Ukraine outside the EU door

Yuri Martynenko translated by Maxence Salendre
14 Juin 2013

Deeply rooted in Ukrainian daily life, corruption has become one of its primary obstacles in its race to join the EU. Numerous scandals were revealed but the fight against corruption is far from over.

Even though the cooperation projects between the EU and Ukraine are numerous, they do not lead to the integration of this former Soviet Republic
Even though the cooperation projects between the EU and Ukraine are numerous, they do not lead to the integration of this former Soviet Republic
As other capitals, Kiev – Ukraine’s capital – possesses its symbols which both express its reputation and singularity. For centuries, the omnipresent and folkloric chestnut trees under which locals find an ideal shelter symbolized the city and were part of Ukrainian folklore. However, in May 2013 the chestnut scandal hit Ukrainian news.

Last October, local authorities rolled up their sleeves to plant 289 rosy-red flowered “Briotii” chestnut trees which were supposed to replace other trees less resilient to insects and unfriendly climate. City Hall proved generous by allocating a budget of 4 million hryvnias (equivalent to €400,000) to the redecoration of Khreshchatyk (Kiev’s main street) with these new Italian trees. But spring brought a bad surprise when Kievans discovered that these chestnut trees had been replaced with a different type of tree. Instead of planting Aesculus carnea Hayne, a high quality – and expensive – type, ordinary white flowered trees had been planted. The case is now in court and a question arises: how could the city overpay its providers and how could it financially benefit from striking such a deal? As Head of Kiev City State Administration, Oleksandr Popov’s sole response was to dismiss the plantation supervisor. So far, no other dismissals, no arrests and, more importantly, no lead on the location of the stolen budget.

But Kievans are not surprised as this scandal is far from being unique. Lack of transparency concerning public money – a soviet era legacy – continues fuelling a corruption phenomenon to which people are used.
Despite their vigilance and numerous investigations, the media are powerless. Whether they report a raspberry purchase tenfold more expensive than market price or the inexistence of a highway for which public budget has already been spent, the result remains the same.

Corruption champion

It comes as no surprise that, confronted to the quasi-inexistent popular discontent, Ukraine remains the last in line in the corruption rankings. According to CPI - the Corruption Perception Index published each year by Transparency International – in 2012 Ukraine ranked 144th at the world level. The previous year, the result was even more worrying: 152th.

Moreover, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) recently realised that Ukraine did not implement real reforms to reinforce its anticorruption policy. Stakes are high however in order to continue the visa liberalisation process between Kiev and the EU.

While for Thorbjørn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, corruption is “the biggest threat for Europe’s democracy”, in the case of Ukraine not only does corruption threaten Ukrainian democracy but also the country’s economy. An opaque and corrupt economic system scares investors away and leads to industry-wide monopolies taken over by oligarchies. Financial groups such as Commerzbank, SEB Group or Swedbank have already left the Ukrainian market or reduced their operations to a minimum. Meanwhile, multinationals with which Europeans have been familiar with for years (like Starbucks or IKEA) have never managed to enter the under-developed Ukrainian market where transparent employment is not guaranteed.

Ukraine remains rather unattractive and entrepreneurs often complain about the repressive actions carried out by fiscal institutions. Due to useless reforms and bad habits of shelving journalists’ corruption investigations, negotiations on Ukraine’s future in Brussels look rather gloomy. Therefore, as long as integration to the EU stays on the agenda, eradicating corruption is a key stake.