Thursday, February 01, 2007

Ukraine's greatest challenge today is not its integration with the West, but the integration of Ukraine

PACE: Ukraine's greatest challenge today is not its integration with the West, but the integration of Ukraine

The status of political reform still remains questionable, as PACE’s monitoring co-rapporteurs Hanne Severinsen and Renate Wohlwend note in their report following their fact-finding visit to Ukraine (9-12 October 2006.

“Although no political force in today's context challenges the conversion from the presidential-parliamentary system to a more parliamentary system in principle – provided they get a fair share of the ruling power –, the limits and irreversibility of the reform are still a constant source of conflict and confusion. In fact, since the constitutional reform entered into force before all necessary legal norms were harmonised or even adapted, the political and legal collision has been inevitable. Also, from the very beginning, the central issue at stake in this reform has not been the "balance of power" but the "control of power". Now that Our Ukraine has left the government coalition, the tug of war for more power in the PM-Parliament-President triangle is likely to continue to increase. All of them claim to have prepared and be about to submit dozens of petitions to the Constitutional Court, including different challenges to the political reform.

It is evident that Ukraine cannot move ahead with any serious reform project as long as it does not resolve its constitutional crisis. As was shown in 2006, the constitutional question directly influences domestic policies (relations between parliament and president), economics (relations between government and the president) and foreign policy (most vividly seen in the recent parliament's dismissal of the foreign minister). If the political leaders do not reach a consensus on the political reform upon the agreed basis of dvovladdia in the forthcoming months, the risk is that the high stakes of the 2009 presidential elections may soon swing the political pendulum towards a more centralised power again. That, however, would mean that the vested interests of small circles of individuals in power positions are likely to lead the country into further stagnation,” the informational note says.

PACE co-rapporteurs advise Ukraine’s power that regardless of the legitimate right for the new government wishing to pursue the reforms according to its own vision and agenda, a mature Cabinet of Ministers should not discard the reform projects launched over the past 18 months that serve the same final goal. “To this end, we would wish to see efforts towards the fulfilment of the Action Plan for the Honouring by Ukraine of its Obligations and Commitments to the Council of Europe, adopted by President Yushchenko in January 2006, stepped up and consolidated. We welcome the new strategies of the reform of the judiciary, criminal justice, fight against corruption worked out under the previous government; and we expect to see those concepts further elaborated and new draft laws to be submitted to Parliament without delay,” the document says.

Analyzing other reforms under consideration, PACE notes that the reform of the legal system should be continued in line with Council of Europe standards by the completion of the judicial reform; adoption of a new law on the Bar (one of Ukraine's original commitments when it became a CE member state); reform of the prosecutorial service, bodies of the interior, security service and other law enforcement agencies; reform of the substantive and procedural criminal law; creation of an effective free legal aid system.

Administrative reform is still unfinished and requires, inter alia, the adoption of a new law on civil service and the law on ministries and other central bodies of the executive which would clearly separate political offices and public administration. However, more than new regulations, the administrative reform efforts should aim at reducing the excessive and top-down heavy bureaucracy that the Ukrainian public administration has inherited from Soviet times and at introducing modern principles of accountability, transparency and professionalism into its public service.

The system of broadcast and print media requires deep transformation through the set-up of a public broadcasting service on the basis of the state television and radio companies and privatisation of print outlets (co-)founded by state or local self-government authorities. The current legal framework guaranteeing access to information has to be changed to offer more efficient mechanisms of state authorities' accountability. The governmental draft law on the transparency of media ownership recently submitted to the parliament has to be adopted and properly enforced.

There has been much speculation over Ukraine's foreign policy orientations, its future European integration and Euro-Atlantic, as opposed to multi-vector, aspirations since the coming into power of the government in August 2006. It will take some time for Ukraine to fully develop a national consensus on which direction the country wants to take. We believe that as that choice emerges, it will be one for Europe and closer integration with the West, while obviously preserving its important cultural, human, economic and even political links with Russia.

“However, we are convinced that Ukraine's greatest challenge today is not its integration with the West, but the integration of Ukraine,” Hanne Severinsen and Renate Wohlwend summed up.