PAIC conference in Berlin discusses the relationship between the European Union and Ukraine
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 TEXTY.org.ua, 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).