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Accession of Ukraine to the European Union: May 2023 media monitoring

In May, media attention to the subject of the accession of Ukraine to the European Union increased significantly. Compared to April, the number of mentions of related issues increased by 53% in leading online media and by 70% in social networks. This was connected both with the celebration of Europe Day on May 9, and with several other important media occasions (international visits of Volodymyr Zelensky, extension of the “economic visa-free”, allocation of a new tranche from the IMF). As in previous months, the mass media continued to actively pick up optimistic forecasts regarding the accession to the EU from Ukrainian and Western top officials.

Media about the accession of Ukraine to the European Union

The Ukrainian media paid the most attention to the news about the allocation of a new tranche of macro-financial aid from the EU around May 23. Many sources cited an excerpt from the European Commission’s communique, which stated that these funds “will be spent on paying salaries and pensions, as well as on the provision of basic public services – the operation of hospitals, schools, housing for displaced persons… critical infrastructure damaged by the war.” Some media even made this clarification in the headlines.

In mid-May, Ukrainian media summarized the results of Volodymyr Zelensky’s series of visits to Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Journalists often quoted the statement of Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he reported on “new defense packages” and “increased political support”, other media (Liga, Depo, “Slovo i Dilo”) summed up the results of the meetings independently. The mass media mainly focused on the negotiations regarding military support and Ukraine’s future accession to NATO. To a lesser extent, the issue of supporting European integration and the start of negotiations on joining the EU was highlighted during the visits to Italy and France.

Covering Europe Day, the media did not often write about the few celebrations that took place in the cities of Ukraine. Instead, much more of their attention was paid to the visit of Ursula von der Leyen to Kyiv. They detailed the program of the visit and quoted the statements of the official and Ukrainian heads of state. In particular, the optimistic forecasts of the latter regarding joining the EU. For example, Ruslan Stefanchuk’s words about the expectation of the start of negotiations on joining the EU already this year and Volodymyr Zelensky’s statement that “the time has come for a positive decision on the opening of membership negotiations.” The media noted that in the negotiations with the President of the European Commission, in addition to joining the EU, they also discussed the topic of restrictions on the export of Ukrainian agricultural products, a new package of sanctions against Russia, the supply of ammunition and financial support to Ukraine.

One of the most quoted statements in Ukrainian online media in May belonged to Olaf Scholz. At the celebration of the 160th anniversary of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, he predicted Ukraine’s entry into the EU after the victory (“The war will end with the entry of free Ukraine into the European Union as a full member”). Despite the fact that the statement was made at an informal event and did not contain any specifics, the Ukrainian media actively picked it up, and some even somewhat manipulatively headlined “Sholz said when exactly Ukraine will join the EU.”

The continuation of the “economic visa-free regime” (“suspension of customs duties, quotas and trade protection measures regarding Ukrainian exports to the EU”) also received considerable media attention. In particular, journalists often shared President Volodymyr Zelensky’s comment on the news, which noted that “we should make such liberalization permanent, and without any exceptions or limitations.”

Quite often, the media wrote about the adoption of a strategic plan for reforming law enforcement agencies. At the same time, journalists usually emphasized that the adoption of the strategy is “one of the requirements of the EU” and cited the comment of the EU representative office, which welcomed the adoption of the document.

Analytics and draft laws

In May, in the second reading, only one draft law was adopted, which concerns the approximation of Ukrainian legislation to the acqui of the European Union – No. 9206 on amendments to the Law of Ukraine “On Advertising”. The adoption of the law is related to the implementation of the EU acquis in the field of audiovisual advertising and ensures the implementation of one of the seven recommendations of the European Commission, necessary for the start of the negotiation process regarding Ukraine’s accession to the EU. The media mostly did not criticize this law and noted that it “corresponds to European norms” and is “a step towards European integration”. At the same time, several business associations opposed the ban on the display of tobacco products at the points of sale. However, the corresponding provision remained in the text of the draft law.

An important product of the work of researchers of the accession of Ukraine to EU was the release of the new Candidate Check Four – independent monitoring of the implementation of the European Commission’s seven recommendations by a number of Ukrainian dedicated analytical centers and Civil Society organizations. According to the results of the experts’ evaluation, in comparison with the February’s evaluation, Ukraine has improved its indicators from the level of 5.8 to 6.8 on the 10 points scale. The experts noted that “in more than 10 months of application, Ukraine has demonstrated tangible progress in the implementation of the seven pro-European reforms.” Recommendations on the continuation of the judicial reform and the implementation of the anti-corruption recommendations are approaching full implementation, however, according to the experts, “a certain stagnation is occurring” in the implementation of recommendations on combating money laundering. A more detailed review of the Candidate Check Four ratings was published in the “Evropeiska Pravda” publication. In particular, it called the implementation of recommendations in the media sphere a “success story” and predicted possible problems due to Hungary’s likely negative reaction to the reform of the legislative framework regarding national minorities.

The editor of “Evropeiska Pravda” Yury Panchenko reviewed the legal grounds for the temporary ban on the import of four agricultural products from Ukraine, and also assessed the likelihood of extending the restrictions after June 5 2023. He emphasized that Kyiv must “prove that the extension of restrictions is possible only on the basis of trade investigations.” In such a case, it will be difficult for Brussels to legally prove that it was the rapid growth of imports from Ukraine that led to the problems of European agricultural producers.

Experts of the “Laboratory of Legislative Initiatives” organization provided an assessment of the draft law No. 5431, which aims to harmonize Ukraine’s legislation with the Western norms in the field of competition (anti-monopoly) policy. They noted that the innovation is capable of improving crime-fighting tools, expanding the powers of the antimonopoly committee and improving its financing. At the same time, according to the experts, the draft law does not ensure the political independence of the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine, which may lead to the abuse of the new powers and tools.

Experts of the NGO “Advocate of the Future” reviewed the state of implementation of the reform of the prosecutor’s office in Ukraine in the context of European integration. According to their assessment, at the legislative level, Ukraine has already “created the basis for a European-style prosecutor’s office.” At the same time, there remain significant problems with the application of this legislation and with the development of new institutional practices. For example, general prosecutors are often appointed on a political basis rather than on professional criteria.

Analysts of the EasyBusiness organization estimated the amount of funds that Ukraine can receive from structural investment funds after joining the EU. They also emphasized that it is important to increase the capacity to implement development projects today and to explore the possibilities of using funds from the funds in order to ensure a high level of development in the future.

Ecologist Andrii Demydenko, in an article for the analytical platform Vox Ukraine, considered the prospects of attracting international funds for the post-war “green” recovery of Ukraine. Among other things, he emphasized the need to improve Ukrainian legislation (in particular, to define the concepts of “environmental damage” and “environmental liability”), to ratify the EU Directive on environmental accountability, to involve authorities in determining the extent of environmental damage.

In a review of the European Green Deal the “Ekodia” NGO notes that Ukraine lacks a holistic approach to the implementation of the Green Deal, in particular, in the part of consideration of environmental and climate challenges in the fields of energy, industrial policy, agriculture, transport, and finance. The text also emphasizes that the European Green Deal should become “The guidance for Ukraine’s recovery.”