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The accession of Ukraine to the European Union: institutional and personnel aspects

Joining the EU will have a positive impact on the protection of basic rights and the improvement of the public administration system. Numerous economic and social ratings, as well as the experience of countries that joined the EU before Ukraine, confirm this fact. However, joining the Union cannot be viewed as just a simple tool for improving living standards and carrying out reforms by other people’s hands. Ukrainian officials and politicians will need to do a lot of work before joining the EU.

The accession to the EU is usually perceived as a primarily political process, which primarily requires the political will of the member states` political elites. Although the political factors of the accession to the EU should not be underestimated, the fact that the European Union is a well-regulated structure with a significant number of institutions, policies and internal rules that implies to all joining countries is often overshadowed by the media and public. It is necessary not only to adhere to basic democratic values and a competitive economy for the member countries, but also to harmonize legislation and policies in almost every sphere of public administration for the effective operation of the whole European Union. Therefore, the accession of any country to the EU is always preceded by a long process of harmonizing legislation and policies, as well as carrying out relevant reforms. The officials of EU members` countries have repeatedly made statements that they are not planning to “lower the bar” of their expectations for Ukraine.

The requirements of the EU

The basic requirements for the accession of new EU member states were formulated in 1993 at a meeting of the European Council in Copenhagen, and were defined as the Copenhagen criteria. They consisted of three complex requirements:

The political criteria – the stability of institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and the protection of minority rights;

The economic criteria – an effective and competitive market economy;

The membership criteria – the ability to assume the obligations during joining the EU. In particular, recognize its political, economic and monetary goals.

Since 2004, during the new wave of EU enlargement, a clear list of requirements has been formed for almost every area of state policy based on these criteria. This is how 31 (later 35) chapters of the acquis (norms, regulations, rules and policies) were compiled. The EU acquis (or acquis communautaire, translated from French as “community’s acquisition”) covers a wide range of legislation, from customs and public procurement to intellectual property and fisheries.

The requirements for certain acquis (for instance, “Education and Culture” or “Science and Research”) are minor and somewhat formal. The EU recognizes the right of national governments to determine their internal policies on these issues individually. However, most of the other acquis have clear requirements that necessitate substantial reforms and a lengthy process of harmonization of regulations and policies.

Just a few numbers are enough to understand the volume of the necessary work. According to Olga Stefanishina, the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, Ukraine needs to adapt approximately 29,000 pieces of European legislation. Specialists at the National Civil Service Agency of Ukraine have determined that the negotiating chapters for Ukraine’s accession to the EU regulate 128 policy areas; at least 76 state authorities at the central level will be involved in the accession process. These authorities include not only ministries but also other executive bodies, judicial institutions, independent regulators, and more.

Furthermore, it’s essential for European partners to engage representatives from the public sector at all stages of aligning with EU legislation, particularly to provide an independent assessment of the government’s policies. For instance, leading Ukrainian NGOs regularly monitor the implementation of 7 “candidate” recommendations from the EU and the Association Agreement.

At what stage of accession is Ukraine now?

To initiate the negotiation process, Ukraine must fully implement the seven recommendations given by the European Union in June 2022. According to the European Commission, Ukraine has currently implemented 2 out of the 7 recommendations, while the remaining ones have been partially implemented. Nevertheless, the European Commission’s assessment states that “Kyiv is making successful progress in their implementation.

Additionally, Ukraine is currently conducting a self-screening (self-audit) of its legislation to ensure compliance with the acquis of the European Union. According to Denys Shmyhal, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, ministries and other central executive bodies are required to complete their self-screening by the end of June and submit the results to the government by August 30th. As of today, only the Ministry of Health has publicly reported full implementation of self-screening. The ministry has reviewed more than 1,500 EU legal acts in the field of healthcare and identified 347 normative acts that must be incorporated into Ukrainian legislation in this area. It has also been reported that the Ministry of Justice has completed self-screening for two negotiation chapters – Chapter 23 “Judiciary and Fundamental Rights” and Chapter 24 “Justice, Freedom, and Security,” analyzing 1,300 EU legal acts.”

In August, the results of the first stage of self-screening were published. According to them, about 3,000 acts of EU law have to be incorporated into Ukrainian legislation. It is expected that the audit should be completed and publicly presented by the end of 2023. After that, the government plans to develop a national program of regulatory approximation to EU legal acts.

After fulfilling the recommendations required for candidate status, the process of negotiations on joining the EU will begin. Ukraine will present its own negotiating group for each chapter of the acquis. Such groups usually include not only officials but also specialized experts, representatives of the industry, and the public sector. Representatives of Ukraine will prove the compliance of Ukrainian legislation with EU norms and coordinate the process of integrating their industry into a single legal space with representatives of EU negotiating groups.

The institutional aspect of accession to the EU

The institutional aspect of EU accession undoubtedly requires effective coordination of the long-term efforts of numerous state bodies and structures across various areas of state administration for the harmonization of legislation. There is no single proven system of effective coordination for aligning with the EU, as demonstrated by various international experiences where different countries have chosen distinct models.

The Ukrainian authorities are exploring various scenarios for coordinating the legislative alignment process with the EU acquis. In November 2022, the government contemplated the idea of creating a new ministry that would integrate several distinct policy areas, including the Ministry of European Integration, Culture, and Information Policy. However, this concept did not garner support among experts. Serhiy Sydorenko, the editor of “Evropeiska Pravda” media, even dubbed it “the worst managerial decision since 2014 in the field of Ukraine’s EU and NATO integration coordination” due to its inconsistency with the country’s immediate priorities in European integration, where cultural diplomacy plays a less central role. Nevertheless, it appears that this idea has been abandoned for the time being.”

As of today, the Government Office for the Coordination of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration, a body under the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers, coordinates the harmonization of legislation at the government level. It functions as an ‘additional coordinating advisory body’ with the authority to influence the work of ministries. The institution’s authority includes ‘planning, coordinating, and monitoring the process of harmonizing Ukrainian legislation with EU law, as well as ensuring compliance of draft acts with national legislation requirements.’ According to the 2018 report from the EU Sigma program, this body had weak institutional capacity for its tasks. However, the structure’s capacity has been somewhat strengthened, particularly with the addition of the right to submit draft legislative acts for government consideration. The insufficient staffing of the Office poses a significant obstacle to its effective functioning, since its current workforce comprises fewer than 40 people.

The institutes of directorates of strategic planning and European integration are other important bodies in the EU accession coordination system. These bodies must be established under each ministry. They oversee the harmonization of legislation within ministries and collaborate with the Government Office, which coordinates the relevant processes at the central level. The development of the Institute of Directorates in Ukraine began in 2017. The main task of directorates is policy formation, namely engaging in long-term planning and addressing global challenges. In Ukraine, ministries often focus solely on operational tasks and the preparation of individual legal acts instead of comprehensive policies. 

2019 resolution by the Cabinet of Ministers introduced directorates of strategic planning and European integration, which were to be established in each ministry. However, as of today, they have been created in only nine out of 20 ministries, resulting in an uneven level of readiness among various ministries to align Ukrainian legislation with the EU acquis.

At the parliamentary level, the key body responsible for harmonizing legislation is the Committee on Ukraine’s Integration into the European Union. This committee assesses the compliance of draft laws with Ukraine’s international legal obligations related to EU accession, including compliance with EU acquis, which other committees work on. The committee’s work is hindered by what is known as “legislative spam” – numerous draft laws that either duplicate or make minor changes to previously considered drafts. As a result, not all draft laws are evaluated by the committee. It’s important to note that the committee’s conclusions are essentially advisory in nature, and they represent non-binding recommendations.

In April 2023, another internationally-funded parliamentary coordination body was created – the Office for Support of Adaptation of Ukrainian Legislation to the EU acquis. The task of this institution is to provide expert, analytical, informational, and documentary support to the committees of the Ukrainian Parliament during the development of draft laws related to European integration. For now, it is difficult to determine the institution’s activities as it is currently in the process of staffing, and there is limited public information available about it.

However, the key problems in the coordination of EU accession are not solely related to the shortcomings in certain institutions. Firstly, the effectiveness of the EU accession process is significantly hindered by inherent issues within Ukraine’s policymaking system.

Experts consider Ukraine’s policy development system as the weakest link in governance. There is no legal framework that regulates the entire process of policy analysis and development, nor is there a prescribed strategy for its development. Consequently, Ukrainian executive bodies often focus on short-term “directives” and do not systematically work on the implementation of long-term policies.”

Dysfunctional interaction between different branches of government also worsens the situation. ‘The government should play the main role in policy formation and be mainly responsible for the negotiation process with the European Commission. Thus, the government should ensure the unity of policy formation and accession to the EU. A systematic approach to the analysis of state policy and the development of policy documents by ministries and directorates should play a key role in this process. Therefore, the parliament should primarily adopt draft laws proposed by the government. Unlike government officials, members of parliament do not have their own apparatus that could effectively and deeply analyze the problems of the field. Meanwhile, Ukraine has a tendency to decrease the number of adopted government bills in the Parliament,’ says Victoria Melnyk, head of European integration projects at the Center for Political and Legal Reforms.

An even deeper institutional problem in Ukraine is the incompleteness of the reform of the state administration apparatus. As a result, there is no clear distinction in spheres of responsibility among different state bodies. This problem has affected the EU accession process. Thus, a survey conducted by the National Civil Service Agency of Ukraine (NADS) and released in May 2023 found that no leading state authority responsible for policy formation has been identified in 12 of the 128 policy areas included in the negotiation sections. On the other hand, several bodies immediately defined their role as leading in 27 areas. In such conditions, it is difficult to count on the effective implementation of the painstaking work needed in the accession process.

“Public administration reform is one of the most important aspects of Ukraine’s accession to the European Union,” Victoria Melnyk concludes.

Therefore, the need for effective coordination of Ukraine’s accession to the European Union could also contribute to the development of the entire public administration system.”

The personal aspect of accession to the EU

The effectiveness of accession suffers not only from institutional problems but also from issues related to personnel. Specifically, systemic difficulties were revealed in a survey of officials conducted by the National Agency of Ukraine on Civil Service Issues (NADS).

According to the survey, a total of 3,259 officials (1,405 in full-time equivalents) will be involved in these processes. Among them, 57% do not speak English at a level that allows them to work with specialized texts, and 39% have never been involved in harmonizing legislation to comply with EU law. Only 30% of officials simultaneously have a sufficient level of English proficiency and an understanding of EU law. The interaction between various institutions in the accession process also needs improvement, as 51.5% of respondents admitted that they do not collaborate with other state authorities while conducting relevant policies.

It can also be assumed that staffing levels deteriorated due to personnel outflow after the outbreak of full-scale war. However, there are currently no studies to confirm this.

In recommendations based on the results of the conducted survey, the NADS recognizes the necessity to raise the qualifications of Ukrainian officials involved in EU accession, particularly through the development of the professional training system. Since September, a resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers regarding professional training of civil servants at the expense of international technical assistance has been in effect. According to this resolution, state bodies annually submit information on priority areas of professional training by February 1st. Subsequently, NADS and the Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers coordinate the provision of educational programs from international partners and agree on candidacies.

As part of these educational programs, an English-learning program for civil servants was launched in November 2022. More than 3,500 officials have already completed training on the platform. Many of these events are supported by EU projects. For example, the Association4U EU project held a training course on communication issues in the field of European integration for civil servants. In 2022, the TAIEX tool organized 10 expert missions and 9 seminars in Ukraine with the aim of developing the civil service and aligning Ukrainian legislation with EU standards.”

At the same time, such problems cannot be solved only by training current employees. “Raising the level of competence of individual officials is only plugging holes,” Victoria Melnyk comments. The expert emphasizes that a sufficient level of mastery of European law must be ensured at the level of higher education. Even after Ukraine becomes a member of the EU, the need for experts in European law will only increase. Because Ukraine will need specialists for successful integration into EU institutions and effective joint decision-making.

Therefore, accession to the European Union should cultivate a new generation of managers who will be prepared to systematically work on the introduction of European approaches and norms in Ukraine, as well as represent Ukraine in the future within the joint bodies and institutions of the EU.