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Accession of Ukraine to the European Union: media monitoring for December 2023

In December, the most anticipated topics for journalists were related to the opening of negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to the EU. Those included the European Council’s decision to initiate the accession talks but also its assessments, preliminary insights, and the Verkhovna Rada’s vote on draft laws previously recommended by the European Commission to pave the way for the negotiations.

Media about the accession of Ukraine to the European Union

Ukrainian media extensively covered the initiation of negotiations as an exceptional and significant event. Journalists frequently described the summit’s decision as “historic”, echoing the sentiments expressed by Charles Michel, the President of the European Council. Besides, journalists called it historic not only in regard to Ukraine, but also to the European Union. The media frequently cited the President of Ukraine’s address, where he referred to the commencement of negotiations as “a victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens.” Additionally, the negotiations’ launch was often labelled as one of the most crucial events of the year for the country.

The issue of the Hungarian delegation participation in the EU summit garnered significant attention from Ukrainian journalists. Specifically, they reported on Orbán’s obstruction of all matters related to supporting Ukraine, critical assessments of Ukraine’s reforms, and quoted an insider from the Politico publication regarding Orbán’s opposition to President Zelensky’s involvement in the EU summit.

Ukrainian media extensively covered the incident involving negotiations between Viktor Orbán and EU officials on the day preceding the vote for the initiation of negotiations. The negotiations concluded with a proposal for the head of Hungary to leave the voting hall. Details of this meeting were revealed through comments made by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, in an interview to BBC.

In December, Orbán emerged as a prominent “newsmaker” in the Ukrainian media, mainly due to his frequent critical statements about Ukraine, its EU accession, and the financial aid to the country. Some journalists did not shy away from using negative and emotionally charged language when commenting on the statements or actions of the Hungarian authorities.

The important news regarding the possibility of developing a simplified EU accession procedure for Ukraine got far less attention from Ukrainian journalists. Only a few media outlets highlighted this fact. 

Ukrainian media also frequently quoted Vera Yurova, the Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency. In her comment for Czech media, she stated that “Ukraine’s membership in the EU is a matter of years, not decades.”

Among other topics, Ukrainian journalists actively covered the approval of the EU’s 12th package of economic and individual sanctions against Russia. In particular, they listed the industries that would be subject to restrictions and drew attention to the “complications of attempts to circumvent European restrictive measures.”

Additionally, the media covered the agreement to unblock the Ukrainian-Polish border, the Ukrenergo obtaining full membership status in the European network of electricity transmission system operators ENTSO-E, and the opening of the Horizon Europe programme office in Ukraine.

Draft laws

In December, the Verkhovna Rada adopted four draft laws related to the EU accession, with three of them aimed at implementing the recommendations received from the European Commission in November 2023.

During one day, three draft laws related to anti-corruption bodies were voted. Namely, on strengthening the institutional capacity of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine” (No. 10203-1); on strengthening the independence of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO, No. 10060); and on the extension of the NACP’s anti-corruption capacities (No. 10262). The latter of the draft laws provided the National Agency for Corruption Prevention the authority to inspect assets of officials acquired before their tenure in civil service.

Ukrainian journalists primarily focused on the adoption of the three anti-corruption draft laws in single news. The media referred to them as “important for the European integration” and “necessary for joining the European Union.” However, some outlets ignored the draft law No. 10060 and only covered the provisions related to the adoption of the draft laws on NABU and NACP. This was possibly because the draft law on SAPO was not among the recommendations of the European Commission, which have to be implemented by Ukraine to initiate the accession negotiations.

Media coverage of the adoption of the NABU draft law mainly emphasised on the “increase  of the NABU’s staff cap by 300 people.” The draft law No. 10262 was described by media as legislation enabling NACP to inspect property acquired prior to civil service.

In reporting the preparation of the draft law on SAPO (No. 10060), journalists expressed some critical remarks. They particularly emphasised that the controversial “Lozoviy amendments,” which might enable certain high-ranking Ukrainian corrupt officials to evade accountability, were only partially revoked. Human rights defenders also pointed out that the draft law did not incorporate some crucial recommendations concerning the institution’s operations.

The expedited adoption of the anti-corruption laws provided the Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal with an opportunity to convey a message to the EU about Ukraine’s readiness to commence negotiations: “Ukraine is swiftly advancing towards EU. We anticipate that the European Council will reach a final decision on initiating official negotiations on Ukraine’s accession as early as next week.”

Journalists characterised the adoption of the draft law No. 10288-1 as a “significant expansion of the rights of national minorities.” Also, they often noted that the law was “necessary for the accession to the EU”.

It is worth noting that this text of the law represents an updated version of draft law No. 10288, which had faced active criticism from the Ukrainian journalists and activists. The disapproval was based on the concerns that the new law would expand the use of the russian language by granting it a national minority language status. The law was also condemned as “undermining the protective mechanisms” for the Ukrainian language. Media outlets quoted MP’s who stated that the current version of the law had the potential of “safeguarding the society against a possible decline in the role of the Ukrainian language” and that the “removal of the provisions from the law could lead to increased russification.” At the same time, some media highlighted potential threats that remained in the new version of the draft law.

In the previous issue of media monitoring covering November, we covered the public debates that related to the European Commission’s requirement to pass a lobbying law and the text of the draft law provided by the government. During December, the draft law was amended to incorporate civil society’s suggestions. Subsequently, the draft law No. 10337-1 was submitted to the Verkhovna Rada for consideration.


In December, analysts produced articles on the topic of the initiation of the accession negotiations and the further progress of the EU integration of Ukraine.

Dmytro Shulga, the Programmes Director at the International Renaissance Foundation, forecasted the potential timeline for the EU accession and the key trends of this process in 2024. According to him, in 2024, the EU will focus more on Ukraine’s efforts to implement a level playing field: encompassing competition rules, social, environmental, and technical standards. Additionally, the author expressed confidence that the approval of the Ukraine Facility on 1 February should not pose a challenge for Ukraine. Shulga anticipated that the first intergovernmental conference would likely take place no earlier than the end of the spring. The expert also underscored the importance for Ukraine to strive to open as many negotiation chapters as possible in the first half of 2024.

Experts from the Ukrainian Centre for European Policy urged Ukrainian officials to “take proactive action.” Specifically, they recommended initiating the fulfillment of the preliminary conditions for the commencement of the negotiations with the “Fundamental Reforms” Cluster, which includes preparing an action plan and a roadmap for the reforms outlined in the relevant Chapters. The authors also emphasized the importance for the Ukrainian government to form a negotiation position and EU acquis implementation timelines to ensure readiness for the opening of sectoral clusters, without waiting for the completion of the screening process.

Dmytro Lyvch, the Executive Director of the EasyBusiness NGO, explored the four possible systems of institutional regulation for European integration in his article and determined which one was best suited for Ukraine in the country’s current context. The expert underscored that there was no universal effective system for regulating European integration, and that each candidate country tailored it to its political and administrative realities. According to him, the effective models for Ukraine may include those that do not require a complete restructuring of the Government Office. Specifically, the options may include a direct subordination of the Government Office to the relevant Deputy Prime Minister or the reinforcement of the Government Office’s coordination by the Deputy Prime Minister without any significant alterations of the current government structure.

Mykhailo Zagorodniy, an analyst with the Chesno NGO, disclosed the European Commission’s assessment of the decentralisation reform by Ukraine. According to him, Ukraine made significant progress in this area. However, behind the facade of the EU’s approval, there were numerous critical remarks. Specifically, the European partners of Ukraine criticised some of the regional policies such as the formation of the military administrations in non-frontline regions, as well as the limited transparency and openness of the local budgets, and insufficient involvement of the local self-government bodies in shaping state policies. The EU has particularly emphasised the necessity to abandon the urban planning draft law No. 5655. The analyst notes that attempts to pass a new draft law that essentially duplicates the controversial legislation “may not only lead to further discord between the government, the civil society and the local self-government but also jeopardise Ukraine’s accession to the EU.”

Marianna Onufryk, an expert on social policy of the Euroscope project by the ANTS NGO, highlighted the adoption of the new national minorities legislation, the deinstitutionalisation of child protection and persons with disabilities, as well as the reform of the employment system for people with disabilities as the three primary achievements of 2023 in accession to the EU in the field of humanitarian and social policy. Nevertheless, she acknowledged that substantial reform efforts in the latter two areas were still required.