Assessing EU action within Ukraine - through a provincial lens

This is an entry that has been waiting to be written for a long time.

Much has been written about the short falls of Ukraine politically and institutionally.  Much has been rightly criticised too.  Much will continue to be written too, whilst ever-changing yet headline grabbing personnel rotation is used to mask the lack of reform.  Indeed the continual turnover of Ukrainian interlocutors and institutional leadership is extremely problematic when it comes to building rapport and trust.  Why invest time and effort into somebody that can be fully expected to have been replaced in a few months hence each and every time a new face appears?

This entry however, is about the EU and its response within Ukraine rather than the EU response from without Ukraine.

The EU has responded in the usual EU way.  The EU way has been criticised for not doing enough, or arriving long after the stable door was found to be swinging and not horse was in sight over several critical and headline grabbing issues.  However a 28 headed hydra (plus 3 EU institutional heads) drives any consensus-driven response to the lowest common denominator by default and will always be less than timely.  By nature is is reactionary and glacial.

But the EU way is far more than belated and proportionally questionable sanctions.  It is more than an EaP that is in dire need of restructuring due to the policy no longer being fit for the times.  Indeed for Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine that have ratified legally binding AA/DCFTA agreements, the frameworks within those documents make the EaP more or less irrelevant without a serious and meaningful policy review.  It is far more than political, diplomatic and financial aid, or the tinkering with/delaying of/expedited introduction of agreements.  It is also far more than the no PR projects that have gone on and continue to go on across Ukraine over many years.

However, this entry is more orientated to the reform and “western integration” processes, and thus the EU actions within Ukraine, rather than those EU actions outside Ukraine.

As is the EU way, a dozen separate, stand-alone missions of technocrats, bureaucrats and secondment available diplomats - together with previously employed election monitors, NGO participants etc., from various databases have been mobilised, this time as “field workers” amongst these dozen EU missions.

It doesn’t really matter that the “field workers” are generally clueless about the intricacies and technicalities of their particular mission specifics.  After all, as “field workers” they simply need to see the right people and accurately report upon what they see and hear.  Policy shapers and makers they are not.  Accuracy is the only attribute they need to have in abundance - that and a little history of understanding the “EU (bureaucratic) way”.

Thus for example, a knowledge of law, or legal institutions, or legal processes, is not an overriding requirement when working within the EU “rule of law” mission in the provinces.  Accurate reporting from the Ukrainian institutions they visit is what is expected.

The same can be said of all other EU missions in Ukraine - those at the core of each stand-alone mission are undoubtedly competent with regard to the specifics and technicalities of the mission, know how to see the woods from the trees within the provincially produced reports, and produce documents (the EU way) to justify their existence, costs, suggest strategies, and identify successes and/or resistance they may have.

This takes us to several core issues relating to the “EU way”, firstly with regard to the management and effectiveness of the “EU way”, and secondly how the “EU way” is seen through a provincial lens.


Clearly a dozen stand-alone EU missions created and sent to Ukraine to either monitor, provide advice, or both, across the various areas of required reform carries with it a dozen sets of costs - and there must surely be savings in pooling clerical, administrative, HR roles “in country” that are undoubtedly not being pooled.  The bureaucratically induced fiscal waste of a dozen stand-alone missions over 12 - 24 month (or longer) missions will be immense, not to mention unnecessary.

The time will come when somebody in Brussels declares, either with pride in the event of successes or in defence of failures, that the EU has spent “Euro X millions” on a dozen or so missions in Ukraine.  That a good deal of that money will have been wasted on duplicating administrative burdens a dozen times over will, naturally, not be mentioned.

There are however several other more important issues than institutionally, unnecessarily wasted Euros by the millions.

Sat in Kyiv is the EU Delegation to Ukraine, currently headed by Jan Tombinski.  It is he that faces the Ukrainian diplomats and parliamentarians (as well as Ukrainian civil society) when they have “issues” or when the EU (rather than its Member States) have a message to be delivered.

He is, in effect the “go to” man when it comes to the EU (and the “EU way”) for Ukrainians - and rightly so, for that is part of his role.  However, it is absolutely certain that Mr Tombinski, should you visit him on any day,  cannot tell anybody just what any of the stand-alone missions are doing, how far they have got, where they are going and what, if any, benchmarks have been met.  Talking in broad brush strokes is fine, unless somebody is asking you about specifics that you are unable to answer, but expected to know - intimately!

Some of the stand-alone missions have cross-cutting cleavages within their remits.

If Mr Tombinksi is to meet with Minister X from Ministry Y, does it not pay to know the exact situation with the handful of stand-alone EU missions that have cross-cutting cleavages that fall within the remit of Minister X?

How, exactly, can Mr Tombinski state that “this is on the table, and this is the way it will go” - or alternatively “this is not on the table, and this is why” when we can be guaranteed that he has no knowledge of which of the dozen EU stand-alone missions are doing what, where, how and with whom, the level of progress, and why one particular mission is further ahead in a specific cross-cutting cleavage area than the others.

Another issue with cross-cutting cleavages within the remits of a dozen stand-alone EU missions is that the field workers attached to each stand-alone mission will therefore see some of the same provincial functionaries and politicos, time after time after time - without having any idea that their (estranged) colleagues were there the day before asking the same questions, and that tomorrow others will be there asking the same questions too.

With the “field workers” having little to no in-depth knowledge of their own missions, let alone the others, when asked if they know “Mr/Miss X” that was here yesterday, or that is here tomorrow, they will look blank and say “no”.  When asked what will be done with their accurate reporting, they will not be able to give particularly convincing answers.  If questioned why so many EU mission people are asking the same questions, does it pay for the field worker to say “what other EU missions?” or “I don’t know”.

The issue does not end there of course.  There are then 28 EU Member States dealing bilaterally with Ukraine.  Those 28 bilateral relationships may also duplicate some EU Mission works, or contradict, or rub against the EU stand-alone missions.

Those bilaterals may often be preferred to the EU Missions on occasion too.  Bilaterals, after all, are not subject to lowest common denominator consensus of 28 Member States, plus the 3 EU institutions.  Impact and outcomes may be far more timely, far more focused, the parameters better defined, and the functionaries within far more knowledgeable.

The bilateral interlocutors are likely to be far more knowledgeable about specifics than the EU “field workers”.  Rightly we would expect a national diplomatic economics attache or junior mandarin to have a good deal better insight into economics and Ukrainian economics than somebody that has been hired by an EU Mission because they were an election observer once upon a time and were found on a database.  Likewise, defence, security, rule of law, civil service, tax, customs, organised crime, and local government reform specialists from within the diplomat corps of a nation are going to be far more imposing, impressive and able to answer prickly questions far better than an EU Mission field worker.

How does Mr Tombinksi explain to Minister X that his busy provincial staff are being asked exactly the same questions by a succession of EU personnel who apparently have no in-depth knowledge about what they ask, nor are they aware of their colleagues having visited/about to visit that same provincial functionary, and have no feedback to offer regarding previous visitors?  How then can you convince the Ukrainian Minister, and perhaps more importantly the provincial staff, that the structural reforms that will be suggested by the EU once these missions are complete, will not result in a process as needlessly expensive, discombobulated and seemingly chaotic as the EU Missions in Ukraine currently appear?

How do you convince the provincial mandarins and functionaries that despite the clearly dysfunctional appearance of the EU, nothing they say will fall between the cracks in the pavement and be lost from the discourse?  This may be the only way a provincial mandarin will be heard by not only the EU but his own centre too.  Should the EU, its numerous stand-alone missions and on-hire field workers, not project a far more efficient bureaucratic (and technocratic) image when their function is to monitor and recommend bureaucratic (and technocratic) effective reform?

None of the above, however, means that any of the stand-alone EU Missions will fail to deliver (depending upon the definition of “failure”).  What it does present, however, is the appearance of chaos, lack of discipline and “joined-up” reform management, communication issues and unnecessary financial waste.

In short is projects an image that the EU collectively, is trying to convince Ukraine to leave behind by adopting the antithesis of that image through genuine, deep-rooted reform.  The projected, yet discombobulated image very much undermines the expected ends.  Thus there is a necessity for the EU and its stand-alone missions to get its own house in order administratively.    It all has the appearance of being altogether too messy “in country”, when it need not be.