Internal challenges such as corruption pose challenges to Ukraine’s EU bid

Kyiv, Ukraine – The majority of Ukrainians and the country’s political elite have been supporting EU accession for years, yet the country has faced most of the major governance changes needed to do so.

Many Ukrainians point out that they are the only Europeans to have fought and died for the cause of joining the union, noting that Russian military interventions began in 2014 in response to street protests demanding a free trade agreement. with Europe.

But whatever the sympathy for Ukraine in Europe, no one is giving up on accession rules that include fighting corruption. For a pluralistic democracy with a sharp elbow policy and, at least until the war, a huge role for business elites known as oligarchs, meeting the requirements will be a difficult problem. The interconnected and deep-rooted problems of political and business influence in the courts are a central obstacle.

Politicians, who are also businessmen, are pulling the strings to appoint judges who, in turn, rule in their favor in trade disputes. Only two years ago, the Prime Minister in the then government of President Vladimir Zelensky resigned partly to protest how a politically connected businessman managed to profit from the electricity company serving Kyiv, the capital. Mr. Zelensky refused to give the businessman Igor Kolomoiskyany special services.

The European Commission has made Ukraine’s candidate status subject to seven major changes in the country’s judiciary and government. Ukraine will need to ensure an independent judiciary, eliminate high-level corruption, pass media laws, limit the influence of oligarchs and improve legislation on money laundering and protection of minorities, the commission said.

In a sense, the war seems to have eased these tasks. The status of the oligarchs has plummeted as some have fled and others have lost assets and revenue in the fighting, while in the foreseeable future the economy will rely more on foreign aid than on oligarchically controlled exports of goods.

The security services, once partially controlled behind the scenes by business titans, have solidified their positions, defending the country as a whole, not business interests.

In other ways, the war has created new obstacles to Ukraine’s European aspirations, beyond the obvious threat of the country being conquered by Russia.

Under martial law, opposition television stations were excluded from the national cable system. If the war and martial law continue for months or years, it is unlikely that regular elections will be held.

“The government deserves only applause” for winning Ukraine’s long-sought admission to the EU, Vladimir Ariev, a member of parliament from the opposition European Solidarity party, said in an interview. “But we must maintain our development in a democratic way, otherwise we may lose our candidate status.”

Alexander Chubko contributed to the reports from Kyiv.

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