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EU gives Ukraine to-do list

Kiev needs to implement more reforms and make new institutions actually work, if it wants to progress towards EU membership, the top executive of the union has told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the country’s MPs.

“The next steps are within your reach. But they will require hard work, determination and, above all else, unity of purpose,” Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission said on Friday, in a video address to a special session of the Ukrainian parliament.

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The European official spared no compliments to Ukrainian lawmakers and to its leader, praising them for resisting Russia on the battlefield and for securing EU candidate status, which she said required Kiev “to showcase everything Ukraine has achieved” since the 2014 armed coup in Kiev, which she named a “Revolution of Dignity,” as the post-coup authorities also tend to call it.

She promised massive Western investments to help with the country’s eventual reconstruction, but said Ukraine had to implement “a new wave of reforms” to ensure that foreign aid is spent effectively.

The EU leader called on President Zelensky to appoint new heads of various anti-corruption bodies, which were created under Western pressure as soon as possible.

“You have created an impressive anti-corruption machine, but now these institutions need teeth and the right people in senior posts,” she said.

The country needs to adopt new legislation on appointing judges to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, von der Leyen said. In 2020, Zelensky had a bitter quarrel with the top justice body, which he accused of shielding corruption. The president attempted to have the parliament sack the chief justice Aleksandr Tupitsky through a law, which, the court said, would have violated the country’s constitution.

Zelensky ultimately prevailed in ousting Tupitsky from office – allegedly by physically restricting his access – but remaining justices refused to accept two new members of the court, whom the president nominated to replace the chief justice and another judge.

In her speech, von der Leyen called on the Ukrainian government to curb the influence of “oligarchs” on the Ukrainian economy, mentioning that the country had a rare special law aimed at this objective.

The controversial piece of legislation, which was passed last September and came into force this week, authorized the president-controlled national security council to formally label wealthy individuals as “oligarchs” and to subject them to various restrictions. Such designated persons are not allowed to own media or to fund political parties and are obligated to inform state officials about their being on the list.

The EU executive also called for the adoption of a new media law. The Zelensky government banned several opposition media outlets in the country, claiming that they were spreading Russian propaganda. That crackdown took place last year, as the president’s approval rating was dwindling.

Amid the ongoing conflict with Russia, the Ukrainian security council outlawed numerous opposition parties, which it labeled pro-Russian, including the one that had the largest faction in the parliament after Zelensky’s own.

“You have kept your state and your democracy running against all odds,” von der Leyen told the Ukrainian officials. She pledged that Brussels will be with the country “every step of the way for as long as it takes” as Ukraine works to become an EU member.

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