Corruption is undermining all efforts to rebuild Ukraine in line with European Union norms, according to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
“What we are asking… is to increase the fight against corruption, because corruption is undermining all the efforts this great nation is undertaking,” Juncker said at a joint briefing with European Council President Donald Tusk. The two men were in Kiev for a 24-hour summit with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko.
“We remain very concerned,” added Juncker.
As reported by the Reuters news agency, the criticism suggests the EU delegation may have taken a tougher-than-expected line in talks forecast to be largely upbeat after the confirmation on July 11 of an association agreement for closer political and trade ties.
The pro-Western government in Kiev has sought to boost EU relations since the ouster of a Moscow-backed president in 2014, implementing reforms in exchange for billions of dollars in aid and a new visa-free travel deal with the European Union.
But Ukraine’s allies have repeatedly expressed concern that vested interests and corrupt practices remain entrenched, partly due to weak rule of law.
The European Union and the Ukraine’s main financial backer, the International Monetary Fund, have called for the creation of a specialised anti-corruption court, but Juncker said a new solution had been agreed at the summit.
In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Mykhailo Zhernakov, a judicial expert at the non-governmental coalition Reanimation Package of Reforms, said the agreement would be a big disappointment to those campaigning for greater accountability in the justice system.
“There’s no way that a chamber in any court will be as independent as a separate court,” he told Reuters. “It’s not going to help.”
According to a European Commission press release, the ratification of the Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (AA/ DCFTA) provides the blueprint for Ukraine’s ambitious reform path and fosters trade and investment between the EU and Ukraine.
After more than a year of provisional application of the DCFTA, trade has grown by 10%, cementing the EU as Ukraine’s first trading partner. Leaders also welcomed the political agreement to grant autonomous trade measures for Ukraine, which would further boost bilateral trade through the elimination of additional tariffs and customs duties on agricultural and industrial products.