For the observers of the dynamics of Ukraine-EU Association Agreement implementation, it is important to see how the new team in power plans to move ahead in this sphere. Important indicators include programs and appointments on European integration. For now, the first steps in this sphere give a mixed sense of optimism and lack of understanding of the new team’s strategic line.
September can be seen as the first full month when government institutions operated in a new political reality — that of monopolized control of executive and legislative branches by the team of President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The countdown of the first 100 days in office for the new team can start now that the Verkhovna Rada has elected its leadership, reorganized and distributed parliamentary committees, and launched a speedy legislative process — all this with a monomajority of the Servant of the People MPs.
Oleksiy Honcharuk’s Cabinet has done the necessary staff reshuffling and embarked on developing the mid-term program for the Government.
Uncertain European goals of the Verkhovna Rada
The snap parliamentary election in July generated factors unusual in Ukraine’s political history: the majority of MPs was formed on the basis of just one faction. MPs from Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People obtained 254 seats. This allowed them to reject any coalition with the factions representing other political parties. Yet, this did not add clarity to the priorities of the new Verkhovna Rada dominated by one political party.
Firstly, the Servant of the People’s election program is largely a set of points that complement political statements Volodymyr Zelensky made during his presidential campaign and in the first months as President. Given that European and Euro-Atlantic integration were associated with his political opponent Petro Poroshenko, these issues received disproportionately little public attention. As a result, the Servant of the People’s platform did not say much about these issues. When it comes to the EU in this context, the party manifesto declared the commitment to pass laws that are important for the implementation of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. Also, it points to the EU norms and formats for decentralization and the establishment of prefectures as an alternative to state administrations.
Secondly, the coalition agreement which experts counted on never materialized because the election resulted in the monomajority, not a coalition of factions. In Ukraine’s parliamentary-presidential model, coalition agreements used to outline key mid-term program goals for the development of the country. The Government’s agenda, as well as specific government programs and strategies for different sectors were based on those.
Idealists, including this author, publicly urged the Servant of the People’s party and faction leaders to present the faction’s detailed program with a clear list of socio-economic reforms and key vectors in domestic and foreign policy. Similar to coalition agreements, this document could serve as the foundation of the Government’s program for the next five years.
Unfortunately, the party leadership did not find it necessary to have such a document. Program statements at the first session of the newly-elected Verkhovna Rada by Speaker Dmytro Razumkov and Vice Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk did not add much clarity. Both skillfully maneuvered away from the theme of relations with the EU and NATO, limiting their statements to the domestic agenda.
Given the scarce mentions of European and Euro-Atlantic integration in the Servant of the People’s election platform, the role of integration processes in the political vision of the dominating party in Parliament is everyone’s guess.
Yet, this is an important nuance as it is the political will of the new leadership that will define the dynamics of the Eurointegration package and the support of it by most MPs.
The parliamentary Committee for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration is one of the most active committees in terms of work on draft laws thanks to the fact that it is chaired by Ivanna Klympush-Tsyntsadze, former Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration and currently MP with the European Solidarity.
Optimistic appointments for European integration
New appointments in Government have somewhat curbed uncertainty over the prospects of European integration. Oleksiy Honcharuk, 35, is the new Prime Minister. He was previously mostly involved with non-government institutions working in consultancy and legal services. As Head of the Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO), Oleksiy Honcharuk referred to government-parliament cooperation in the context of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement implementation many times. The BRDO did an audit of such cooperation, identifying technical and procedural weak spots that needed to be fixed. Therefore, we can claim with certainty that Prime Minister Honcharuk is not new to this topic.
Dmytro Kuleba was appointed Vice Prime Minister for Coordination of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. He was previously Ukraine’s Envoy to the Council of Europe. His first statements and moves showed his determination to continue strategic movement towards integration with the EU and NATO. In another positive development, Dmytro Kuleba tried to establish working relations with the Parliament Committee for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration led by his predecessor Ivanna Klympush-Tsyntsadze from the very first days in office. The new Vice Premier declared full continuity of the work on the European and Euro-Atlantic tracks at the coordination meeting. The Transition Book prepared by the Government Office for Coordination on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration came in extremely useful in this context. It listed accomplishments and tasks for further implementation of the Association Agreement and the Annual Ukraine-NATO Program under the umbrella of the Ukraine-NATO Committee.
As predicted, Vadym Prystaiko heads the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A high-ranking career diplomat, he was Acting Deputy Chief of Staff for the President before this appointment. His inaugural address to the Verkhovna Rada as Foreign Affairs Minister clearly mentioned European and Euro-Atlantic integration as priorities in Ukraine’s foreign policy.
Economy Minister Tymofiy Mylovanov and his deputy and Ukraine’s Trade Envoy Taras Kachka can be listed as players of the new “pro-European” Government team. Overall, the new ministers are mostly familiar with the issues of European integration.
Ambitious five years for the Government
Optimism about the new Cabinet, however, should pass the first test by reflecting what is expected of the team in the Government program. According to law, the new Government should present its program within 30 days after appointment. For Oleksiy Honcharuk, that bell rang in late September.
Given the absence of a detailed program of priorities for the country’s further socio-economic and socio-political development from the monomajority in Parliament, the foundation for the Government’s program was not very clear. In addition to that, the Prime Minister’s statements betrayed a desire to demonstrate that the domestic agenda prevailed over European integration in the economic sphere. It got to the point where the fact that part of the domestic work on socio-economic reforms as a component of Ukraine’s homework on the Association Agreement implementation was not mentioned intentionally.
On September 29, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the program at its meeting. On October 4, 236 MPs voted for the Government program giving Oleksiy Honcharuk’s Government a year-long immunity for the implementation.
The program of the new Government clearly differs from the planning formats of its predecessors. Its major feature is the five-year planning of goals and ways of implementation. The program is based on goal planning and it is human-oriented, according to Premier Honcharuk. The key goals for the coming five years include 40% growth of Ukraine’s economy (GDP), USD 50bn of FDI, positive demographic trends, 1 million new jobs, infrastructure development, and at least 20% less pollution of the environment.
In a positive development, social and economic growth is linked to the European track. For example, human-oriented elements and European integration are intertwined in the program declarations in the following manner: the “Government’s actions will be based on the fact that Ukraine’s integration with the EU is ultimately defined by Ukraine’s belonging to the European family of peoples and confirmed by the Revolution of Dignity, while the ultimate beneficiary of integration is the citizen of Ukraine.”
The program contains a number of goals linked to European integration in specific sectors; different entities are responsible for them. The section for the Ministry for Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture demonstrates this to the fullest extent.
The most important thing, however, is that the program contains a special section titled European and Euro-Atlantic Integration with two global goals: Ukraine should meet EU membership criteria, and Ukraine should meet the criteria and the principles necessary for membership in NATO.
The European integration vector in the program has two indicators of efficiency. Honcharuk’s Government will aim to bring Ukraine as close as possible to the economic criteria of joining the EU (Copenhagen Criteria) within 5 years. It will also integrate Ukraine into the joint European economic, energy, digital, legal and cultural space. The key instrument for accomplishing these criteria is progress in all sectoral reforms envisaged by the Association Agreement. This requires the integration of up to 80% acts of the EU mentioned in the Association Agreement into Ukrainian legislation.
The economic focus of foreign policy in this section is expressed in the growth of FDI from EU countries and an increase of the EU’s financial assistance to Ukraine.
The regional dimension of European integration is an interesting component in the program: it envisages the creation of the institutional basis (oblast European integration offices) to bring the benefits of educational, cultural and economic projects closer to people on the ground.
Importantly, a boost of public support for Ukraine’s European integration is expected following the opportunities to fully use the benefits of free movement of people, goods, services and capital between the EU and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the opposition criticized the new Government’s program — both on the whole, and in the aspect of European integration. When looked at generally, the program of Honcharuk’s team has plenty of human-oriented indicators, yet it does not always give answers about what resources and institutions will be used to accomplish these indicators. Some indicators are ambitious or inflated, while others fail to take into account the parameters that are necessary or have been accomplished earlier.
The opposition points to the absence of priorities approved in a number of previous EU-Ukraine summits in the European integration section of the program. First and foremost, these include Ukraine’s integration into the digital and energy markets and integrated border management.
Whatever the scenario is, it is important to understand that the program is to demonstrate the Government’s strategy, define tasks and goals, as well as indicators for evaluation. More details can be expected at the stage of planning Government actions for the year.
A positive development so far is the presence of the special section on European and Euro-Atlantic integration and many sectoral goals and indicators on the Association Agreement implementation.
The risks include fast pace of law drafting, which tends to have a negative impact on the quality of the draft laws and results in the absence of consultations with the public.
It would be reasonable for the Government to resume the preparation of roadmaps on priority laws in the context of Association Agreement implementation by the Cabinet and Parliament, and to pass these draft laws through Parliament with wide-ranging consultations. Despite the sufficient number of votes in support of the Government program, the opposition of the clearly pro-European parties to it raises concerns. The team in power should offer mechanisms of cooperation with parties, such as European Solidarity, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and Holos (Voice). Including these opposition MPs in projects to monitor the Association Agreement and prepare analytical reports on the progress of European integration could be one instrument for this purpose.