A five-year plan in three: On the quick accession of Ukraine to the EU

2 February, 06:17 PM
European Union (Photo:Eric Mamer / Twitter)

European Union (Photo:Eric Mamer / Twitter)

With the granting of candidate status for EU accession, we have received a historic chance to fundamentally transform the country in accordance with the best European practices. How we can avoid wasting this opportunity

Ukraine-EU Summit will take place on February 3. It is obvious that the survival and victory of Ukraine in the war will be the main topic of this important and timely conversation. At the same time, with the granting of our EU candidate status, we have received a historic chance to fundamentally transform the country in accordance with the best European practices. This piece is about how not to waste this opportunity.

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In the Soviet Union, they liked to over-perform their economic plans. An annual plan completed in nine months, a five-year plan in three years. There was even a certain toolkit for this. First, when preparing the plans, their indicators were immediately underestimated. Secondly, the main thing was to do it quickly and not necessarily very well. They reported their production and waved goodbye – and the fact that what they produced did not fly or did not drive was not important.

Unfortunately for the authorities and fortunately for the country, this will not be the case with our accession to the EU. No one will lower the bar of requirements and will not accept shoddily-done homework. There will be no "exclusive" or "alternative" path for Ukraine. Either we accept it and move towards EU membership through the internal transformation of the country, as all EU members without exception went through, or we change our priorities. And if we are still under the illusion that taking into account the circumstances (and let's be honest - in the case of granting the candidate status, after all, our circumstances played a key role) that our membership will just fall into our lap, then I would very much like us to leave that behind as soon as possible.

Thus, for me, Mr. Shmyhal's statement about joining the EU in two years is either incompetence or mere cheap PR. Moreover, it came out almost simultaneously with the very critical position of the European Commission regarding the need to fully implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission in the law on the selection of judges of the Constitutional Court and the refusal of Venice to delegate its candidates to the Advisory Group of Experts.

But the statement from members of the government and the leadership of the Verkhovna Rada about the full implementation of the seven recommendations of the EU regarding candidate status is, at best, a PR stunt, and at worst, an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. Moreover, the attempt is not so much directed at our partners in the EU, because they see and know everything, but to our own citizens.

Recently, at a meeting with a high-ranking official of a friendly country, I heard that the best PR in the world will not help Ukraine’s accession to the EU if the country does not fulfill the seven recommendations 110%. And I want the authorities to hear it. Schemes for internal consumption to create mere imitations of reforms and subsequently advertise their success will not work here. Reforms for joining the EU must be done earnestly and done well!

Candidate status is a big advance for us. It is an advance that everyone had been working towards – the president, the government, the opposition, and civil society. But this is first and foremost an advance that we made thanks to the blood of our defenders and the Ukrainian people. We have already done a lot, both in this government and previous ones. We have come a long way. And we simply cannot lose the chance we have gotten.

The second thing I want the authorities to hear: although much effort is being invested in sectoral cooperation to help Ukraine as much as possible with its urgent needs, the emphasis is changing. Whereas the earlier focus was on the implementation of the economic elements of the European integration processes, now the political part of the Association Agreement will increasingly become a priority for our partners. And I think that this will be the first chapter that will be opened to us for negotiations.

Even our friends in the EU want to be sure that Ukraine has a permanent and stable democracy, for which Ukrainian defenders and society are fighting in the war against the occupiers, that we are not falling into authoritarianism, and that the war will not write everything off.

Neither the law adopted on the Constitutional Court, which does not fully take into account the recommendations of the Venice Commission, nor the announcement by the Verkhovna Rada on the competition for judgeships without taking into account these recommendations, nor the law on media (which does not fully comply with the EU Directive on audiovisual media services), nor the transformation of the Rada’s information channel into a pro-government information tool — can give EU countries very much confidence.

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I will not further analyze the recommendations, all of which, by the way, are yet to be 100% implemented. For me, journalists, experts, and civil society are more up to this task. I only hope that their actual implementation will be discussed at the Ukraine-EU Summit, and that we will receive more detailed comments on the seven recommendations in the spring during the preliminary assessment of their implementation. This is all the more important, as some recommendations have very vague wording. I hope that we will be able to show maturity, properly consider the comments, and do everything at 110% before the assessment which will be carried out in the fall.

Otherwise, we will receive opposition to our entry not only from Russian satellites in the EU, but also from countries that have always supported and continue to support Ukraine. In addition, there are other aspects of the process of accession to the EU about which our authorities are awkwardly silent as they talk about two years before full membership.

These are hundreds of volumes of legislation that need to be adopted and implemented. This includes the introduction of European procedures in all branches of government. It means the training of relevant specialists. Does Mr. Shmyhal know that even internal bureaucratic texts in the EU are written according to a certain standard: structure, desired number of words in a sentence, number of sentences in a paragraph? Are we now preparing for this? How are we building our institutional capacity today in a way that will sustain our membership?

Another, no less important layer of the admission process is economic. Our full economic integration in the EU should not harm the interests of our already wounded economy and our business. And these are long and difficult negotiations with the European Commission, where we will not be in a position to dictate conditions, but rather instead in the position of a beggar.

That's why I say once again: "two years" is a big illusion. It will be an extremely incredible success if we start negotiations at the end of this year. And no one knows how long they will take.

I'm not even talking about other factors. For example, a certain consensus is being formed among the leading countries of Europe that EU expansion is possible only after the basic documents of the community are changed. First and foremost, this regards the fact that a single country can block EU decisions. Opponents of expansion are also afraid that due to the size of its population, Ukraine will have a large quota in the European Parliament and the European Council. And at the end of the day, the Hungarian factor is not going anywhere.

I am in favor of joining the EU as soon as possible. We have to use the chance we have got. We should take advantage of this situation in which for Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, the opening of negotiations on our accession is already a personal story. But we should not live in a world of illusions. We have to be realistic and tell the truth to ourselves and our citizens.

What if we don't join in two years? Will the authorities take responsibility for what went wrong? Will they tell fables about the fact that the EU simply doesn’t want us? How will the citizens of Ukraine perceive it?

One of my favorite principles at work is “better good than perfect." But not in the case of our accession to the EU. Everything has to be perfect here, everything has to be 110%. And this can really be achieved. We just have to stop twiddling our thumbs and do our jobs honestly.

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