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EU accession status for Ukraine – Brussels to tackle the impossible

The decision to grant Ukraine accession status raises numerous questions: Ukraine (and Moldova) were officially granted this status at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday evening. This decision had been extremely controversial and contested for weeks. But all previous critics – above all Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, the Netherlands and France – have surprisingly caved in and have cleared the way for the two countries to join the EU.

Published: June 27, 2022, 11:14 am

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    In the case of Ukraine, more than the current war scenario, a number of massive deficits stand in the way of actual accession. Not long ago they were also cited by Brussels as arguments as to why Ukraine could never become a member of the EU any time soon.

    Despite years of support from the EU worth billions, it has still not been possible to take effective action against corruption in the country, which is the order of the day there on both a small and large scale. In the latest corruption index by Transparency International, Ukraine ranks 122nd out of 180.

    The European Court of Auditors also came to the conclusion in a special report last year that there were only “insufficient results” in the fight against “major corruption” –  implying that the matter was not about small bribes, but corruption as “abuse of power at a high level by which a few persons obtain an advantage at the expense of the general public, thereby causing serious and far-reaching harm to individuals and to society”.

    According to the report, there is a network of oligarchs in Ukraine who use their money to exert significant influence over public opinion, the government, the judiciary and the economy. The conclusion of the EU Court of Auditors was damning: “Dozens of billions of euros are lost every year as a result of corruption.”

    Surprisingly, Brussels knows this very well: “The EU has long been aware of the connections between oligarchs, high-ranking officials, politicians, the judiciary and state-owned companies.”

    “In practice, the elite as well as the population are taught that corruption is only selectively combated at best and that people close to the president are exempt from criminal prosecution,” the German research  foundation Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) also stated in a 2021 report.

    There are massive problems regarding the rule of law in Ukraine. According to the European Commission, “stable institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities” are one of the basic requirements for EU accession. According to various experts, the country is far from achieving that.

    In the Democracy Index 2021 of the magazine The Economist, Ukraine ranks 86th out of 167. Especially when it comes to questions of the functioning of the government and civil rights, the state of the country is appalling. “The promise (…) to ensure the rule of law has (…) remained largely unfulfilled,” the Federal Agency for Civic Education [Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung] concluded in 2020.

    Just a few weeks ago, President Zelensky issued a decree that banned activities from all eleven opposition parties, hardly a democratic move.

    Above all, however, the way minorities are treated makes a mockery of all EU standards. Years of harassment of the large Russian-speaking population is the main reason for the Russian military intervention in February 2022. Only recently did the Ukrainian parliament ban Russian music in public across the board. The mayor of the Russian-speaking city of Odessa, Gennady Trukhanov, who is said to have close ties to the mafia, recently ordered Russian to be banned as a school subject from August 1 and Russian-language literature to be removed from the city’s libraries.

    Not least in the economic area, Ukraine fails to meet all EU standards. These prescribe a “functioning market economy and the ability to withstand competition and market forces in the EU”. But there can be no question of that in Ukraine, which has little to do with the current war.

    Although the socialist planned economy was gradually converted into a capitalist private economy from 1991, many of the approximately 15 000 companies run by the state or the municipalities still dominate a number of economic sectors. With more than 350 000 employees, the state railway, which is considered ailing, is the largest employer in the country.

    Until the outbreak of war in February 2022, many economic indicators were pointing upwards. Nevertheless, the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in 2021 was only around 4 500 euros and thus still far below the EU taillight Bulgaria (9 850 euros).

    “Mismanagement, outdated structures, corruption and years of dependence on Russia have repeatedly slowed down the competitiveness of the Ukrainian economy,” the German public broadcaster ARD Tagesschau summarized the dire situation at the beginning of 2022. Foreign investors assessed the country as being a high risk.

    According to the Cologne Institute of the German Economy (IW), significant economic transformations are necessary. From this follows: “In view of the weak economic performance and the corruption problem, the current fulfillment of the EU accession criteria would pose great difficulties for Ukraine (…).”

    Restructuring these three areas in such a way that nothing would stand in the way of EU membership would require an immense effort by Ukraine: a radical restructuring of large parts of the state system, the judiciary and the economy. Especially now, with the current hostilities, after around 7,8 billion euros in EU funds have flowed to Kiev over the last eight years alone, remains a mystery that only the Brussels eurocrats are able to explain.

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