KIEV, July 13 - The European Union has urged Ukraine to ramp up its battle with corruption if it wants to move closer to the bloc and attract much-needed foreign investment at a Kiev summit that took place during protests demanding tougher action on graft, the Irish Times reported.
Two days after the EU finally ratified a historic trade and political pact with Ukraine, top officials from both sides insisted the country’s future lay with Europe and that it would survive a draining “hybrid” conflict with its former ally Russia.
There was disappointment, however, that no final declaration was expected after the summit due to disagreement over wording among EU states, and that Brussels watered down demands that Ukraine create a special anti-corruption court.
“What we are asking . . . is to increase the fight against corruption, because corruption is undermining all the efforts this great nation is undertaking, ”European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said.
“We remain very concerned,” he added, alongside European Council president Donald Tusk and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko.
“If you do not destroy corruption at all levels in your society, investors won’t come to Ukraine. It should be the most important battle,” Juncker was quoted as saying by the Ukrainian presidency.
As protesters gathered outside parliament to demand more judicial and anti-corruption reforms and the creation of a special court to try graft cases, Juncker said that in fact “a special chamber devoted to this issue, that will be enough”.
It was unclear what powers the chamber would have inside Ukraine’s supreme court, but anti-corruption campaigners have long insisted that a new court was needed to tackle graft among powerful businessmen and politicians.
“Why the EU position is changing so fast?” Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Centre asked on Twitter.
Mykhailo Zhernakov, a legal expert at a Ukrainian NGO called the Reanimation Package of Reforms, said: “There’s no way that a chamber in any court will be as independent as a separate court . . . It’s not going to help.”
Poroshenko and his allies are accused of dithering on legal reforms because they fear that a fully independent judiciary would investigate their dealings and stop them using the threat of prosecution in crooked courts as leverage over rivals.
The Dutch parliament approved the EU-Ukraine association deal only this year, more than two years after it was signed, following a non-binding referendum in which most of the 32 per cent of voters who turned out oppose the pact.
Glossing over the absence of a final statement, Tusk said the key phrase in the historic pact was that “the European Union acknowledges the European aspirations of Ukraine and welcomes its European choice”.
“Your most important task should be to build a modern state that is citizen-friendly, resistant to corruption, respectful of the highest standards of public life,” he added. “If you pass also this exam, nothing and no one will defeat you.” (it/ez)