Interviewed by Anna Korbut
In April, a new office of Vice Premier for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration was established within the newly-appointed Cabinet of Ministers. Previously Ukraine had no top official who would act as a centralized coordinator and supervisor of the processes linked to Ukraine’s European integration and the implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU. Almost two months after her appointment, Ivanna Klympush-Tsyntsadze spoke to The Ukrainian Week about her priorities and tools, details of Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO, and Ukraine’s overall position on the international arena in a context where the EU and US are facing difficult challenges of their own.
How do you see your priorities as Vice Premier for European and Euro-Atlantic integration in the short- and mid-term prospect?
— I would like to focus on what tasks I see as Vice Premier in charge of these aspects (the choice of tools to help me be effective in my office is limited but I hope that will change with time).
Let’s start with Euro-Atlantic integration: in terms of short-term goals, it is important for us to prepare for the President’s participation in the NATO Summit in Warsaw. We expect the Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine to be adopted there. Currently, we are working on its content with our partners.
I’m happy that the National Security and Defense Council approved Ukraine’s Strategic Defense Bulletin (on May 20. The President signed and enforced it on June 6 – Ed.) prepared by the Ministry of Defense, Army Headquarters, as well as the NSDC, in cooperation with our NATO partners and advisors. By the way, we have an unprecedented mission from the Alliance here: more advisors than in any other partner-country. It is very important to make sure that this experience is taken into account to the largest extent possible. Our task today is to actively take further steps to implement the Bulletin in developing the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the military technology sector through 2020.
What are these steps specifically?
— It’s a huge amount of work on reforming the defense sector. However, our cooperation with NATO goes far beyond that, covering everything from humanitarian and R&D cooperation to responses in emergency situations and cybersecutiry. In fact, this cooperation is about many things which nobody really thinks or knows about. I think we are not telling and explaining enough about what NATO really means. To us, it’s a military alliance first and foremost. Yet, it is a military political one, and our annual cooperation program, which is reflected in Annual National Programs of Ukraine-NATO cooperation, includes more than just elements of military interaction.
As to the principles of reforms envisaged by the Strategic Bulletin, these are crucial things that will help us accomplish the standards of military management, delegation of responsibility, powers and decision-making to the lower levels. These are the things that the Soviet army did not have, but that would make ours more effective now.
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In addition to that, it’s about civilian control over the security and defense sectors – something that’s seen controversially by the military. One argument goes that introducing it during military action is an extremely difficult transformation. However, I believe that we will not move further to the standards by which NATO operates without democratic civilian control over the military aspect of the state, including through Parliament.
There are also technical aspects: distribution of functions at the Headquarters, formation of units. This is the aspect of reforms that every ministry in Ukraine possibly needs because it is about functions and powers. Similar changes are being considered for other ministries as the strategy of public administration reform is being prepared.
This is also in line with the goal we see for ourselves: to be compatible with our partners in NATO countries. This will make our participation in peacekeeping operations easier. Ukraine is among the most active partner countries in that regard. It’s the people who had been in peacekeeping contingents that have proven to be among the most effective operators when Ukraine itself faced a real military threat.
Another task I see for myself in terms of Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration is engagement in coordination of effective use of Trust Funds (currently, seven, and two more, for demining and strategic communications, on the way). Hopefully, we will resume the work of the government commission for cooperation with NATO. There wasn’t one under the previous two governments after the Maidan. Currently, we are working to agree who will be in the commission.
Overall, we would like to switch to a different mode of planning Annual National Programs: so that they are no longer merely a set of measures that’s postponed from year to year, but a realistic reflection of our cooperation with NATO.
What about key tasks in European integration?
When the office was appointed on April 14, I saw the establishment of active work between all entities engaged in Ukraine-EU contacts as my key task. Assistance in coordination and shaping of Ukraine’s position on one issue or another, preparation for meetings of all entities that keep us working in direct dialogue with EU partners.
Today, we have some additional serious tasks which we didn’t really see coming. In April, it turned out that we were still waiting for the final ratification of the Association Agreement by the Netherlands. For us, it is extremely symbolic as both the initial reason and the outcome of what happened on the Maidan. Therefore, our efforts today (of partners, colleagues from all ministries engaged in dialogue in all fields), as well as my own, are aimed at getting the most positive possible decision from the Netherlands: to make sure that the Association Agreement is not revised and the re-ratification procedure is not re-launched. I think we have full understanding of the European Commission and all member-states in this aspect. We are waiting for the decision from Amsterdam, but the process should also involve our active participation in the dialogue – something we didn’t expect on this scale.
The short-term prospects also include ensuring a positive decision on the visa-free regime for Ukraine from the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. We are all working on this, from the President and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to other ministries and government bodies, including anti-corruption entities established as part of the visa liberalization action plan implementation. These are the entities that are being established right now and are about to show results. It is extremely important for us to explain that we have fulfilled all conditions, and provide arguments to prove that to our colleagues at the European Parliament and (in various formats) to representatives of governments that will prepare decisions for the Council of the EU. And we really have fulfilled the conditions. The European Commission has no questions to us. In addition, we have to communicate to our partners that decisions in issues that are linked not to Ukraine but to the EU’s own challenges (caused by the migrant crisis, terrorist threats), and possible implementation of a stricter mechanism to suspend visa-free regime with non-EU members, can be taken after visas are abolished for Ukraine.
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All this has become a part of the portfolio which we thought we have fixed already and shouldn’t be dedicating so much time to.
Next is the extremely important Free Trade Area agreement that came into effect on January 1, 2016. It is important for us to move to using the opportunities and instruments it provides, especially as Russia has been imposing additional restrictions on Ukrainian exports ever since. Meanwhile, we have to realize that the transformations we are undergoing as part of the FTA are in fact strongly affecting our relations with other countries and our potential to attract investment from them. Take Japan: it is monitoring closely our implementation of certain changes. Australia, Israel and others are probably watching our progress in a similar manner. Thus, by implementing FTA, we open options for cooperation with other countries.
In addition to that we have an underused resource of small and medium enterprises. Helping them use the prospects of new markets to the largest extent possible should be among our key goals.
Given the trade restrictions from Russia, we have requested the EU to consider autonomous trade privileges – from additional duty-free quotas to faster progress towards liberalization in trade in some goods and services – for Ukraine. Brussels is prepared to consider our proposals carefully and see where we can be mutually useful and interesting, despite all of the problems it is facing.
As to SMEs, we expect active involvement of expert and financial resources from the EU, EIB and EBRD. One option is that they could help us create cheap credit lines for SMEs, as well as assist in training staff for enterprises and developing business plans and models to bring our entities to new markets.
Overall, we have to do huge work this year. We’ve already adopted a strategy on phytosanitary and sanitary norms. This is a serious task for the State Food Consumption Service. We need to establish laboratories, ensure examination and certification of our produce which would then be traded in the world. For example, we have passed a decision allowing EU-certified medicines to be sold in Ukraine without any additional procedures of registration. This removes corruption schemes that existed at the Health Care Ministry before. That’s how we will enter other markets with our produce too.
Obviously, my instruments are limited. I can help ministries of economy and trade, agricultural policy, infrastructure etc. I see my role as Vice Premier in coordinating and promoting our joint decisions, as well as in communicating and explaining them to help us understand the positive and negative aspects we have today. And monitoring, of course.
In terms of instruments: inspection entities have always been the most corrupt aspects of business in Ukraine. So, Ukraine’s European integration greatly depends on reforms there, too…
Your next question will probably be: how do you make sure they get rid of corruption?
I think we will be safe once the judiciary reform and implementation laws are voted in Parliament (on June 2 – Ed.), judges go through re-attestation and are paid different wages that will not encourage them to take bribes. When we understand that, whoever tries to construct a corruption scheme, will be held responsible. Without this we can hire more great people and pay them great wages, but the system will overcome them after some time.
So, this is a parallel process of reforming civil service, state administration, courts, close attention to anti-corruption authorities, declaration and monitoring of income statements from officials, as well as the establishment of certification entities. In addition, we need a balance between the current overregulation and little regulation that would be effective and adequate.
How strong is the will to implement all these parallel processes in the political circles of your level and above?
— We have no choice. Formally, there aren’t too many people on my level and above. In reality, I assume there are many more who are extremely powerful in this country. However, the premier in the country focuses on the result, reforms. His energy stimulates the rest of the Cabinet. The Cabinet also includes many people who really care.
We have done a lot until this moment. We have done extraordinary things that we could hardly imagine two years ago. But we don’t value them too often. For instance, many say we are not fighting corruption. Yet, we are one of the few countries in Europe that opened all ownership registers. Colleagues from European countries are looking at us and taking over our experience. We have ProZorro – now we must encourage all state and local authorities to do public procurements through this open e-trade system. It was recognized as the best product of the kind in the world last year. And it will save us a load of money which we can spend on other things.
If we begin to treat ourselves differently and appreciate what we’ve done, we will perceive things that are ahead differently as well.
As long as we have reformers in Parliament, Cabinet and Presidential Administration, civil society and our partners abroad who often help us with final decisions, this whole conglomerate of reform-oriented people has to work.
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Many people in the current Government were previously deputy ministers and officials in ministries under the previous Cabinet – they remain in their positions, their previous accomplishments are being used and implemented. So, the focus on changes remains. Obviously, it’s more difficult for us today compared to the initial positions of the Government in December 2014. Back then, the Government had the widest coalition possible, so it was far easier to get votes and pass even complex issues. Today, we are forced to pass difficult decisions – and that will be our challenge for a long time still.
Unfortunately, reforms are not about immediate improvements. These are complex matters that have to be explained. Here, we need help from both civil society and our experts who know all details and could explain them in villages and towns. I realize that people will hardly be totally happy about reforms. But this explanation will maybe help us understand why we are doing certain things, where we move and what it will bring us in the future.
Many in the EU are speaking about lifting sanctions from Russia and starting more active cooperation with it. How do you interpret this? How will this affect Ukraine’s European integration both externally, in terms of how difficult it will be for it to move towards the EU and NATO, and internally – in terms of how Ukrainians perceive Europe?
— It’s another task that has come up as an urgent one for us. Obviously, we don’t accept arguments of countries which try to raise the issue of lifting or decreasing sanctions against Russia. Such sentiments are often stirred by Russia itself: through influence on business, fueling sentiments about economic losses of Europeans after sanctions. It also supports far-right and left political parties in various countries, experts and media. Plus, the number of people who are losing from using their leverage and imposing sanctions, is growing. But I believe that solidarity and responsibility of the Europeans, their joint position in this issue, will determine not just the future of Ukraine and our relations with Russia, our territorial integrity and sovereignty, but the future of the European project. Unless Europe shows unity today, it will probably ruin the mere basics on which it is built. I believe that the wisdom and realization of how necessary it is to have a joint position will prevail after all. Because Russia is not even hinting today that it is willing to stick to the commitments under Minsk. It does not show that it is ready to return to respecting international law. We’ve already seen the position of G7. I am convinced that, despite all debates caused by various forces, including those inspired from Russia (with money, among other things), the EU will take a responsible decision on whether Russia has to remain under the pressure of sanctions when it doesn’t stick with commitments.
Ivanna Klympush-Tsyntsadze studied International Relations at the Kyiv Taras Shevchenko University and the University of Montana, as well Ukrainian history and literature at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. Her career started in the NGO sector. In 1993, Ms. Klympush-Tsyntsadze joined the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research as Project Manager; then moved to the Kyiv Center of the EastWest Institute. In 2002-2007, she was a correspondent for the Ukrainian service of the BBC in the US and the Caucasus (Tbilisi). Since October 2007 – Deputy Program Director, then Director of the Open Ukraine Foundation, in charge of strategic planning and implementation of the Foundation’s programs aimed at international support for Ukraine, public diplomacy, promotion of Ukraine’s positive image and international dialogue on security. From mid-2011 – Director of the Yalta European Strategy. In November 2014, she was elected to the Verkhovna Rada, then worked as First Deputy Head of the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs, head of the VR Permanent Delegation to NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
Translated by Jonathan Reilly
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