European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has urged Ukraine to boost its efforts to clampdown on endemic corruption.
Speaking in Kiev alongside European Council President Donald Tusk and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at a summit to mark the final ratification of a new trade deal, Juncker said: “What we’re asking… is [that the Ukrainian government step up] the fight against corruption.
“Corruption is undermining all the efforts this great nation is undertaking. We remain very concerned.”
In a statement released after the summit, EU leaders praised the Ukrainian authorities for undertaking unprecedented reforms in many areas, including the rooting out of corruption, but stressed the importance of sustaining these efforts.
“Fresh impetus to strengthening the functioning and independence of anti-corruption institutions, such as the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, the removal of the extension of e-declaration of assets to activists of anti-corruption NGOs, setting up a high anti-corruption court and ensuring transparency of the selection of judges to the Supreme Court, are vital in this respect,” the statement read.
Juncker said Ukraine had agreed to set up a “special chamber” devoted to tackling corruption, despite previous calls from both the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the creation of a specialised anti-corruption court.
Speaking with the Reuters news agency, Mykhailo Zhernakov, an expert at the non-governmental Reanimation Package of Reforms coalition, said this agreement would be a big disappointment to campaigners who have called for more accountability in the Ukrainian justice system, noting that a special chamber would not be as independent as a separate court.
While Ukraine has won limited praise for its efforts to tackle rampant institutionalised corruption over recent years, some critics have argued that the country’s government has done too little to tackle the issue.
At a joint briefing with Poroshenko in Kyiv earlier this month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: “We [have] discussed the importance of implementing… anti-corruption reforms, because that… is an important element of attracting foreign direct investment and more business activity, which will create more jobs for Ukrainian citizens and grow the economy.
“This includes the important work Ukraine is doing to reform the justice sector, Ukraine’s commitment to selecting Supreme Court justices of the highest integrity and professionalism, and creating the anti-corruption court.”
In October last year, the IMF insisted Ukraine produce evidence of its progress in fighting corruption, noting that “vested interests” still carried too much influence in the country. The lender urged Ukraine to make “a distinct and irreversible break” with its past if it wanted to continue to receive money from a $17.5 billion (€15.68 billion) bailout loan.
In its latest Global Fraud Survey, professional services firm Ernst & Young named Ukraine as the most corrupt country on the planet, noting that 88% of Ukrainian employees think bribery and corrupt practices are widespread in business in the country.