The EU-STRAT Final Conference took place in The Hague on 11-12 April 2019. The conference was the final major event of the three-year Horizon 2020 international research project and provided an opportunity to present the project’s inside-out analysis and strategic assessment of the links between the European Union (EU) and Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries. The two-day conference started with an opening keynote speech and continued with six panels presenting findings and discussions on the different topics addressed by EU-STRAT, as well as a final roundtable looking to the future. This report provides a summary of the presentations and discussions that took place during these sessions.
The conference opened with a keynote speech by Peter Wagner, Head of the Support Group for Ukraine (SGUA) at the European Commission. Peter Wagner noted that the broad scope of the Association Agreement, while providing ample opportunities for the country, also presented significant challenges to implementing the reforms. In this way, it could be compared to selling the construction kit for a Ferrari to someone who does not have all the tools to build it and the infrastructure to use it, and while there is a neighbour that is doing all it can to prevent it from being built. Despite all these challenges, the EU has promoted major reforms by supporting the efforts of reform-oriented members in the Ukrainian government.
Regarding the necessary profound reform of the public sector, support from the beginning has included the involvement of senior experts from EU member states who have undertaken similar reforms during the transition from communism. The broad EU support includes a budget support programme, which contributes partially to the additional fiscal space the government requires to implement the administrative reforms, including increases in salaries. With newly created and better paid positions to implement reforms, filled via new, transparent recruitment procedures and computer-based testing, a new era in Ukrainian civil service has started, according to Peter Wagner.
The Reform Delivery Office working with the Prime Minister’s Office and Reform Support Teams embedded in Ukrainian ministries are providing the necessary guidance and implementation capacity to the government at the central level. In addition, high-level advice is provided by the Strategic Advisory Group of Support for Ukrainian Reforms. More broadly, 22 regional offices are supporting decentralization working with and helping local authorities in the context of the EU project.
Wagner concluded that reforms in Ukraine might not yet have reached the point of irreversibility – but with sufficient time, continued political will from Ukraine and international support, he believes things will work out. Coordination with international partners, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank is crucial in this process. However, when it comes to public administration reform, the SGUA is very much leading the way and the EU is the most important partner of Ukraine in reform. Peter Wagner proposed that finding innovative approaches where possible in applying some of the existing reform instruments and attracting the best national talents is the key to success for achieving the ambitious objective of substantial and comprehensive change in Ukraine. He further concluded that the EU is ready to stand by its partner countries in their ongoing reform efforts, noting that sustained and effective reform progress is key to the continued success of the EaP.
After the keynote speech, the time has come for discussion panels lasting for the next two days. The conference culminated with a roundtable on the future possibilities for the EU and EaP.
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To find out more about the course of the other discussion panels and the round table, please read our REPORT (PDF).