How much meeting time can Euro 22 million buy?

On Monday 17th September, Thorbjorn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe meets with President Yanukovych and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Konstyantyn Gryshchenko.

The meeting is to discuss the Euro 22 million donated/invested/given (take your pick) under the auspices of the Council of Europe’s “Action plan for Ukraine”.  The “action plan” is designed to assist finance 51 project identified by the Council of Europe and Ukraine with the general aim of bringing Ukrainian legislation, institutions and practice into line with European standards - whatever European standards maybe - and they seem to differ quite radically amongst the member states.

Amongst the priorities of this “action plan” are the reform of the judiciary, combating corruption (and money laundering), freedom of expression, local democracy and free and fair elections.  A very tall order for Euro 22 million over 3 years it has to be said, so it is fortunate that such financing forms part of a much larger effort.

Nevertheless, at least the Council of Europe is attempting to discover just how their financing is being spent and the results it is achieving - or not.

Now with such a broad scope relating to where this financing has been targeted, you can only expect a very long conversation.  Just how much conversation time can be bought for Euro 22 million is the question as a few hours simply wouldn’t be enough to do these important policy areas justice.

Just what results have been achieved anyway?

Well, very much like the Ukrainian alcoholic, some matters have progress two steps forwards, others have staggered one step backwards and yet more have fallen into the gutter where they continue to lay in a stupor.

Many legislative changes have occurred, and some for the better - generally in line with European norms.  The new Criminal Procedure Code is an example of a step in the right direction and it would appear that in some cases it is actually working and has been cited in judicial verdicts.  This recent case in Nikolayev is a case in point.

This time last year, that case would have been a slam-dunk for the prosecution and a not guilty verdict simply unimaginable.  The fact remains though, that such a verdict may remain the exception rather than become the rule.  Only time will tell.

Nevertheless, the legislative framework to allow such a verdict, as cited by the judge, is the new Criminal Procedures Code.

It has to be said, despite much bluster, money and new legislation generated under the past government, and then added too by the current one, very little has changed by way of the effective tackling of corruption (and money laundering).  Quite simply the current government has the same problems as the previous one regarding effective implementation.  If the feral patriarchal regional fiefdoms don’t like a certain policy, its effective implementation simply doesn’t happen - and the vast majority of corruption faced by the average Ukrainian happens within the regions and their administrative bodies.

In truth, national governments past and present have really only had the ability to curtail their own nefarious actions within central government - and keeping their own noses out of the trough is not the corruption they want to tackle when talking about such a fight.

Freedom of expression is yet another subjective and also inconsistently applied policy area.  There have been some rather disappointing laws passed or due to be passed under the current government.  For example, a law is currently pending to make libel a criminal offence.

Libel is not and should not be a criminal offence.  That said, libel should be discouraged and therefore subject to civil proceedings.  It remains to be seen how Lord Leveson will deal with the UK as part of his inquiry into the media and media regulation in the UK.

There are also a number of laws that would make the homosexual and lesbian communities even more marginalised that they already are pending RADA consideration.

However, there is then the seemingly almost unrestricted actions of FEMEN, who at worst seem to get 15 days in jail for the most bizarre, often pointless, demonstrations.  As they discovered at the UK Olympics, running around with their tits out alone, is enough to get them arrested, before any other actions to highlight their cause.

It has to be said, if they carried out their protests and stunts in the UK as they do in Ukraine, 15 days in jail would not be an option.  Their jail time would start with a minimum of 3 months and continued offending would simply see that tariff rise every time they were before the court.

Yet in Ukraine, their form of freedom of expression is tolerated by the authorities far more than it would be in my native country.

There is also the current indirect pressure on TVi, a television station rather critical of the current authorities, whereby mysteriously more and more cable providers are either dropping the channel or putting it in the “premium package” that necessarily costs more to have and thus reduces its exposure to the general population.

When it comes to local democracy, not only does the central government fail to control regional administration, so does civil society equally fail to influence it, as I wrote yesterday.

Lastly, on the priority issues I mentioned at the beginning of this post, comes free and fare elections.  Certainly it seems highly likely that whether the elections are technically free and fare or not, they won’t be deemed so because Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Lutsenko remain in jail and had they not have been, would rank first and fifth on the United Opposition party lists for election respectively.

That said, the forthcoming elections are for parliament and not president, so it is party and not personality that is being voted for as far as party list candidates are concerned.

It also has to be said that currently, averaging out the opinion polls conducted by both Ukrainian and foreign polling companies, they are stating the following - Party Regions 24%, Untied Opposition 17%, UDAR 12%, Communists 8% and the others will fail to pass the 5% threshold.

As I wrote previously, this will mean the very real likelihood of a continuance of the current government before any cheating takes place - and cheating there will be of varying degrees of magnitude.

It seems quite likely that the current government would continue to have enough public support to continue whether the elections are deemed free and fare or not - unless there is to be an inference that the opinion polls are not free and fare.

To be quite honest, the United Opposition have taken on the fight on an anti-Yanukovych platform when he is not up for election.  They have taken up the fight over the language law, despite it not registering highly on the list of things Ukrainians are concerned about.

Quite why they have not built their election platform around the issues Ukrainians do care about I don’t know - unless it is because it is only 2 years ago that they were in power and failed to deal with those very same issues, thus they do not want to remind the voting public of those facts.

Certainly the memory of their last period in power being such a failure lives on quite vividly with many Ukrainians and so it was decided quite deliberately to avoid the issues Ukrainians do care about.

Regardless, current opinions polls suggest any free and fare election will see a continuance of the current government - for better or for worse.

These are just a few examples of the two steps forwards, one step backwards issues that are due to be discussed.

Does Euro 22 million buy sufficient time to discuss these issues in far greater detail, notwithstanding agreeing strategy going forwards between all parties?

Probably not, but it at least buys some time.