The accession negotiation procedure opens the "Fundamentals" cluster first and closes last. Evaluation is ongoing. This is the aspect that Ukraine's allies and opponents in the EU will scrutinise most closely.
More than half of the European Commission's conclusion on opening accession talks with Ukraine focused on issues within the Fundamentals block.
It includes not only a description of successes but also a list of important, priority, and sometimes urgent tasks.
The European Commission pays the most attention to the rule of law and fundamental rights, specifically Chapter 23 "Judiciary and fundamental rights" and Chapter 24 "Justice, Freedom and Security." These chapters receive the highest number of comments and specific instructions on what Ukraine needs to do to progress.
The European Commission's report on the compliance of the Ukrainian judicial system with EU standards was not highly rated – 2 out of 5, indicating "some level of compliance." The progress over the last year, according to the European Commission, however, is considered "good."
The EU expect from Ukrain in the upcoming year among other things, the filling of vacancies in the Constitutional Court, the return of judge selection with integrity checks by the new High Qualification Commission of Judges (HQCJ) and the Public Integrity Council (PIC), qualification assessment of judges, the establishment of disciplinary inspectors' service, and progress in disciplinary proceedings, as well as comprehensive digitisation of the judicial system.
Although the European Commission acknowledged Ukraine's achievements in creating an anti-corruption infrastructure and its notable activity over the past year, there are short-term and strategic tasks that need attention.
One of the priorities highlighted by the European Commission is changing the selection procedure for leadership positions in the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAPO).
Regarding adherence to the principles of freedom of speech and expression, Ukraine has a slightly higher score than the overall rating for the sector of fundamental rights, ranging between "some level of compliance" and "average compliance" with EU standards. Ukraine has demonstrated "good progress" in this area recently despite the ongoing war.
Interestingly, the European Commission has not experienced a marathon of criticism, understanding the context of the large-scale war and the need to maintain information security. The EU emphasises though that when maritial law is over, it will be necessary to fully restore pluralism.
So, while temporary restrictions are perceived adequately, the European Commission emphasises the importance of understanding that they are not permanent.
The EU formulations in most positions coincide with the recommendations of Ukrainian NGOs, which have been advocating for relevant reforms in these areas for years.
The state should closely cooperate with civil society, involving it in the design and monitoring of reforms. Most of the laws awaited by the EU have either been passed in the first reading and have been lying in parliament for over a year, or their basic principles have long been under public discussion and are awaiting implementation.
Most of the processes expected to succeed are already underway and gaining momentum. The main task now is to double and triple the pace and stay on course.
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