Ukraine After Elections: Challenges Ahead

Ukraine's political system still lacks clear rules to determine the balance of power. This proved to be the main obstacle to Ukraine delivering on its commitments under the EU-Ukraine Action Plan. Good intentions to reform have become mired in political infighting among self-serving elites.

The lack of an independent judiciary only exacerbates the conflict. The EU cannot expect a better-governed Ukraine until a new constitution is adopted and the judiciary reformed. The recent elections opened a new opportunity to solve this problem.

The Venice Commission and Council of Europe are good sources of advice, but they need the EU's leverage to move on constitutional reform. Only high-level EU pressure would convince the political elites to negotiate and agree on a new constitution. To this end, the EU should initiate a high-level roundtable on constitutional reform, bringing together key Ukrainian political actors, independent experts, high-profile political actors from the EU member states and representatives of international institutions. The roundtable should outline the key principles on which reform of the constitution, judiciary and electoral system should be based.

The EU can encourage change in two ways. First, the EU could offer tangible incentives in the same way it reacted to the Orange Revolution. The incentives, but also the conditions, could include a visa-free roadmap modeled upon the experience of the Western Balkan countries, and speeding up the process of negotiations on the Association Agreement. A clause in the preamble in which the EU took note of Ukraine's desire to join the EU in future (just as an encouragement, with no commitment on the EU side) would give the document weight in Ukraine. The EU could also offer additional people-to-people opportunities, e.g. more scholarship and exchange programs for youth, students, researchers and civil society.

Second, in exchange for the incentives, the EU should demand that key political actors take an open political commitment to pursue constitutional reform. Ideally, this should take the form of a written declaration agreed by the president, prime minister, speaker and leaders of the political groups represented in the Parliament. The EU should then supervise its implementation. Such a document would also serve as an important reference point for the international community and Ukrainian civil society in order to push for reforms.

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