EU sees results as Ukraine enacts changes ordered by bloc


In Brussels this week, officials from the European Union and Ukraine will discuss measures that the country has implemented at the bloc’s request. Officials fear that the desire for more measures is waning in Ukraine.  

In Brussels it is largely agreed that Ukraine has introduced more positive measures in the past four years than it had in the previous 20. EU officials are pleased, but they say the country, where some state structures date to the Soviet era, has a long way to go.

The European Union and Ukraine hold a summit once a year to check the country’s progress on measures called for by the bloc. This year’s meeting, the 20th, will take place in Brussels on Monday. Participants include European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

The last two summits were the first and second to end without a final declaration. In 2016, the planned visa-free regime became a contentious issue. France did not want to discuss the issue before the French presidential elections. Ukrainian citizens have only been allowed to enter the EU without visassince June 2017. As one EU official confirmed, there has been no increase in illegal migration from the country.

In 2017, the Netherlands blocked the declaration. Officials were bothered by wording about Ukraine’s “European aspirations,” although this formulation is also in the country’s EU association agreementand any prospect of accession cannot be derived from it.

Both sides expect this year’s summit to end with a statement. “No one can withdraw our European aspirations,” said Mykola Tochytskyi, Ukraine’s ambassador to the European Union. He is expecting the EU to confirm both these aspirations and the bloc’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity at the summit.

‘Very slow progress’

Reforms, as called for by the European Union, will remain the central topic of the summit: in education, pensions and the health system. EU officials are satisfied with the overall pace of implementation. Ukraine has traditionally been a centralist state, and EU observers call the country’s decentralization a success story. Local self-governing bodies now have more powers and receive more tax revenue. However, EU officials are more critical of Ukraine’s fight against corruption. The establishment of an anti-corruption court took more than two years. And the corresponding law establishing jurisdiction was passed only weeks ago. Though EU officials acknowledge a great deal of progress, they are not completely satisfied.

Amanda Paul, an analyst at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre who researches the EU’s foreign policy in Eastern Europe, told DW that Ukraine is nevertheless moving in the right direction.

“It’s making very slow progress,” Paul said. “Sometimes the country takes three steps forward and two steps back. But at least it’s still moving forward.”

Upcoming elections

It is unclear what will happen to the zeal for the European Union’s reforms in Ukraine. Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled in 2019. EU officials are concerned that the electoral campaigns could slow down the reform process. It is also unclear what course Kyiv might take after the elections. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is currently leading the polls, with less than 15 percent support. The current head of state, Poroshenko, is in a group of politicians who can currently expect to get between 5 and 10 percent of the vote apiece.

There is widespread support in Ukraine for maintaining a course of further rapprochement with the European Union. Many even want the country to strive long-term for EU membership. But the bloc’s members are at odds as to whether they should offer Ukraine any prospect of accession.

As a result, Poroshenko has already announced a new strategy. He wants to integrate Ukraine into the European Union “sectorally.” That’s why he has requested the European Commission to study the feasibility of the country’s joining the EU’s digital domestic market and energy and customs unions. The first results of these studies will also be presented at Monday’s summit.