Ukraine needs to speed up its political reform process after years of neglect, in order to meet both demands within the country and the expectations of its international partners, an EU official said Tuesday.
While fighting a pro-Russian insurgency in the east of the country, cash-strapped Ukraine has also been tasked with deep structural reforms, in return for a much-needed financial lifeline from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
“It’s a little bit of a race with time, because reforms earlier had been so much neglected,” said Kalman Mizsei, who heads an EU mission to help Kiev overhaul the country’s law enforcement agencies and strengthen the rule of law.
“Both civil society and the international community expect faster reforms, and the situation requires fast reforms,” he added.
The EU mission will comprise 173 staff, of whom 73 are being hired locally in Ukraine. It has been granted an initial two-year mandate to reform the security sector, although EU officials have said that more time will be necessary to implement the required changes.
The country is seeking to shake off the legacy of a post-Soviet police and judiciary system in which corruption was endemic and went to the very top of society.
“Corruption is at the core of state dysfunction,” Mizsei said. He advocated a combination of legal change, more accountability, less undue political influence, and also better wages, arguing that low salaries encourage corrupt behaviour.
But these measures go to the heart of “highly complex [and] sometimes sensitive government structures,” and require thorough attention – at a time when the conflict in eastern Ukraine is a top preoccupation for Kiev, he said.
“Of course, the president is very busy with other things at the moment,” the Hungarian diplomat said, adding that there has to be “a balance between the immediate needs of the east of the country and the structural reforms.”
The reform process cannot be put on ice, he argued, because the country’s dysfunctional government structures had helped precipitate the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
But some progress is already underway, Mizsei said, praising the professionalism of Ukraine’s new government and the active role of its civil society.
“In spite of the extreme difficulties, in spite of also the financial difficulties that Ukraine is facing, I can report to you with a cautious optimism that in many areas, initial, very fragile, very tentative reform efforts are taking place,” he said.