where there are pros and where are the cons, how much it will cost in terms of additional resources, deferred decisions, or transitional periods, so that we can move forward sustainably.

This is why the first thing we need is transparency and honesty in this discussion. Second is the training of specialist employees. Third is the European Union’s willingness to carry out internal reforms. They in the European Union realize that they need to revise and update their current policies in the fields such as agriculture or structural funds from which money is provided to those countries that are less developed in order to "pull them up" to the countries that are better developed in some or other respect.

Because today, if the EU norms are followed, Ukraine would be able to request 14 billion euros worth of subsidies for agriculture and some 9 billion euros in funding from structural funds. It is clear that the EU member states will probably not be ready for such huge infusions exclusive for Ukraine. Therefore, they are now thinking about revising their policies, and it will also be a difficult process for us, because we will have to compete. We already can see this all going on now as Polish farmers are blockading truck traffic on Poland-Ukraine border checkpoints.

Something of this arises from objective factors, but something is heated up deliberately and without any ground. We must appreciate that competitors will put sticks in our wheels, and we must be ready to defend our interests in order to enter the European Union as a strong and successful member of this community. It is going to be a big challenge among others. We will have to choose on which aspects to focus for protecting this or that sector of our economy, and where we will have to be more flexible.

One more challenge that will be very difficult for us to tackle, I think, is the Green Deal. Indeed, it is a necessity to switch over to alternative energy generating capacities, to use different approaches to regulating various businesses such as garbage and waste processing, for example. Here in Ukraine, however, we must also understand that the fulfillment of these requirements will be complicated, again, by the war aftermath. We have tens of thousands of square kilometers of mine contaminated areas, and we have to clean up the dire aftermath of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant disaster. That’s to say, this all will be a difficult part of the negotiating process for us, where we will have to defend our need for additional support.

- In summing this up, let me ask you a broader question that I think you will be able to answer, given your competences. What is the role the parliamentary diplomacy has to play in the European integration process now? How much is it important to get people's deputies engaged in the EU accession talks, and what can they do to help?

- We have been in debate with the government and parliament leaders regarding the expediency of including people's deputies in the working groups that will draft Ukrainian proposals on different matters and aspects. There is a temptation to invite several people's deputies to join these working groups. And then, when a comprehensive draft law on European integration is submitted for Verkhovna Rada’s consideration, they will say: the deputies who participated in the working groups never warned that it would be difficult. I would like this situation to be avoided, so that we have a transparent, understandable, and responsible dialogue going on between the government and the parliament at the level of relevant committees, our committee, perhaps the conciliation council, which will end with a common solution.

As for parliamentary diplomacy, I believe that one of the factors that enabled the EU’s decision to grant Ukraine a candidate status was that all of the country, at all levels of government, was involved in these advocacy processes. We worked both with European institutions and with individual member states. It is crucial for us to understand that decisions on each subsequent phase in our progress towards European integration will require a consensus among each and all of the European Union member states. All member states of the European Union make their respective decisions based on the mandate given to them by the parliaments of these countries. This means to say that it is critically necessary for us to work with the legislatures of the European Union member states, as well as with the EU institutions - the European Parliament, the European Commission, even with the European Investment Bank at the level of parliamentarians. A failure to understand this would amount to shooting yourself in the foot. Therefore, I would like us to finally remove all of those artificial, illicit obstacles that remain in place. These obstacles arise from the unlawful, recommendatory, let me remind you, decision by the National Security and Defense Council and the unlawful, unconstitutional decision by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, which both impede the work by and restrict travel of people's deputies amid martial law. This is also about the unlawful decisions by the Verkhovna Rada Speaker, who, by his orders, can impose restrictions on travel abroad for people's deputies. This curtails their ability to protect our national interest both in terms of ensuring further support for Ukraine, on various platforms and by various countries, and is detrimental to our European and Euro-Atlantic integration aspirations. This situation must be tackled as a matter of urgency.

Interviewed by Tetyana Pasova

Photo courtesy of Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze

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