Adhering to common European values is an indispensable pre-condition for Ukraine eventually joining the EU, and a challenge for the government of the former Soviet republic.
Just how much of a challenge, and just how much Ukraine’s credibility rests on meeting it, has been illustrated by the recent case of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose imprisonment for seven years on corruption charges last October prompted international protests, including from the EU.
President Viktor Yanukovych has since declared there is a pressing need for reform of criminal justice and of the outdated criminal code under which Ms Tymoshenko was convicted. “I am convinced that once we fulfil this difficult job Ukraine will get modern European standards in justice, procedures and human freedoms,” he said recently.
He acknowledges there are still many issues of the harmonisation of national legislation with European standards unresolved but says the government will do everything to bring Ukraine closer to European democratic standards of life.
Modernisation of the country should be brought about in open dialogue with the Ukrainian people. “We should arrange a serious dialogue with society, go and meet the people. We should not hide. We have our flaws, mistakes, but we are talking about them, we correct them,” he says.
Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, head of the delegation of the European Union to Ukraine, says it will take “real and serious” leadership for Ukraine to move into line with European values, but that it is essential to European integration.
“Tackling the challenges of Ukraine in a serious way would definitely transform the country into a successful nation and create a more balanced distribution of wealth, which is something that Ukrainians expect and the EU supports,” he says.
Jorge Zukoski, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine, says the problems of the Soviet legacy in the business arena need to be tackled, as well as the political, judicial and social spheres. “Ukraine needs to increase its competitiveness. A lot of this comes down to the fact that there needs to be comprehensive legislative and regulatory reform that will be implemented in a wide variety of different areas.”
Roman Shpek, an advisor to the President and senior advisor at Alfa-Bank, Ukraine, agrees that only reform can guarantee Ukraine a successful future and a realistic prospect of EU membership.
“In addition to improving the political system that guarantees democracy, freedom of speech and fair justice, it is also important to strengthen the competitiveness of our economy,” he says.
Vitaly Klitschko, leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, believes Ukraine is far from meeting European standards, but that with sufficient political will the country could change within a relatively short period of time: “European and world politicians are on our side – everybody is interested to see Ukraine as a modern country with political and economic stability.”
Lev Partskhaladze, chairman of the board of the Ukrainian Building Association, sees evidence of significant progress in his sector of the economy, where bureaucracy and corruption were deterring investment in construction. “We have taken the best of experience from other countries and used this as a basis,” he says.