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19th Jan 2020

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Denmark leads Ukraine anti-corruption drive

  • Enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn and Danish foreign minister Kristian Jensen listen to former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski in Kiev (Photo: European Commission)

The EU has unveiled a €16 million programme to fight corruption in Ukraine, amid concerns that the country’s officials are undermining a key reform.

Denmark’s foreign minister Kristian Jensen, whose country has been chosen to implement the three-year long programme, weighed into the row over a new computerised declaration of interests system for public officials.

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The e-declaration system aims to make public officials criminally liable for providing false information, and was one of the conditions for Ukrainians to receive visa-free travel to the EU.

But groups in Ukraine’s parliament have filed amendments to weaken the system, in a move condemned by the country's anti-corruption committee.

And anti-corruption activists say bureaucrats have also tried to sabotage the system.

“We fully share the view of the anti-corruption committee - there should be no changes made to the law,” Jensen told EUobserver on the phone from Kiev, where he was unveiling the new scheme alongside EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn.

“Commissioner Hahn and I raised that in our meetings with [Ukrainian] prime minister Volodomyr Groysman,” he said.

Hahn told journalists in Kiev: “Delays have already left a bad impression. No-one should forget that the EU is watching carefully as the final decisions are taken on visa liberalisation.”

Ukraine remains one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, despite the 2014 Maidan revolutionaries demanding an end to graft.

Jensen has called on his EU counterparts to step up help for Ukraine’s reform efforts, which, according to the minister, are hampered by “vested interests” and a lack of organisational and financial capacities to implement anti-corruption measures.

The programme aims, among other things, to support the newly established anti-corruption bodies. Ukraine had to appoint a special prosecutor and may set up special anti-corruption courts, as existing institutions have proven unable to bring corrupt leaders to justice.

The EU also wants to help the parliament’s anti-corruption committee to scrutinise and implement legislation.

The programme’s final pillar will be to support civil society, which is a leading player in the fight against dishonest dealings.

The scheme will also comprise two pilot projects against corruption, which will take place in two provinces.

One EU official told this publication that in the end, it is up to Ukrainians to make sure that corrupt leaders are removed.

“That’s not our role. We can just support anti-corruption bodies and organisations to do that, but they have to own the process,” the official said.

The head of the parliament's anti-corruption committee, Yehor Soboliev, told EUobserver he was enthusiastic about the programme.

“The goals of the programme is great, this is what we wanted,” Soboliev said.

But Daria Kaleniuk, a leading anti-corruption activist who was consulted by EU officials in preparations of the programme, said she had expected more.

“We expected more practical intervention,” she said, mentioning “joint EU-Ukraine teams of prosecutors to work with Ukrainian anti-corruption bodies on cases of joint jurisdiction”.

She worried that large parts of the €16 million would be spent on European experts.

“We already have our own anti-corruption experts,” Kaleniuk said, “and to be frank, experts are not very effective”.

Only law enforcement could root out corruption by putting corrupt officials in prison, she said.

Kaleniuk has been vocal about how the EU has helped to facilitate corruption, for instance by not doing enough to stop money being siphoned off to EU countries.

But she said the EU played a pivotal role in the fight against corruption and that it had managed to make a change with its visa liberalisation and budget support processes, which all put conditions on Ukraine’s government. She welcomed the strong language coming from the EU.

The anti-corruption programme has not been fully formulated, and the specific initiatives are expected to be rolled out from the start of 2017.

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