PAIC conference in Berlin discusses the relationship between the European Union and Ukraine

PAIC conference in Berlin

On 8 June 2018 the first PAIC conference on the topic “The European Union and Ukraine: How to enhance the cooper­ation and maintain the reform process?” took place within the framework of the project “Platform for Analytics and Inter­cul­tural Commu­ni­cation” (PAIC) at the premises of the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Germany in Berlin.

Ukraine is under­going a profound trans­for­mation process since the change of government in 2014 and the entry into force of the associ­ation agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. The imple­men­tation of the associ­ation agreement does not only foresee the adoption of the EU acquis by Ukraine but is also accom­panied by reforms in all policy areas which are supported by the European side with financial, technical and advisory assis­tance. And although the Ukrainian government initiated more reforms during the past three years than in the previous two decades, pressure from civil society and external European partners is essential to make the reform efforts a long-term success. A continuous stream of infor­mation to the general public is just as important in this process as visible and apparent improvement in the daily life.

In the light of the trans­for­mation in both an EU bordering state and priority partner of the Eastern Partnership, this year’s Ukraine conference focused on the question: In which areas can the cooper­ation between the European Union and Ukraine be deepened and how can the reforms be made sustainable?

The relationship between Ukraine and the European Union rests on solid founda­tions

The European Union is very inter­ested in a successful progress of reforms and a moderni­sation of the Ukrainian state, as Richard Kühnel, Director of the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Germany, empha­sised in his central message in his opening remarks. The reforms were important to provide the public visible improve­ments and develop Ukraine’s economic potential. The European Union will continue to support and accompany this process. Dr. Katrin Böttger, Director of the Institute for European Politics (IEP), addressed in her welcome note the various projects of the IEP, which are active in strength­ening the civil society and insti­tu­tional capac­ities in Ukraine. Iryna Tybinka, Minister-Counsellor of the Embassy of Ukraine to Germany, also highlighted the central role of the Ukrainian relations with the European Union and Germany in particular and pointed to the already imple­mented aspects of the associ­ation agreement, the increased exchange due to visa free regime, and the strong foundation of recip­rocal relationship between Ukraine and the European Union. Even the fight against corruption scored first successes such as the most recent adoption of the law on the Creation of the Supreme Anticor­ruption court. Taras Kachka, Deputy Executive Director of the Inter­na­tional Renais­sance Foundation (IRF), demanded in his welcome address an intense expert dialogue and an increase in research.

Intensive cooper­ation between the European Union and Ukraine 

The first panel discussion chaired by Dr. Katrin Böttger dealt with changes in the Ukrainian public since 2014 and oppor­tu­nities of further cooper­ation. Stefan Schle­uning, Team Leader Financial Cooper­ation of the Support Group for Ukraine at the European Commission, empha­sised the close-knit relations between the European Union and Ukraine including almost weekly high-level meetings and a plurality of sectoral support such as the EU Border Assis­tance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) or the European Union Advisory Mission (EUAM). Empha­sising the uniqueness of the Support Group for which there is no equiv­alent within the entire European Neigh­bourhood Policy (ENP), the close cooper­ation already generated great successes, in that Ukraine underwent more reforms in the past four years than it did since its indepen­dence. Sergiy Solodkyy, first deputy director of New Europe Center, added that a change had taken place both among the political elite as well as among the population. They acknowl­edged the fact that the strategic goal of an accession to the EU is a process that could be reached by many small steps, namely energy union and digital union. External pressure and higher mobility through visa liber­al­i­sation played a crucial role in enforcing the necessary changes.

High impor­tance was attributed to strength­ening civil society by intro­ducing exchange programs for profes­sionals, doctors, nursing stuff, or teachers, as Schle­uning suggested. Wilfried Jilge, program officer at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), recom­mended an increased collab­o­ration in the education sector following a model of a “Marshall Plan for education”. Moreover, the commu­ni­cation with the general public had to be inten­sified as reforms would not be sustainable without the broad support of the population. Jilge pointed out that he sees the change in Germany’s policy towards Ukraine as a great oppor­tunity for the EU-Ukraine relations. After the annex­ation of Crimea by Russia and the military conflict in Donbass, Ukraine became a focus of media interest and a signif­icant topic in the German foreign policy. He finished by saying that it is important to support the judicial reform as it was crucial for all other reforms to be sustainable and called for the European Union to help noticeably improve the living condi­tions of the people by investing in small and medium sised enter­prises (SMEs).

New internal expertise, European partners and civil society as driver of reforms

Having discussed the strategy of “carrots and sticks” as driver of reforms in regard to visa liber­al­i­sation during the first panel, the objective of the second panel, moderated by IEP research associate and PAIC project leader Ljudmyla Melnyk, was to discuss how the pace of reforms could be upheld and supported.

Anton Yashchenko, Executive Director of the Reforms Delivery Office at the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, spoke about the prior­ities of the Ukrainian government. After the macro­eco­nomic stabil­i­sation between 2014 and 2016 and social reforms until 2017 the next three years will focus on economic growth. A number of reforms is planned in this regard including the reform of public admin­is­tration, anti-corruption and judicial reform. First successes became apparent in the areas of e‑government, trans­parency and decen­tral­i­sation. The estab­lishment of direc­torates with more than 1300 officials the new structure of public admin­is­tration anchors policy analysis in the decision making process of ten ministries and raised capac­ities of the government’s internal expertise for reform imple­men­tation. The commu­ni­cation with the population, however, proved to be difficult, as they expected fast results and tangible improve­ments.

Halyna Pastukh, Deputy Director of data journalism and analysis platform, started her keynote speech by empha­sising the impor­tance of open data which she sees as an essential tool for the ability of the civil society to partic­ipate in the political process in an informed and fact-based manner. Although some improve­ments were made with the open data reform in inter­na­tional comparison; however, a lack of technical expertise remains within the admin­is­tration. The majority of available data records were not condi­tioned for machine-readability and incorrect tagging limited their usability.

The perspective of the population was presented in poll results by Iryna Bekeshkina, Director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democ­ratic Initia­tives Foundation (DIF). Accord­ingly, anticor­ruption reform and judicial reform are of highest priority. However, 56% of those surveyed do not see any successful reform in Ukraine. In regard to anticor­ruption measures, 83% do not consider them to be successful which was partly due to an unsys­tematic commu­ni­cation of the reform. In her view, a successful strategy would foresee a close cooper­ation between the civil society and western partners with support from the Ukrainian government in the estab­lishment of an effective commu­ni­cation structure, as only 10% of the population said to be satisfied with the level of provided infor­mation. A poor commu­ni­cation led to distrust and rejection of change. Dr. Susan Stewart, senior researcher at the German Institute for Inter­na­tional and Security Affairs (SWP), supported the idea of commu­ni­cation efforts but noted that the EU itself struggles to efficiently commu­nicate with its population. However, the approach external actors chose towards Ukraine have been subject to change as they learned to gain better estimates of Ukraine’s potential and under­stood the diffi­culties the Ukrainian state has in estab­lishing sustainable insti­tu­tions.

The European Union has developed into the greatest trading partner for Ukraine

The strategic plan of the Ukrainian government foresees reforms for economic growth in the following years. Trade repre­sents a key part of the relations between the European Union and Ukraine. During the third panel, the discut­tants spoke under moder­ation of Taras Kachka, Deputy Executive Director of the Inter­na­tional Renais­sance Foundation (IRF) about economic cooper­ation and answered the question whether a visible improvement of the Ukrainian economy is expected?

Pamela Preusche, Head of Task Force for EU External Relations with Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus and Central Asia at the Federal Foreign Office, noted that positive economic effects will take time to develop. The investment of two billion Euros for technical assis­tance — a sum never granted to a country before — showed, however, the general optimistic view on Ukraine. It was important to ensure that the ultimate goal lies in the achievement of visible improve­ments rather than the formal imple­men­tation of bench marks which was somewhat challenging. Veronika Movchan, academic director of the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting, elabo­rated in her keynote speech on the economic devel­op­ments since the associ­ation agreement went into force. Special emphasis should be placed on the improvement in investment climate by strength­ening property rights as a prereq­uisite for investment, the regulatory approx­i­mation of European norms and practises, as well as the liber­al­i­sation of market access to increase export oppor­tu­nities. As she sees it, risks arise partic­u­larly in protec­tionist tendencies both in Ukraine and the EU-states.

Anton Antonenko, vice president of DiXi Group, outlined the progress made in the energy markt and explained the necessity of public dialogue and expert trainings for the successful imple­men­tation and consis­tency of reforms in the economic and energy spheres. The integration process was a dynamic rather than a deter­mined path and the standing of the European Union as a community of shared values with common interests should be increas­ingly promoted within Ukraine.

Ralf Lowack, project coordi­nator of the European Office at the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, gave an insight into the latest trends in trade between the European Union and Ukraine in the last five years. In this period, the EU became the most important export partner for Ukrainian products and consti­tutes 40% of the country’s exports. The structure of Ukrainian products imported by the EU also showed positive tendencies as they gradually shifted from natural resources to manufac­tured goods.

Ljudmyla Melnyk closed the conference with a short summary of the results and an answer to the question in which areas a closer cooper­ation should be envisaged and what could be done to strengthen the reform process. Ukrainian politi­cians, journalists and the civil society now had a more realistic view on the EU-Ukraine relations and the long road to an option of EU membership. At the same time the knowledge about the European Union and processes within the EU increased among Ukrainians which led to a stronger monitoring of the efficiency of the government. The European Union should build on that progress already made. Key areas such as education, open data or the reform of the public admin­is­tration call for a closer cooper­ation. Likewise, the commu­ni­cation of reforms and assis­tance to experts in devel­oping sustainable reforms based on analysis and commu­nicate results in an effective and trans­parent manner to the population offered a second area of compre­hensive cooper­ation. Especially the latter suggested an enormous potential both for Ukraine and the European Union.

The program of the conference can be found here. A policy memo about the German-Ukrainian relationship was provided by Wilfried Jilge and can be obtained under the following link. The presen­ta­tions of the speakers Anton Yashchenko, Iryna Bekeshkina, and Halyna Pastukh from the second panel as well as from Veronika Movchan, Anton Antonenko and Ralf Lowack from the third panel are now available online.

An overview of activ­ities and results of the project PAIC in 2017 and 2018 are summarised in the following video:

The conference took place within the framework of the project “Platform for Analytics and Inter­cul­tural Commu­ni­cation” (PAIC) which promotes Ukrainian think tank environment and foresees a sustainable exchange between German and Ukrainian experts and researchers. The project is conducted by the Institute for European Politics (IEP, Berlin) in cooper­ation with the Inter­na­tional Renais­sance Foundation (IRF, Kyiv), the Ilko Kucheriv Democ­ratic Initia­tives Foundation (DIF, Kyiv), and the think tank initiative „think twice UA“ (Kyiv), supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.

The conference was organised in cooper­ation with the Embassy of Ukraine to the Federal Republic of Germany (Berlin), the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Germany (Berlin) and the Inter­na­tional Renais­sance Foundation (IRF, Kyiv).