Will European integration remain a priority for Ukraine? Assessing the promises of parliamentary elections frontrunners
Having hardly enough time to come round from the presidential campaign, Ukrainian voters will march to the polling stations again as soon as this Sunday, but this time – to elect a new Parliament.
Which parties advocate moving toward the EU and are willing to implement corresponding reforms, and which will presumably sabotage this movement?
Experts from the Ukrainian Side of the EU-Ukraine Civil Society Platform and the Ukrainian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum, which together unite a total of over 350 pro-European CSOs, decided to analyse to what extent the political parties took into account the pro-European agenda in their election programmes and whether these programmes are in line with the European course of the country in general.
A course to the EU: good but far from ideal
An analysis of the ‘world-view’ component of the programmes of ten top-rated parties has shown that most of them support the European integration course aimed at EU membership (see infographics). Three of the parties that most likely will make it to the Parliament, crossing the minimum five-per cent threshold, including Voice (lead by popular rock singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk), European Solidarity of ex-President Petro Poroshenko, and Fatherland of Yulia Tymoshenko, have stated their clear position on the matter. However, the front-runner Servant of the People party of President Volodymyr Zelensky has forgotten to mention EU membership, confining itself to a task of turning Ukraine into a ‘Dream Country’. Nevertheless, their programme, although not mentioning European integration, provides for sectoral reforms in many areas that are in line with the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.
Quite expectedly, the Opposition Platform – For Life and the Opposition Bloc have not shown themselves as European integration fans. The Opposition Platform, which has every chance to get to the future Parliament, proposes fixing the country’s neutrality in the Constitution and turning back to the multi-vector foreign policy. The party advocates restoring ‘mutually beneficial trade and economic ties’ with Russia as well as proposes revising Ukraine’s arrangements in its agreement with the World Trade Organization and participation in the free trade area with the European Union. Keeping in mind the former activities of this political camp’s representatives, it can be apprehended that the Opposition Platform will do their best to move in the direction that is opposite to European integration of Ukraine.
The Opposition Bloc also wants to constitutionally fix Ukraine’s nonaligned, neutral status. Although this proposal mostly refers to the issues of NATO membership, we think that such actions could result in giving up European integration.
Oleh Liashko’s Radical Party comes very close to being shown a ‘red card’ since their programme does not mention Ukraine’s aspiration for EU membership while depicting actions of international partners as conflicting with national interests of Ukraine. Elements of an ‘own path’ discourse in the Radicals’ programme and positioning Ukraine as a country suffering from external dictate might be detrimental to the realization of Ukraine’s European integration aspirations.
No less important as a marker of how seriously the would-be lawmakers treat the strategic course for European integration is whether they mention the necessity to implement the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement or not. Only three political forces of ten, namely Fatherland, European Solidarity, and the Servant of the People party, have mentioned the document that must serve as a reforms guide for the country. The position of the Servant of the People party looks rather interesting. In their programme goals, they have declared an intention to adopt laws required for the Agreement implementation, while failing to clearly set forth a course for EU membership. It might be evidence of a more prudent but simultaneously less ambitious approach of the current President’s team to development of relations with the EU.
Is European integration merely a nice slogan?
The experts did not limit their analysis to declarations but also explored the parties’ views of reforming priority areas of state policy and whether their visions corresponded with the European integration commitments of Ukraine. The analysis resulted in a kind of scale (or ‘speedometer’) along which the parties are ranked in accordance with the balance of positive and negative assessments by the experts. These assessments of each party in individual reform areas are provided in the table below the ‘speedometer.’
Fight against corruption, judicial reform, and public administration reform
This set of reforms, the critical importance of which is probably most often emphasized by EU officials and Ukrainian civil society, has predictably found its reflection in the programmes of most parties, although at various degrees of depth. However, only Voice and the Servant of the People party articulated clearly enough their anti-corruption steps. The fight against corruption was also specified among its priorities by the Strength and Honour party of Ihor Smeshko, former chief of the Security Service of Ukraine. The rest of the parties either got off with generalities about the necessity of fighting corruption or did not mention it at all.
The parties’ attention to judicial reform was not much better. From among all the party programmes, those of Voice and the Servant of the People party are most in line with the Justice Reform Agenda developed by civil society, focusing on reform of judicial power bodies and public participation in the oversight of the judiciary.
The public administration reform is the area approached by the parties most superficially: while most of them ignored the issue at all, the rest confined themselves to intentions to reduce the number of state agencies and office-holders.
Speaking of the issues of security and stability, most participants in the race for Parliament, except the neutrality advocates, say they are for stronger Armed Forces of Ukraine and the implementation of NATO standards. The programmes of Voice, European Solidarity, the Servant of the People party, and Groysman’s Ukrainian Strategy contain separate elements on civilian security sector reform, in particular, the necessity to have civilian oversight of law-enforcement agencies and strip them of improper functions. None of the parties mentions security cooperation with the EU except for European Solidarity, which does this only in the context of the arms development.
Still, the biggest number of points in conflict with Ukraine’s European integration commitments has been found in the economic sections of the party programmes. The programmes of several political forces contain populist provisions and call for protectionist actions in trade on the pretext of protecting national interests and sovereignty. For example, Fatherland suggests cancelling VAT, the Radical Party proposes to continue the ban on unprocessed wood, and Freedom wants to give the control over natural monopolies back to the state. These provisions may be viewed as being inconsistent with competition and market economy development as well as with the Association Agreement, too. We have already mentioned the intention of the Opposition Platform – For Life to revise the Agreement, and this cannot but raise concerns, even though the matter is not withdrawal from the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the EU but only the revision of arrangements embedded in the Agreement. In the meantime, the Opposition Bloc advocates a model of ‘rational protectionism’ (although their programme does not explain what they mean by it). Because of such evasive stances of the two parties, there is a risk that their actions can damage the functioning of the DCFTA. Several controversial points have been also found in the Voice programme.
On the whole, however, both Voice and European Solidarity demonstrate a serious attitude toward Ukraine’s integration into the European market. Their programmes include proposed steps that will facilitate further development of the DCFTA.
Establishing a Digital Single Market with the EU must become one more important component of European integration. However, only European Solidarity has clearly specified this goal among its priorities, the others only speaking of some or other aspects of integration into the single digital space (digital and information technologies development, online services implementation, etc.).
Almost each of the parties in some way or other has spoken up on the topic of energy, though some of them did it very superficially. European Solidarity declared its goal to integrate Ukraine into the EU energy market, and the Voice programme accentuates the energy efficiency principles. At the same time, a priority for the Opposition Platform –For Life is to establish a trilateral natural gas transport consortium (EU-Ukraine-Russia). This move would give the Russian Federation yet one more lever of influence over Ukraine in the conditions of the ongoing aggression, so the party has got a ‘red card’ from the experts for this proposal.
It is worth noting that environment protection issues turned out to be of minor interest for the would-be lawmakers. Voice and the Servant of the People party merely declared their support of green energy. European Solidarity, in their election programme, just mentioned this topic; however, in their main programme, it pointed out the necessity to implement the environmental component of the Association Agreement.
Another European integration priority the parties showed interest in is decentralization. As many as four political forces have got the highest mark for their vision of reform in this area: Voice, the Servant of the People party, the Opposition Platform – For Life, and the Opposition Bloc. However, it is unclear whether the actions of the two latter parties would damage the current concept of decentralization or not.
As for social policy, ‘European standards’ in the programmes of many parties are associated with cheap credits and high salaries, pensions, and other elements of a welfare state. However, the programmes lack a clear vision of how the real social protection and dialogue, which are intrinsic to EU countries and prescribed by the Association Agreement, could be ensured. The problem of human resources development was not passed over in silence either. While more or less correctly diagnosing the case (migration, shortage of personnel, low level of labour remuneration, disproportions in pensions, closure of vocational training institutions), the approaches to solving the problem differ. And as for adult education, both European Solidarity (in their main programme) and Groysman’s Ukrainian Strategy point out the necessity to implement the European principle of lifelong learning.
Summing up, it can be asserted that most parties have limited themselves to either general slogans about the reforms related to European integration or completely ignored the Platforms’ priorities, which civil society considers to be the key ones for the approximation to EU standards. Only a few political forces have made an attempt to link the points of their programmes to a European integration course in a systemic way: Voice, European Solidarity, and to a lesser extent, the Servant of the People party and Groysman’s Ukrainian Strategy. It is interesting that the Radical Party has topped the ‘anti-rating’ of sectoral reforms, ‘leaving behind’ the Opposition Platform – For Life and the Opposition Bloc.
One could hardly expect that the parties’ short election programmes would provide an elaborate description of steps in reforming various areas of societal life. In addition, party programmes are rather mere declarations of intent, and a lot will depend on the composition of the future coalition and an interfaction agreement. Nevertheless, such programmes allow voters to understand what is important to one political force or another and how seriously it treats European integration. In this context, there is a growing role of civil society, which, possessing the required expertise, must advocate the necessary European integration reforms and assist the government in their implementation. Already now, however, we can say that this task is not going to be easy with the new Parliament composition. The cooperation with civil society turned out to be the area most deprived of attention in the programmes of the political forces.
Author: Artem Remizov, Analyst at the Civic Synergy Project.
The article was produced in the framework of the Civic Synergy project funded by the European Union and implemented by the International Renaissance Foundation. The analysis of the political parties` programs was conducted by experts of the Ukrainian Side of the EU-Ukraine Civil Society Platform and the Ukrainian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.
The contents of the article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union and the International Renaissance Foundation.
Source: BlogActiv.eu (EURACTIV)