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EU Parliament Mission Criticizes Ukraine’s Attack on Anti-Corruption NGOs
29 May, 2017
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What You Need To Know:

✅ The European Parliament’s monitoring mission to Ukraine launched in 2012 with the aim to facilitate reform and modernization of the Ukrainian Parliament;

✅ The willingness of the Ukrainian Parliament to collaborate with international organizations and authorities, is a positive step forward;

“We can assist, we can stand by ready to help, we can offer advice, we can introduce practice from other European parliaments or from the European Parliament, but the ownership of reform should belong to the people of Ukraine,” – Pat Cox, a member of the European Parliament Monitoring Mission to Ukraine;

“The duty is to be optimistic for the whole of this society, because a lot of blood was spilt on Maidan, and now the time has come to spill the sweat in building the new Ukraine,” – Pat Cox.

The European Parliament’s monitoring mission to Ukraine launched in 2012 with the aim to facilitate reform and modernization of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. Following the events of the Maidan Revolution in 2013-2014, which led to the death of many protesters, the mission has kept a close watch on the progress of this governing body.

According to Pat Cox, a member of the European Parliament Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada has made headway since the Revolution, even though change takes time: “I think a considerable amount has been done.” For example, the introduction of e-declarations and e-tenders has led to more transparency and less corruption. Cox also says that the willingness of the Rada to collaborate with international authorities, is a positive step forward: “This is important, not because it delivers immediate results, but because it gets people reflecting in a detailed way on the need for reform and change in the institution itself.”

Cox was, however, critical of the recent legal amendment forcing NGOs to fill out e-declarations, "I think that this was a very bad error of judgement I think it is a bad law," he told Hromadske. "I think it has many implications that were not properly thought about or debated. I think it’s like taking a step backwards. I don’t like it, I would love for it to change."

Over a year ago, the Verkhovna Rada voted on adopting the proposals of the European Parliament but has failed to implement them. Cox says that it is up to Ukrainians and not foreigners to make the changes: “We can assist, we can stand by ready to help, we can offer advice, we can introduce practice from other European parliaments or from the European Parliament, but the ownership of reform should belong to the people of Ukraine.”

Cox remains optimistic about Ukraine’s Parliament, despite the criticisms. “The duty is to be optimistic for the whole of this society, because a lot of blood was spilt on Maidan, and now the time has come to spill the sweat in building the new Ukraine.”

Hromadske spoke to Pat Cox, a member of the European Parliament Monitoring Mission to Ukraine in May 2017 in Kyiv.

The mid-term of Verkhovna’s Rada work ended in May. Society has put a lot of faith in this Verkhovna Rada, which was elected after Maidan. People hoped for swift changes in the work of parliament. We haven’t seen any yet, maybe you see have? What progress has there been since the start of  European Parliament Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine?

Pat Cox: I think, after Maidan, that the demand for the people of Ukraine is for a new democracy, a modern democracy and a reformed state. This is a huge responsibility for the People’s Deputies in the Verkhovna Rada and I think a considerable amount has been done. There is a saying that “Rome was not built in one day” and when you take on the whole transformation of a society, it is a very big job. I think a good start has been made.

I would give a number of examples; I think that the e-tendering system has taken away a lot of the potential for corruption which had existed to do with public tenders in the past. I think the e-declaration system brings more transparency to what are the elected members in terms of their private interests, I think this is important. I think the willingness of the Verkhovna Rada and its leadership to work with the European Parliament, to work with US aids, and NDI and UNDP, to consider reforming the parliament is already important that they open themselves, they open their minds, they open their doors, they open to advice from all of the factions, all of the committees. This is important, not because it delivers immediate results, but because it gets people reflecting in a detailed way on the need for reform and change in the institution itself.

More than a year ago, the Verkhovna Rada voted on adopting your proposals as the basis of their reform. Since then we haven’t seen any concrete changes. Very often in the Ukrainian government, we see imitations of reforms and declarations, but nothing is implemented.

Pat Cox: I think that the first absolute requirement for reform to work in Ukraine, it can only be owned by Ukrainians. We can assist, we can stand by ready to help, we can offer advice, we can introduce practice from other European parliaments or from the European Parliament, but the ownership of reform should belong to the people of Ukraine, and the parliament must belong and be accepted by the People’s Deputies and the factions in the parliament. I would say, on the positive side, we have two pillars in our reform programme; one is the administration of the parliament - the ‘aparat’ , and the other is the functioning of the parliament as a political institution.

In terms of political will, in your opinion, are there any votes for your proposals in the Verkhovna Rada?

Pat Cox: The only honest answer I can give you to that is that I don’t know. We have made a clear recommendation on those things and we believe that a correctly functioning parliament should do this.

These norms, cultural values, what does it mean to be elected as a parliamentarian - this is something that needs to be worked on. These are not the norms that many parliaments would accept. And so, the question of the culture, the values of the individuals in the institution, needs to be focused on. I think one of the elements in this, if I could say, is the kind of work that you do, or civil society does, or media does, not to do big exaggerated stories, but to tell these truths, to show to the public and to the electorate, and to show to deputies, that someone is watching, and that because someone is watching, they are reporting and because they are reporting to the public, it is an ingredient that can help to change the climate.

If I understand correctly, you are quite optimistic that Verkhovna Rada will vote for your proposals?

Pat Cox: Look, I am not naive. So you ask me - optimistic, pessimistic. We have a duty to be optimistic because the people of Ukraine, in the revolution of dignity, have demanded a new Ukraine and I think that one of the ingredients in a new Ukraine is to develop a strong, capable, independent parliament that follows good norms and good ethics.

Foreigners cannot make Ukraine’s future, Ukrainians can do it. The thing I like about the approach we have, it is respectful of the integrity of Ukraine, respectful of the independence of Ukraine and even if I could disagree with details, the biggest point to make is that this must be done by Ukrainians in Ukraine, for Ukraine. That’s why I have some optimism because things are happening, even if slowly, and much patience, because I understand change is always complicated but I think the duty is to be optimistic. And the duty is to be optimistic for the whole of this society, because a lot of blood was spilt on Maidan and now the time has come to spill the sweat in building the new Ukraine and that sometimes takes many hours and lots of arguments and we are helping, in an environment, to spill some sweat for Ukraine, even as, unhappily, people still spill their blood in the war in Donbas.

I would like to know your opinion on one more thing, it is difficult to make decisions in the Verhovna Rada, as we have seen in previous cases where they try to trick society by making subtle adjustments. For example, the situation with e-declarations for NGOs was a small amendment within a law. How would you describe this approach to lawmaking, because despite criticism from the West the amendment has not been overridden.

Pat Cox: Of course, like everyone else, I have my opinions but I have not expressed those opinions with all of the political factions - I don’t have to agree with any of them, but I have to work with them and I want to have their goodwill and work with them in a respectful way and understand that they will do the politics in Ukraine. However, on this question I do make an exception. I think that this was a very bad error of judgement I think it is a bad law, I think it has many implications that were not properly thought about or debated. I think it’s like taking a step backwards. I don’t like it, I would love it to change and I’m happy to speak in a way that condemns it totally.