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21st Apr 2019

Corruption delays Ukraine’s EU visa bid

  • The Maidan revolution in Kiev in 2014 was prompted by the former regime's egregious corruption (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Corruption - the same issue that provoked the Maidan revolution two years ago - is now holding back Ukrainian people’s free access to Europe, according to initial EU talks on visas.

“There are still substantial problems that will require more time to be clarified”, an EU source told EUobserver on Wednesday (15 June), one day after EU countries held their first talks on whether to grant Ukraine a visa waiver.

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  • Visa-free access to EU impossible before EP vote, but EU states' green light would be important gesture (Photo: Marco Fieber)

“A number of member states mentioned problems concerning anti-corruption and the fight against organised crime. Some also brought up the issue of unjustified asylum claims as a problem,” the source said.

Ukraine’s compliance with the Minsk ceasefire deal on the conflict with Russia was not mentioned, the source added.

The talks were held by mid-level diplomats in the so called visa working party in the EU Council in Brussels.

The next step would be to seek agreement by EU ambassadors in the so called Coreper group.

But the Dutch EU presidency has decided to hold more talks in the working party on 20 June instead in order to avoid a repeat of the Georgia fiasco.

The Hague last week called for a Coreper decision on Georgia’s visa waiver. But France, Germany and Italy blocked it, causing surprise and bad feeling.

The European Parliament (EP) must also have its say on Ukraine and Georgia before people can make their first visa-free trips.

This is unlikely before September. But the EP calendar does not stop EU states from giving their accord earlier - a political gesture that would be warmly welcomed in Kiev and Tbilisi.

Prosecutor to the rescue

Ukraine also on Tuesday sent its new prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, to speak to MEPs about anti-corruption reforms.

Lutsenko said the old prosecution service “had not changed one iota” since Soviet times. “The post-Soviet system will be demolished. This must happen in the next year”, he said.

He said he would promote young people to top jobs, including former NGO activists and veterans from the conflict in east Ukraine.

“There will be a big fishing expedition for big fish … People will see that there are no more untouchables in Ukraine, that the same laws apply to everybody”, he said.

Ukrainian activists have high hopes for Lutsenko, who was an MP loyal to president Petro Poroshenko prior to taking up his new post.

Roman Sohn, a pro-democracy activist and a columnist for Ukrainska Pravda, an investigative website, said it is important that Lutsenko comes from outside the prosecution service, which he called a “mafia-like” organisation.

He said Poroshenko sent in Lutsenko because the president needs to deliver results to get re-elected. “I actually expect a lot [from Lutsenko],” he said.

Pressure

Kalman Mizsei, a Hungarian diplomat who until recently led an EU rule of law mission to Kiev, told EUobserver that Poroshenko is “under pressure” from the West and from Ukrainian civil society to bring to justice some of the people who made fortunes under former president Viktor Yanukovych.

But Mizsei said Poroshenko still “needs the support of many oligarchs of that era” to run the country.

He also said that Poroshenko has to make sure that the prosecution service, an important instrument of power in Ukraine, does not fall into the hands of one of his political enemies.

“For him, the game is to have one of his trusted people there [in the prosecution service] but yield to the demand of prosecuting at least some of the culprits of the Yanukovych regime”, Mizsei said.

Poroshenko will be in Brussels on 27 June to meet the presidents of the Commission, Council and Parliament, as well as the head of the EU foreign service.

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