Keeping up Appearances: How Europe is Supporting Ukraine’s Transformation

12:02 PM 8-12-2016

The report by Gustav Gressel was presented in Kyiv on October 6 with the support of the Institute of World PolicyFull text is available on ECFR web-site


Don’t let the Minsk process detract from reform efforts. The Minsk process focuses too much effort on transforming the war in the Donbas from a full-scale armoured manoeuvre war into a sitting-war. The Minsk format is still useful to deal with practical issues on the front line, and to keep up dialogue between the warring parties, but the Minsk agreement does not provide a proper roadmap to peace nor is progress on implementation a precondition for military de-escalation. However, particularly France and Germany, but also the US and the EU, have invested a lot of diplomatic leverage and pressure to push the political agenda (elections, special-status law) of Minsk. If the same effort had been devoted to pushing Ukraine on reforms – especially on reforming the judiciary as described above – there would have been much more progress in Ukraine by now, and the Donbas would be in more or less the same situation.
Communicate Minsk progress with the Ukrainian public. The Minsk II implementation process was diplomatically well-coordinated, but represented a communication failure of the first order – both on the part of the West (above all by France and Germany, but also the US to some extent) and that of the Ukrainian government, particularly President Petro Poroshenko. The West failed to explain the agreement to a wider audience in Ukraine – particularly lawmakers and reformers – or to engage with those who shape public opinion about its merits and shortfalls. The discrepancy between public statements from the French and German foreign ministers, and contradictions between their respective negotiation teams in the Minsk implementation groups, has created unnecessary confusion. If Europe wants to pressure Ukraine on Minsk, it first needs to reassure Ukrainian society – not just diplomats – that the separatists will neither gain influence in Kyiv, nor be able to use the process to gain military advantage. Without this, there will be no public support for the agreement.
Focus on reform of the judiciary. All other reforms on domestic issues, including the fight against corruption, will be unsustainable if the judiciary remains in its current state. The top priorities should be abolishing the influence of political affiliation on promotions within the judiciary, removing the strict hierarchical structure of the judiciary, paying competitive salaries, and introducing independent disciplinary commissions to deal with complaints of corruption against judges.
Push harder for specialised reform-implementation bodies in each Ukrainian ministry. Deputy-ministers and high-level officials in the ministries are too busy with their other duties to effectively dedicate time to pushing through reforms. Instead, there should be special bodies focusing on this task – particularly on core reforms such as reform of the judiciary, decentralisation, and administrative reform. The EU and the EBRD are negotiating the installation of specific programme coordination officers in each ministry. This would be an important step forward; however, the current deadlock over financial oversight of the programme needs to be overcome.
Embed European diplomats and experts into Ukrainian administrative structures. Embedding European experts into Ukraine’s state structures would give the EU insight into the process of implementing reforms, shorten feedback loops, and assist the Ukrainian bureaucracy in its transition to European standards and procedures. On the expert-level, EU-Twinning – sending administrative personnel to a partner country to assists the practical implementation of EU laws and regulation – is a first step. For the time being, such experts are only provided by a handful of member states, but this should be a much more common phenomenon.
Continue to support rural development. In the wake of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) agreement and decentralisation-reform, Ukraine’s rural areas will undergo an enormous transformation. Public services and administrative structures will be closed as decentralisation reform gets underway, and the new business regulations and product certification procedures – particularly European food-safety standards for agriculture-products – will be more difficult for small- and medium-sized farms and enterprises to implement. Hence, programmes for rural development are crucial to support the transition of businesses in these regions and to keep up public support for the reform process. This is especially true for Ukraine’s eastern regions, which are hit hard by Russia’s economic sanctions. The programmes on rural development and agricultural transition that the EU currently has in place are one of the unsung success stories of EU support for Ukraine, and the expansion and reinforcement of these efforts should be encouraged.
Support small and medium enterprises. To aid Ukraine’s economic transition and the process of de-oligarchisation, support for SMEs is essential. In a time of financial uncertainty, loan-guarantee funds are one measure that the EU could easily and effectively implement. Supporting SMEs is a way that donors could provide assistance without becoming involved in Ukrainian politics.
Step up efforts to reform the Ukrainian armed forces. The Ukrainian armed forces have already been the subject of reform, and progress made in this field exceeds that of all other state-agencies. Still, there are areas that need improvement and the country is still at war. There is room for improvement in operational and tactical planning, leadership-techniques, tactical training, and CIMIC. There are also shortfalls in equipment and technology, particularly on safe communication, electronic warfare, C² systems, anti-tank defence, and artillery tracking technology. Contrary to the opinion held in Europe, Minsk is not the guarantee of relative peace in Ukraine: deterrence through a more effective Ukrainian army is.
Be open to lethal aid, if conditions are met. The EU should deliver lethal aid, on the condition that certain reforms are made in Ukraine’s defence sector — particularly reforms of logistical structures, procurement, control, oversight and disciplinary processes, and reform of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) — rather than “geopolitical” considerations vis-à-vis Moscow.
Stick to commitments. If the EU agrees to deliver Ukraine certain benefits in exchange for progress on reforms, it must stick to its promises once Ukraine fulfils the relevant criteria. The postponement of the visa liberalisation process due to difficulties in Europe such as the refugee crisis, Brexit, and the rise of populism, despite the fact that Ukraine had met the requirements, was one of the biggest blunders the EU has made since Maidan. The EU’s stalling on visa liberalisation did great harm to the credibility of both the Union and the reformists themselves.
Be blunt about the shortcomings of Ukraine’s reforms. European diplomats should take Ambassador Jan Tombinski as their example and be as straightforward as possible when pointing the finger at those responsible for delaying reforms. Only by doing this can real progress can be made.