TOP STORIES Internal problems such as corruption pose obstacles to Ukraine's...

Internal problems such as corruption pose obstacles to Ukraine’s accession to the EU

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Kyiv, Ukraine — Most Ukrainians and the country’s political elite have been in favor of joining the European Union for years, and yet the country is facing most of the major governance reforms needed to do so.

Many Ukrainians argue that they are the only Europeans who have fought and died to join the Union, noting that Russia’s military intervention began in 2014 in response to street protests demanding a free trade agreement with Ukraine. Europe.

But whatever the sympathy for Ukraine in Europe, no one refuses the rules of accession, which include the fight against corruption. For a country, a pluralistic democracy with hardline politics and, at least before the war, an over-sized business elite known as the oligarchs, meeting the demands will be difficult. Interconnected and deeply rooted issues of political and business influence over the courts are a central hurdle.

Politicians, who are also businessmen, pull strings to appoint judges who, in turn, rule in their favor in commercial disputes. As recently as two years ago, the prime minister in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government resigned, in part in protest that a politically connected businessman was able to profit from electricity supplies serving Kyiv, the capital. Mr. Zelenskiy has denied providing businessman Igor Kolomoisky with any special favors.

The European Commission has made the status of Ukraine’s candidate dependent on seven major changes in the country’s judiciary and government. Ukraine will have to guarantee an independent judiciary, eradicate corruption in the highest echelons of power, enact media laws, limit the influence of oligarchs and improve money laundering and minority protection laws, the commission said.

In a sense, the war made these tasks easier. The status of the oligarchs has plummeted as some have fled and others have lost assets and income in the fighting, and for the foreseeable future the economy will rely more on foreign aid than on oligarch-controlled exports of goods.

The intelligence agencies, once partly controlled behind the scenes by business titans, have strengthened their position by protecting the country as a whole, not the interests of business.

On the other hand, the war created new obstacles to Ukraine’s European aspirations, in addition to the obvious threat of Russian conquest of the country.

Under martial law, opposition TV channels were excluded from the national cable system. If war and martial law continue for months or years, regular elections are unlikely to take place.

“The government deserves nothing but applause” for achieving Ukraine’s long-awaited admission as an EU candidate, Volodymyr Ariyev, MP from the opposition European Solidarity Party, said in an interview. “But we need to support our development in a democratic way, otherwise we may lose our candidate status.”

Oleksandr Chubko provided a report from Kyiv.

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