While too vague during the electoral campaigns period, the European integration track became more clear and nuanced with the new government coming into office in September 2019. The programme of Oleksiy Honcharuk’s government has a special chapter devoted to the issues of rapprochement with the EU and NATO. In some parts, it echoes the initiatives of the previous team, in some claims to be more human-centred when it comes to the benefits of the integration processes. Although the strategic course for the EU membership is preserved, it is still too early to speak about the efficiency of Zelenskyy’s team in delivering on the Association Agreement implementation track.
European Vector in Electoral Manifestos during the 2019 Presidential and Parliamentary Campaigns of Volodymyr Zelenskyy
The core achievements on the Ukrainian track of the European integration were witnessed during the tenure of President Petro Poroshenko (2014-2019). Ratification and enactment of the Association Agreement, introduction of the visa-free regime with the EU have been finalised around that time. European integration was one of the prime foreign policy priorities of Poroshenko’s team and he led this track himself.
In this vein, the way Volodymyr Zelenskyy designed his election platform did not allow one to clearly identify his position on European integration or most of the other foreign policy goals for the new administration. The campaign had focused on the domestic agenda, attracting a wider electorate, those unhappy with the performance of the previous team.
Even after his landslide victory, the newly elected president in his inauguration speech mentioned only Ukraine’s ‘European pace’, continuing this vague trend.
Some public messages during his first foreign visits gave more food for thought as to the European orientation and integration path of Ukraine. A working visit to Brussels on June 4-5, 2019, offered some specifics during the meetings with the president of the European Council, president of the European Commission, and high representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. President Zelenskyy emphasised the invariability of Ukraine’s strategic course towards the EU as stated in the Constitution of Ukraine. He also noted the necessity of increasing international pressure on Russia through sanctions.
Clearer priorities emerged from the Joint Statement following the 21st EU-Ukraine summit on July 8, 2019, when the president signed the document on behalf of Ukraine. This can be interpreted as his readiness to proactively implement the Association Agreement (AA), including the following aspects:
- Cooperation with the EU in countering hybrid threats, including through strategic communications;
- The need to reinstate criminal responsibility for illicit enrichment and ensure effective work of all anti-corruption institutions;
- Completion of the gas and electricity market reform, including finalisation of unbundling for sustainable integration with the EU energy market;
- Further harmonisation of Ukraine’s legislation on digital economy with that of the EU; and
- Legislative work and practical implementation of the respective legislation by Ukrainian institutions to launch negotiations on the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA).
These priorities were largely reiterated by President Zelenskyy in his comprehensive decree of November 8, in which he obliges the government, inter alia, to secure stable international support for the Ukrainian course on gaining the EU membership. Among other presidential orders, there have been mentioned: sectorial cooperation with the EU, drafting proposals for revisiting of the AA provisions, as well as continuation of the dialogue for international and regional cooperation.
Ukraine’s European Integration in the Mono Majority Parliament
The electoral manifesto of the elections winner, the political party ‘Sluha Narodu’ (Servant of the People, the party of President Zelenskyy), was a compilation of highlights that offer little information for analysis. In the context of relations with the EU, the Servant of the People declares its intention to pass laws that are necessary for the implementation of the Association Agreement and expansion of cooperation with the EU in other spheres. In terms of reforms in Ukraine, the party planned to conduct decentralisation in line with the EU norms, which implies delegation of powers to executive committees of local councils.
The Servant of the People party holds 254 mandates (out of 450 seats) and chairs 19 out of 23 parliament committees. Having a one-party majority in the parliament, there was no necessity to sign a coalition agreement where future policies and priorities could be fixed. So no detailed programme or action plan that could shed light on specific priorities such as the European integration was presented by the parliament.
While the new speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Dmytro Razumkov, did not speak about the European integration as one of his priorities, focusing predominantly on the domestic reform agenda, many of the planned reforms are nevertheless a part of Ukraine’s commitments under the Association Agreement. The political will of the Verkhovna Rada leadership is the only factor that determines the efficiency of Ukraine’s approximation to the EU legislation for the Association Agreement implementation purposes. It is important to note in this context that First Vice Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk has mentioned a poor quality of Eurointegration projects drafted by the previous parliament. It led to the long discussions about the necessity to save the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration in the new parliament, as ideas to just merge it with the Foreign Affairs Committee have been actively disputed.
As a result, the committee leadership was given to the opposition. As a positive development should be seen the fact that Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, previously vice prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and now an MP with the European Solidarity, was approved as a head of the Parliamentary Committee for Ukraine’s Integration with the EU. This committee has already become among the most proactive ones in holding meetings and considering draft laws that are part of the Eurointegration track.
Governmental Agenda for Integration with the European Union
The composition of the new cabinet of ministers of Ukraine, presented at the end of August, inspires moderate optimism despite the fact that Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk was very modest on declaring the European integration path in his first official speech. Partly, this might be attributed to the desire to stay in line with the core messages of President Zelenskyy, which focus predominately on internal issues.
The good news is that the government keeps the position of the vice prime minister (VPM) for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. A career diplomat, Dmytro Kuleba, was appointed to this position and shortly after became the main spokesperson when it comes to Ukraine’s relations with the EU and NATO. The VPM acts in tight coordination with Foreign Minister Vadym Prystayko, also a very experienced diplomat with a strong track on European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
The programme of the government, adopted by the Verkhovna Rada in October, gives a more clear vision of the European track of the new team in public offices. Besides a number of institutional and legislative initiatives connected to the AA implementation process, the medium-term document includes a separate chapter devoted to the European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Referring to the integration with the EU, the government sets an aim to comply with the EU membership criteria. It envisages approximation with all economic criteria for candidate countries, as well as joining common economic, energy, digital, legal, and cultural spaces of the EU. Within a five-year timeframe, the government plans for 80% of EU legal acts envisaged in the AA to be transposed into the national legislation.
Ukrainian businesses and citizens will benefit from the four freedoms of movement with the European Union, which will eventually contribute to the level of the European integration. FDI flow is also expected from EU companies and enterprises as well as continuation of the EU financial support.
As a European decentralisation initiative of a sort, the new governmental team intends to launch European integration offices in all regions of Ukraine to make European instruments and funds available to local communities.
In November 2019, during the 5th meeting of the Association Committee in Brussels, Vice Prime Minister Dmytro Kuleba voiced five priorities in the realm of Ukraine’s further rapprochement with the European Union:
- The first priority outlines deeper sectoral integration and cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union in the fields of digital and energy markets, customs procedures, as well as in justice, freedom, and security sectors. To this end, the Ukrainian side proposes to elaborate sectorial road maps and action plans.
- The second priority focuses on the issues of climate change and energy efficiency, which is in line with areas of attention of the Ukrainian government. Against the backdrop of adoption of the European Green Deal, Ukraine expresses its willingness to cooperate with the EU on decarbonisation.
- The conclusion of the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) is the third priority for deepening cooperation with the EU. Upon completion of the relevant procedures, the ACAA may facilitate Ukrainian trade with the EU.
- The fourth priority tackles bringing more knowledge about the benefits of the European integration to the regions of Ukraine.
- The fifth priority foresees reconstruction of destroyed infrastructure in the conflict-affected parts of the Donbas region.
Taking stock of the first results of the 50 days in office, the governmental team reported the adoption of 15 draft laws from the Association Agreement implementation package. Some of them are of great importance for the European integration track, among which, suffice it to mention, are the laws on intellectual property, authorised economic operators, standardisation, and so on.
Potential Roadblocks on the European Path
Obviously, Eurointegration cannot progress without proper cooperation between the parliament and the government. Traditionally the parliament stood as the least effective state body in implementation of the AA. But as was previously mentioned, due to the fact that the new political team controls both the executive and legislative branches of power, there is a real window of opportunity for fast-track adoption of ‘belated’ legal acts.
One of the obstacles was lifted from the outset of the new government’s activity. The profile vice prime minister as well as the government office for the coordination of the European and Euro-Atlantic integration have been granted the right of legislative initiative, which was not the case during the previous governments. Kuleba is already actively cooperating with the respective committee in the Verkhovna Rada.
In this context, there is a need for re-approval by the new parliament and the government of the list of priority draft laws to be passed by the Verkhovna Rada, similar to the Roadmap for Legislative Support of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement Implementation for 2018-2019.
The next step towards effective implementation of the Association Agreement can be amending the Verkhovna Rada procedures and adopting a mechanism for a fast-track consideration of Eurointegration laws. It has been already proposed by the committee in charge to make a list of priority draft laws to implement the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement and to include these draft laws in the parliament agenda.
The new leadership of the Verkhovna Rada has proposed to introduce a plan of legislation drafting work including their prioritisation. If the plan turns out to include and prioritise Eurointegration draft laws, this will signal that President Zelenskyy and his team are serious about Ukraine’s integration with the EU.
A negative development is the relatively small number of the respective committee members, where most have no previous experience in harmonising Ukrainian legislation with the EU requirements. At the same time, one has to admit that the quality of the vast number of legal acts undergoing a committee screening for compliance with the AA commitments do not meet the necessary requirements.
On the other hand, Ukraine still expects the reloading of the European intuitions after elections, which might bring some changes in approaches to Ukraine or the region of the Eastern Neighbourhood at large. A delayed start of the new European Commission is already shifting the schedule of the meeting of the Ukraine-EU Association Council, the highest bilateral body created under the AA. Although it may be considered as a purely technical issue, Kyiv pays great attention to the dynamics of political interactions with Brussels.
It is too early to draw definite conclusions about real plans of Zelenskyy’s team in the domain of European integration. The initiatives voiced by both President Zelenskyy and Prime Minister Honcharuk do not lack ambitions regarding the European integration track. But it remains to be seen in 2020 if different groups of interest within the political team, dominant in Ukraine, will be in position to compromise and fine-tune the Association Agreement implementation process, which is far behind schedule.
Publication “Ukraine: Great Expectation” is prepared within the project “Ukraine Elections in Focus”, supported by the Black Sea Trust, a Project of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Black Sea Trust and its partners