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Ukraine’s Accession To The EU: Prospects And Challenges

On Monday, October 30, Eastern Circles, in partnership with Confrontations Europe, Maison de l’Europe and Ukrainian Prism, held a round-table on "The challenges of European accession - Ukrainian perspective".

  1. Olga Chyzhova, Directrice du bureau bruxellois de Ukrainian Prism Snizhana Diachenko, Experte pour le Ukranian Centre for European Policy
  2. Viktoriia Melnyk, Directrice du plaidoyer international du Centre of Policy and Legal Reform
  3. Oleksandra Avramenko, Directrice du comité d’intégration européenne du Ukrainian Agribusiness Club​ Association (UCAB)
  4. Snizhana Diachenko, Experte pour le Ukranian Centre for European Policy

Moderators: Anastasiya Shapochkina, Eastern Circles & Ian Hernandez, Maison de l’Europe
Wartime Diplomacy
Since the invasion, Ukraine's diplomacy has been converted to “wartime diplomacy”, including both military and diplomatic objectives, procuring weapons to bolster defense capabilities, engaging financial help for economic recovery during and after the war (including access to the frozen part of Russian Central Bank reserves), and advocating for justice.

Justice advocacy includes
  • the establishment of an international tribunal for Russia and its partners in war to prosecute war crimes
  • negotiations to secure the return of Ukrainians in Russian captivity, including civilians which are not included in PoW swaps and including tens of thousands of abducted children, the total number of who is unknown and ranges from 19,000 identified names to estimates of 700,000 unaccounted for children.
Reforms During the War In Ukraine – Precondition To The European Accession
Institutional reforms are a precondition of the EU accession. Of all the institutional reforms, the reform of the judiciary is the most important, as the judiciary branch of government is the foundation of law and order. The main aim of the judicial reform in Ukraine is to ensure the right to a fair trial by independent judges and the implementation of court decisions. Ukraine’s justice system subject to reform includes all levels of courts, from the Constitutional Court of Ukraine to the provincial, district, and municipal level courts.

Since the invasion, Ukraine has shown progress reforming higher institutions of justice:

  1. The selection procedure of judges to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine has been altered to ensure a merit-based selection by a committee of diverse actors including the civil society representatives. An unprecedented development in the justice system of the post-soviet space. 27 candidates have submitted their applications to the CCU, which will be subject to the new and transparent selection process.
  2. The creation of the High Anti-Corruption Court (HACC) charged with prosecuting the cases of high-level government corruption, with the new model of the selection of judges, including a preselection procedure, a test, a selection by the civil society committee of experts, followed by interviews by the High Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine, followed by a selection by the High Council of Justice (HCJ), and only then by the presidential appointment. As a result, 38 HACC judges were selected out of 343 candidates in 2019, launching the Court in September 2019. The HACC has already issued over 50 verdicts in high-profile corruption cases.
  3. The reform of the High Council of Justice, the disciplinary body for judges, which decides upon a judge’s appointment, dismissal, disqualification or consent to further investigation or arrest of justices, and a reform of the High Qualified Commission of Judges, a key organ in the process of selection of justices for appointments. Two major reforms of the HCJ and the HQCJ passed in 2021. The main objective was to ensure that the HCJ and the HQCJ were composed of qualified, independent and honest professionals. The proposal called for the selection of HCJ and HQCJ members through transparent competitions that involve independent international experts. One crucial aspect of this reform is that international experts were given the power to cast decisive votes in the selection process. Furthermore, as of November 2021, the Ethics Council was established to assess the integrity of prospective HCJ members. It is made up of three Ukrainian judges nominated by the judiciary and three foreigners nominated by international donors. A similar process was used to appoint members of the HQCJ. These reforms led to a disqualification of over 2000 justices as a result of anti-corruption screenings and investigations. Overall, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion in 2022, the justice system adapted to the unprecedented situation caused by the occupation of Ukraine’s territories by Russia: by amending the legislation and transferring some of the High Council of Justice (HCJ) functions to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, for reassigning judges from the occupied areas and altering the authority of certain courts.
  4. The creation of a special high-level corruption investigative body (NABU) and of the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office (SAP) are also important results of the law and order institutional reforms Ukraine has been conducting within the EU accession process.
  5. Civil society plays a vital role in ensuring accountability and transparency in the judiciary. Since 2016, civil society members are involved in the integrity screening of judges and judicial candidates through the Public Integrity Council (PIC), a unique body consisting only of experts nominated and then appointed by civil society organisations. For the last 8 years, the PIC has been involved in the selection of judges for the Supreme Court and the qualification evaluation of nearly 3,000 judges on all levels.
Progress on Conditions of Euro-integration
The European Union has established 7 criteria that Ukraine must meet to achieve successful European integration. Currently, the EU has acknowledged the fulfillment of 2 out of the 7 conditions: 1) The adoption of legislation on par with European standards for the media; 2) Successful completion of the remaining parts of the judicial reform.
Digital transformation has been a highlight in Ukraine's path towards Euro-integration, with a particular focus on the EU's Association Agreement and technical integration into the EU market.

Why standards and norms are important: A very deep-rooted soviet legacy which is most difficult to uproot when it comes to technical integration is hidden in numerous standards and norms, which often require heavy investment by businesses, as they involve reconfiguring of production lines and industrial processes to align Ukraine’s production to the EU standards and make Ukrainian products exportable to the EU.

How Ukraine has reformed the EU: However, it is not just the EU which has reformed Ukraine, but Ukraine has reformed key EU fundamentals in the last two years, especially in the fields of security, defense, energy and foreign policy. In particular, EU-Ukraine security cooperation is a most prominent development of bilateral ties.

What Ukraine’s accession tells about EU as a geopolitical player: For the EU, the question of Ukraine’s accession is as important as it is for Ukraine, as it is a test of Europe’s existence as a geopolitical actor. Inversely, "war fatigue" is a security issue for Europe itself, and not just for Ukraine. As a result, the war in Ukraine could either mold European strategic identity, or force the EU to acknowledge that it is no longer able to guarantee its own security.
Development of Agribusiness
The main challenge for Ukraine’s agriculture today is that it is not perceived as a world player. Yet, Ukraine is exporting agriculture products to 150 countries in the world. It has 30 million hectares of arable land, which is a sum of equivalent land in France, Spain and Germany combined. Ukraine’s total exports of grain in 2021 reached 55 million tons, reduced by the war to 37 million tons in 2022 (18 Mt deficit, including stolen grain sold by Russia from the occupied territories). 95% of all grain export from Ukraine left by sea before the full-scale invasion, which number now stands at 70% through the grain corridor. The 30% remaining depend on land transit, and land export of agriculture is not perceived by Ukraine as a crisis, but as an encroachment on the sphere of interest of specific countries in the EU.

Regarding the Russian narrative to the Global South, that Russia feeds the world, while Ukraine feeds Europe, one has to keep in mind that today Ukraine’s grain exports remain global, but they have to transit through Europe due to the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports. The security of Ukraine’s ports equals world food security, as the export capacity of Ukraine ports (at 8 Mt/month) is incomparable with that of the now key European ports (Constanza has 8 Mt/year export capacity).

The rules of the game in Ukrainian agriculture business are very different from those for the EU agribusiness: Ukrainian farmers receive much fewer subsidies than their EU counterparts, and are much more market dependent, and the global market oriented. Thus, the reforms of the agriculture sector should be conducted by the same rules, and the target financial support of Ukrainian farmers should not target survival as much as transformation of their business in accordance with the green economy and the EU Farm to Fork strategy.
NATO accession vs EU Defense Partnership
To the question of choice - between NATO accession or an alternative EU Defense Partnership, in case Trump wins the US elections - Ukraine sees itself as a crucial partner in both NATO and the EU, with a focus on complementarity, and hopes to avoid the painful compromise between the two.

Where Ukraine brings value added right now to the EU and to NATO is in weapons testing of the existing technology in full-scale conventional war, which upturns many assumptions about high-tech EU weapons technology performance. For European companies (voices in the audience) partnership with Ukraine is desirable for its high skilled labor which is cheaper than in Europe. The risks of wartime cooperation can be overlooked in certain industries in exchange for the benefits, including in the defense industry.

Prospects and Challenges

The country's progress serves as a precedent in the post-soviet space, emphasizing the importance of civil society role as a watchdog of reforms. Ukraine’s integration into the EU is a political decision, with implications for both the country and the European Union.