Ukraine's Actions to Start EU Accession Negotiations: Detailed Plan and Analysis

Monday, 22 August 2022 — , European Pravda

Exactly two months ago, on June 23, the European Council granted Ukraine EU candidate status but came up with seven conditions for obtaining it, which Ukraine must fulfill. As they say in the EU, the non-standard procedure (when the conditions are provided simultaneously with the status) has become a signal of trust in Kyiv.

One way or another, their implementation is mandatory for Ukraine's transition to the next stage - accession negotiations.

"European Pravda" has analyzed the current state of fulfillment of these seven criteria and found the most problematic.

A brief summary is as follows:

- currently, Ukraine fulfills the requirements set by Brussels, and the EU sometimes turns a blind eye to its failures, but Kyiv should definitely not abuse this;

- the top priorities for Ukraine are adopting the bill on national minorities and media;

- the key requirement for the president is to ensure fair competition for NABU, a new judge of the Constitutional Court, and not to destroy the shaky balance in the prosecutor's office.

- the optimistic deadline for approving Ukrainian progress is mid 2023

Seven EU conditions in details

When the EU granted candidate status, Ukraine, at its highest level, promised to implement reforms as soon as possible. It even set a deadline for approval of all necessary bills - the end of 2022.

But technical compliance with EU requirements may not be enough.

European Union decisions always consist of two parts: legal and political.

Candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova is based mainly on the political component. EU states should not only see some "check marks" in front of the completed tasks. It is much more important for them to feel and believe that Ukraine is striving for reforms.

Because of this, some requirements for Ukraine seem to be vague so that the EU could make a political decision, not a purely legal one.

For example, Ukraine should "further strengthen the fight against corruption, in particular at high level, through proactive and efficient investigations, and a credible track record of prosecutions and convictions." It is written in such a way that the evaluation of the country's compliance depends on who is conducting the evaluation and what the "evaluator" thinks about Ukraine.

But there is some good news.

All sources of EuroPravda point out: right now, the EU has the will to back Ukraine towards membership.

Foreign Ministry of Slovenian, Tanja Fajon, even publicly stated: "as soon as Kyiv fulfills these seven requirements, the EU will be obliged to start accession talks, without putting forward additional conditions. Although at the June summit, the European Union leaders did not document this commitment so that they can retain flexibility in decisions."

Nobody knows for how long the current level of solidarity with Ukraine will last, so Kyiv should be working on the reforms right now.

But the EU will not ignore it if Ukraine does not complete the reforms.

Politicians-Ukrainoskeptics will always exist. Yes, they have weakened for now because among European voters, there is an unprecedentedly high desire to help Ukraine. But if Kyiv "bungles" at least something, it will give the aforementioned skeptics grounds to block the accession negotiations, as this is foreseen by the June decision of the EU summit.

"Bottlenecks" and violations of requirements

After all, Ukraine will have to meet all seven requirements.

Ukraine has to prioritise them as soon as possible: the reforms take the most time to be implemented and the ones with the worst situation.

Experts from the analytical organization "New Europe Center" have already evaluated the seven requirements (on a 10-point scale).

 - Reform of the legislation on a selection procedure for judges of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine - 0 points

 - Reform of self-governing judicial bodies – 7 points

 - Anti-corruption (SAPO and NABU) – 6 points

 - Anti-money laundering legislation- 5 points

 - Anti-Oligarch reform - 2 points.

 - Media legislation - 6 points

 - Legislation on national minorities - 5 points

The first thing that stands out is that there are two outsider criteria - related to the Constitutional Court and anti-oligarch reform.

It is ironic, but the implementation of these two EU requirements is currently on hold. Ukraine is now waiting for the Venice Commission's conclusion on both of them. The European Commission made it clear - first the decision of the VC, then - the fulfillment of the criteria.

However, we should focus more on the Constitutional Court, where the situation looks the worst.

A month after obtaining candidacy, Kyiv did something diametrically opposed to the EU requirements: it appointed MP Olha Sovhyria as a judge of the Constitutional Court without any competition. Wasn't it destructive for Kyiv?

But the EU itself has officially confirmed that they are ready to ignore such a violation.

"No consequences. We will see this criterion met when Kyiv approves the bill with a completely new procedure - competitive and transparent... The draft is ready. It must pass the evaluation of the Venice Commission," EU Ambassador to Ukraine, Matti Maasikas, explained to EuroPravda (read and watch the full interview on EuroPravda later this week).

Kyiv should not break the rules non-stop because for EU countries is important to feel that Ukraine is committed to reforms. Regarding the CC, Kyiv may soon either create or undermine this feeling.

On September 19, the terms of judge Oleksandr Kasminin expire. His vacant post in the Constitutional Court shall fill President Zelensky. For the presidential quota, exists a competitive procedure for the appointment of a CC judge. And if Zelensky does what the parliament did and simply appoints the right person to the Court, it will have significant consequences for the perception of Ukraine in the EU.

What is the priority?

The requirement regarding the Constitutional Court, which state is currently the worst, may be fulfilled very quickly, even in October. It is enough for the presidential office to hold a fair competition for a new judge and the Verkhovna Rada to approve legislative amendments for the Constitutional Court, based on the VC opinion. If it has not yet been submitted to the VC for analysis, it should be done as soon as possible.

Instead, there are other reforms that need a long time to be implemented. Ukraine has to start working on them now.

One of them is the legal framework for national minorities. Hungary (and probably not only Hungary) will not agree to start negotiations on Ukraine's accession without this bill. Now the government is finalizing it but has not yet registered. Then it will be sent to the Venice Commission, which will listen to the opinion of national minorities in Ukraine and will definitely find some nuances. The parliament will have to endorse the amendments, paying attention to the European Commission notes.

Well, eventually, the Verkhovna Rada shall vote for it. However, it is going to be tough to find the votes in its current composition. Because the government – ​​following Zelensky's public instruction – formalized the bill in an unusual way, calling it the "Bill on National Communities" instead of "National Minorities."

Brussels will not object. After all, EU states use the term "national communities" in their legislation, and in Slovenia, it is even defined in the Constitution. However, it does not exist in Ukraine, and some MPs there are already seeking ways to rename it. European Solidarity, for example, will surely speak out against it.

The second requirement is related to media legislation.

EuroPravda heard from several sources that this requirement emerged in the spring when the Ukrainian opposition wanted to involve European partners in resolving the issue with the TV channels "Priamy," "Espresso," and "Channel 5", which the authorities disconnected from the multiplex in a very dubious manner.

The EU did not agree to directly mention this in their candidacy opinion - and instead, they mentioned another media issue.

It is difficult to say how the Europeans will evaluate its implementation. We can certainly say: that without the adaptation of the European directive, it will simply be impossible to get a positive assessment and start negotiations with the EU.

These were the most significant "parliamentary" tasks, but there are also "presidential" ones.

There is a stereotype that the most difficult EU requirements relate to anti-corruption and judicial reform, but the European Union thinks differently.

EU Ambassador Matti Maasikas, in particular, emphasizes that Ukraine is showing the best and fastest progress on these issues. He also assures: the leadership of Ukraine has given political guarantees to the Europeans that it will fulfill these EU's requirements this year.

Independent experts express quite positive assessments, too. The "New Europe Center" marks "anti-corruption" and "judicial reform" higher than others.

The President must ensure fair competition for a new Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, as well as, as already mentioned, for a new judge of the Constitutional Court. And not to disrupt the reform of the High Council of Justice and the High Qualifications Commission of Judges due to informal connections.

Some European diplomats want to make sure that the newly appointed Prosecutor General does not put spokes in the wheels of his colleague, the newly appointed SAPO head.

Finally - the terms

Kyiv is waiting for news by the end of 2022, when the European Commission will evaluate the fulfillment of the criteria for the first time. Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanyshyna stated she wanted "political clarity" regarding membership by the end of 2022.

However, we should not expect the "green light" from the EU so soon. It is technically impossible. In particular, the procedure on the bill on national minorities will last at least until early 2023.

The most optimistic forecast is a political decision of the European Union in mid 2023 and the start of accession negotiations by the end of 2023. Ukrainians should understand that in order not to be disappointed due to inflated expectations.


Written by Sergiy Sydorenko

"European Pravda" editor

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