Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn paid an official visit to Ukraine from June 1-2, 2017. “The message is really clear, reforms pay off,” said the Commissioner at a press conference in Kyiv. The visit included a planned meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and other members of the Cabinet of Ministers. Commissioner Hahn also discussed the progress of reforms with civil society organizations and paid short visits to Dnipro and Mariupol.
Visa-free regime and reforms in Ukraine
The pay-off the Commissioner was referring to was the lifting of visa requirements for Ukrainians traveling to the EU, which will come into effect on June 11. “It is a really well-deserved reward for important reforms undertaken by Ukraine and the best example of how citizens can really benefit from reforms,” he told reporters.
At the same press conference Commissioner Hahn also discussed the recent ratification of the EU-Ukrainian Association Agreement, which provides a legal framework for future relations. “What counts now is that the opportunities of the Association Agreement are utilized,” he said.
“This means we need the necessary legal decisions here in Ukraine in the Rada to meet all of these technical standards etc. This will finally allow Ukrainian companies to export to the European market.”
The ongoing conflict with Russia in the east of Ukraine was also discussed and the Commissioner reiterated the European Union’s support for Ukraine:
“I would like to reassure that the European Union will further continue supporting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The recent G7 meeting confirmed that there is no lifting of sanctions before the Minsk Agreements are fulfilled in their full scope,” he told reporters. “I will have the opportunity to visit the east of Ukraine tomorrow. It will be good to see with my own eyes the situation in the region and in particular at the contact line.”
Commissioner Hahn also stressed health reforms, pension reforms, responsible privatization and land reform as priorities for the Ukrainian government. “I think Ukraine needs to keep up the reform momentum and to speed up the implementation of the reforms outlined in its ambitious 2020 Reforms Strategy,” he said.
Ukraine's anti-corruption efforts
During his visit Commissioner Hahn also gave a press briefing in Kyiv to launch the new EU Anti-Corruption Initiative for Ukraine. According to the Commissioner, this is the biggest EU support program in the area of anti-corruption as of yet.
The initiative is comprised of three elements, Commissioner Hahn told reporters. First, it aims to enhance the capacity of newly created anti-corruption institutions to investigate, prosecute and sanction corruption. It also aims to strengthen the capacity of the Ukrainian parliament’s Anti-Corruption Committee’s ability to analyze corruption related legislation and monitor reform implementation. Lastly, it seeks to foster the involvement of civil society and the media in anti-corruption initiatives.
“The European Union is happy to provide assistance but we also expect Ukraine to deliver results,” the Commissioner said.
Commissioner Hahn also addressed a contentious recent legal amendment extending e-declarations to NGOs, referring to this as “a mistake.”
“This is an issue that has created a lot of international intention and we are in an ongoing discussion with the Ukrainian President but it’s also an issue for the parliament. This kind of legislation should not hamper the work of NGOs,” he told reporters.
The appointment of an auditor for Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) was also seen as cause for concern:
“NABU has been one of the success stories in Ukraine’s fight against corruption but we are worried that their independence and effective functioning are too often put into question,” said the Commissioner.
“Currently we are concerned that the appointment of the three NABU auditors is becoming politicized. The remaining two auditors should therefore be appointed swiftly, and in line with the respective laws and in a transparent way.”
Commissioner Hahn also urged the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption to start delivering on its mandate and called for the establishment of special anti-corruption courts to speed up the progress on anti-corruption cases.
/ Written by Eilish Hart