112 International continues presentiong opinions of different outstanding international experts on issues concerning Ukraine, its development, relations, and image. Today, our vis-a-vis is Stephan Meuser, the Head of Regional Office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Ukraine. Stephan Meuser expressed his opinion regarding the process of reforms in Ukraine and role of political leadership and civil society in it.
Many experts and donors have criticized Ukraine for the lack of qualitative changes in the country. Could you evaluate the process of reform in Ukraine? What would you call as a success and failure in the implementation of reforms?
The problem in general is that we face a “traffic jam” of reforms as not much was done during the first 20 years of national independence. So, nowadays government and society face the challenge to start with every kind of reform at the same time. Since February 2014, there have been fields of progress, but not as many as wishful, as also watchdogs like “Reanimation Package of Reforms” are monitoring that reforms are legging behind in several important sectors. The best example might be the judiciary and especially the reform of the powers of the general prosecutor, as it is not only about changing the person in charge, but about clearing the system off political influence on this position.
As in the judiciary, the reform of the civil service is still pending, as well as there is light and shadow in the field of combatting corruption: What do you do with a “Ukrainian FBI” without enough staff to fulfill its job and – once again – without support amongst prosecutors?
When you look at the process of constitutional reform and decentralization, it is also questionable 1) if there will be one and 2) if yes, how it will be implemented. This point, the implementation, should be the main focus in all sectors: Lawmakers might produce plenty of nice new laws, but what was and is still the core problem in Ukraine is implementation. This needs time, but nevertheless it is necessary that especially “ordinary people” Ukraine can really feel and see progress in their everyday life, e.g. that the level of corruption in issues like health care, education and law enforcement is substantially reducing. This is last but not least also a question of dignity of the people.
The economic situation in the country depends on financial support of international foundations and partner countries. On your opinion, what reforms must be prioritized? How does the process of reforms (and the priorities of reforms) correspond with a mission and goals of your Foundation?
In economic terms the government is actually concentrating on rebalancing the external debt, raising tariffs by bringing them on a level that is more fitting the reality of costs and cleansing of the banking sector as well as state-private joint stock companies. This is obviously all done by request of international organizations, namely IMF. What I am missing here, and this criticism goes in both directions (to the IMF/international donors and to the Ukrainians), are creative ideas and measures about what economic sectors to develop under the circumstance of future direct concurrence with well-developed EU countries in a common free trade area. Priority should be given to IT, services, construction (including energy efficiency measures), agricultural business, and the future of the big factories in the chemical and metallurgic sector. We have to face that investors are not coming to Ukraine just because there was a “Euromaidan”! They would instead seek for a stable, rule of law-based environment which is not obeying to unwritten rules set up by local and national oligarchs. In fact, this “old style” system in Ukraine is the total inverse thing of the rules that effectively work inside EU.
This whole development strategy could and should be linked to decentralization (so that every region under own responsibility could set its own priorities) and the involvement of social partners. This last aspect is of highest importance to involve people and stakeholders of the labor sphere like trade unions and it worked very well for instance in Eastern Germany after unification. But, regrettably, the Ukrainian government (and civic activists) seems to follow more or less the EU mainstream of “austerity policy” without questioning it. Part of FES’s mission is to try to raise awareness to these questions and we try it because we strongly believe that Ukraine and EU-Europeans need to create or preserve workplaces in Ukraine. Unemployment and the shadow economy we actually face now are posing not only theoretical dangers for a really successful economic development that takes into account the need of “the man on the street” whose support is needed for the upcoming years.
Foreign partners do believe in Ukraine’s reforms, and Ukrainian leaders have their trust. If Ukraine fails to show the real, not cosmetic changes, what will be the consequences?
In this negative scenario you describe, either the Ukrainians will lose sooner or later trust in their leaders and elect other ones, not to mention possible more radical forms of protest. Or, foreign partners like EU will be reluctant to invest more money and time in Ukraine and withdraw attention from the Ukrainian case and redirect it towards other pressing issues like the refugee crisis, the situation in the Middle East (especially in Syria) or the future of the Euro-zone. But, EU has leverage on the political situation in Ukraine by its financial support and it should make use of it to avoid such a negative scenario.
Do you think the civil society, which emerged during that time in Ukraine, is fulfilling its role completely? How high is the pressure on the authorities in terms of control and promotion of reforms in Ukraine?
I think that Ukraine has the most active civil society of any of the post-soviet and non-EU countries. They proved it several times in the last 25 years, see “Euromaidan”. That is on one hand a major achievement and advantage when it comes to build up a democratic society. On the other hand we face a rather strange paradox in this country, with one of the weakest states (in terms of institutions) in Europe which meets this very strong civil society at the same time.
Normally, you would expect from the activists of “Euromaidan” to help to build up stable state structures and do some institution building from within, but on one hand the “old forces” that try to avoid this are still alive and on the other hand sometimes my feeling is that the activists just want to stay as “watchdogs” at the sideline, criticizing and doubling state institutions by non-state structures. So, the problem is not that there is a lack of pressure on the authorities, but the point is this special Ukrainian understanding that state and civil society necessarily have to be opposed to each other. Honestly, this is one major difference to Western Europe, where it is common that both try to build consensus on certain issues.
Stephan Meuser studied at the Faculty of Law at the University of Frederick William in Bonn and at the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), Paris, Diploma "International program of political and social sciences" . He graduated with Master's degree in Political Science in Bonn in 2004. For two years he was a scientific employee at the Free University of Berlin, Law School, prof. Dr. Leenena (Civil Law), Professor. Dr. Pestalozzi (Public Law). From August 2005 till June 2006 he had an internship at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Bonn. Till March 2008 Stephan Meuser was employed at the Department for Educational Development at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Bonn.
From April 2008 till January 2014 he works the specialist for Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus) and South-Eastern Europe (Western Balkans) at the Department for International Dialogue in the Sector of the Central and Eastern European, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Berlin. Since January 2014 he performs the functions of the Head of Regional Office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Ukraine.
Interview by Dmytro Duma, 112 International