EU’s support for Ukraine will continue, but it “is also linked to the urgent need to enhance the rule of law and develop the fight against corruption,” the EU’s top diplomat wrote on Wednesday (23 September) amid growing concerns of stalling reforms and attack on anti-graft institutions in the post-Soviet country.
In the past six years, the EU hopeful has received an “unprecedented” €14 billion in support from the bloc, during a decade that saw revolution and a war in the east that has so far claimed 13,000 lives and displaced 2.4 million people.
Ukraine has also been hard hit by the coronavirus, with a 11.4% drop in GDP in the second quarter of the year and a new peak in cases since the beginning of the autumn.
“However, not all of Ukraine’s actual difficulties are related to COVID-19,” the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, wrote in his blog after his first visit to the country on Tuesday.
Despite initial fast-paced reforms, there has been a growing concern from civil society and international partners that the parliamentary majority of comedian-turned-president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has lost willingness to press on with completing the reboot of Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt judicial system and its anti-graft bodies.
“First months in office were characterised by a ‘turbo regime’ with the Parliament quickly adopting long-stalled reforms. However, according to many observers, the pace of reforms has slowed down recently, including on the implementation of the Association Agreement commitments [to the EU],” Borrell wrote.
The EU foreign affairs chief added that the spring government reshuffle had “sent worrying signals over the readiness to resist vested interests.”
“This being said, President Zelenskiy continues to be a source of hope: citizens still expect him to deliver on reforms and promises of change for which he was elected.”
“As I told the President [of Ukraine], the European Union is not a charity or a cash machine: the best way for us to support Ukraine is to help reforming the country. But only the Ukrainians themselves can implement those reforms,” the Spanish chief of the EU diplomacy added.
The Union’s chief representative abroad lamented the lack of “criminal prosecution in the PrivatBank case,” referring to a $5.6 billion hole left in the finances of Ukraine’s largest bank, due to lending practices under the ownership of oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.
In July, the bloc signed an agreement with Ukraine for €1.2 billion in the form of highly favourable loans designed to improve the country’s ailing finances, as a complement to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) support.
However, the European Commission earlier said that the loan programme “could be jeopardised” should the IMF consider its own arrangements with Kyiv “off-track.”
Borrell “reminded” Zelensky that the loans comes with conditions “concerning the enhancement of the rule of law and anti-corruption reforms.”
“I insisted in particular on the necessity to ensure transparent, merit-based and de-politicised selection processes for the anti-corruption authorities.”
A vote last week on a members of the commission tasked with selecting the new chief anti-corruption prosecutor – one of the three legs of Ukraine’s Western-backed anti-corruption architecture together with an investigative agency a dedicated anti-graft court — prompted an outcry from watchdogs who said the chosen candidates lacked “necessary anti-corruption experience and integrity.”
A bit more information on members of the scandalous Selection Commission of new SAPO head. They lack the necessary anti-corruption experience and integrity. https://t.co/rInM2VoXq8
— AntAC (@ANTAC_ua) September 18, 2020
The vote came after Ukraine’s top court dealt another blow to the country’s corruption-fighting infrastructure by striking down several provisions of the law forming the legal basis for the anti-graft agency.
The chief of the Ukrainian parliament’s anti-corruption committee, Anastasiia Radina, said the biggest danger to the anti-graft infrastructure is “that some Ukrainian oligarchs have allied with pro-Russian forces inside and outside the parliament in attacking anti corruption institutions.”
“I have to say, in my opinion, I think it is time the European Union uses the leverage it has the leverage of micro financial assistance, the leverage of political and diplomatic assistance that is given to Ukraine,” the former an anti-corruption activist said at an event in Wednesday.
“My feeling is that if this leverage is neglected at this stage, there will be simply no more leverage with this government for as long as this government stands.”
Edited by Georgi Gotev