The author is Andriy Lyubarets
Against the background of a February full of European integration events, March turned out to be rather lacking in media attention to the topic of Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU. For example, mentions of Ukraine’s European integration both in the media and in social networks decreased by 47% (here and below the statistics are collected using the analytical tool Youscan).
During March, the media often spread positive statements from Ukrainian politicians about the implementation of European Union recommendations and avoided critical evaluations of the government’s optimistic forecasts.
Media about the European integration of Ukraine
The meeting between Zelenskyy and Stefanchuk with the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, was the leader among the news items in March. When covering this event, the media most often cited Metsola’s statement regarding the possibility of starting negotiations on Ukraine’s membership in the European Union as early as 2023. Some mass media in their headlines manipulatively noted that “it is known about the timing of the start of negotiations regarding Ukraine’s accession to the EU.”Statements by top EU officials regarding work on gaps in sanctions against the russian federation and the importance of bringing putin to justice for war crimes were less frequently cited.
In addition, the media often wrote about the extension of the agreement on the liberalization of road freight transport on March 16 (the so-called extension of the “transport visa-free”). They also actively covered the summit of the European Council in Brussels on March 23-24. Mainly, the media informed about the content of the “declaration of support for Ukraine” (formulation of the Ukrainian media), which was adopted as a result of the meeting, and also cited the address of Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the European Council regarding the key dangers that are taking away from the end of the war.
On March 6, the new director of NABU Semen Kryvonos was appointed. This gave Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal a reason to declare that Ukraine has now fulfilled all seven EU recommendations. Some Ukrainian media headlined the Prime Minister’s statement, which was rather a subjective assessment of the state of implementation of the EU recommendations, without indicating as a quote. This created a false impression among readers about the degree of Ukraine’s readiness to join the EU.
Subsequently, the state of implementation of EU recommendations was explained more precisely by the Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanyshyna. She noted that Ukraine will fulfill most of the candidate criteria in May – before the first assessment by the European Commission. She also reported that the government will negotiate with the European Commission on the conditions for meeting the requirements for the selection of judges and amendments to the “anti-oligarchy law”. Commenting on this statement, the profile publication “European Truth” noted in the headline that the government plans to fulfill “all but one” of the EU criteria. However, the majority of Ukrainian media were not interested in a more balanced assessment of the real state of implementation of EU recommendations.
In a similar way, the Ukrainian media reacted to the publication of the Report on the implementation of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement (UA). According to it, Ukraine has fulfilled 72% of the obligations stipulated by the UA. Many media presented this news as an objective fact, without clarifying the source of information in the headline (for example, “government report”), which affected the formation of a false impression among readers. Both in the media and among experts, attempts to skepticize the high performance of the Agreement and investigate the evaluation methodology have not become popular. One of the few exceptions was coverage of the topic by “Ukrainian Radio”. The media invited Lyubov Akulenko, executive director of the NGO “Ukrainian Center for European Policy”, to the broadcast. She shared an alternative assessment of the performance of the UA, which was more restrained: 54.8%.
In March, only four laws marked as “European integration” or noted by experts as important on Ukraine’s path to the EU were adopted: on strengthening the protection of intellectual property rights (No. 6464), on preventing terrorism (No. 8146), on control of aviation security (No. 6405) and on automatic exchange of information on financial accounts (No. 8131).
Most media attention was paid to the laws on intellectual property rights and on the exchange of information on financial accounts. Although, there was no active public discussion and media interest in any of the draft laws.
Some media criticized the bill on financial accounts: they cited lawyers who accused the law of “killing the concept of banking secrecy” and claimed that as a result of the law, Ukrainian refugees may have their card accounts blocked after changing their tax resident status. Instead, other media called the innovation “an absolutely necessary step for the maximum integration of Ukraine into the European economic infrastructure.”
The head of the analytical department of the NGO “ANTS” Ilya Neskhodovsky calls the introduction of international CRS and EOIR standards the actual goal of the draft law No. 8131 and clarifies that it complies with the provisions of Section V “Economic and industry cooperation” and Section VI “Financial cooperation and anti-fraud provisions” of the Agreement on the Ukraine-EU Association.
It is also worth noting that several media published the news about draft law No. 8146 under the manipulative title “From Now on Everyone is in Plain View of the SBU.” It was about the innovation regarding the SBU’s access to information about passengers and flight personnel. Such coverage of information forms a negative attitude towards innovation, which is required from Ukraine within the framework of the implementation of the European convention on the prevention of terrorism.
Among the analytical materials that specialized media and think tanks worked on in March, there was no single central theme that most stakeholders would cover.
The profile publication “European Truth” wrote about the criteria for implementing the law on oligarchs within the framework of compliance with the recommendations of the European Commission. The author of the article emphasized that the future decision of the Venice Commission (VC) will require Ukraine to cancel or fundamentally revise the “anti-oligarchic law”. At the same time, the coordinator of the EUROSCOPE analytical group of the NGO “ANTS” Roman Makukhin noted that the joint decision on the imperfection of the laws of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova was equally prepared by the VC even before March 14, and the systematic nature of the reform aimed at overcoming the influence of the post-Soviet “secretariat of oligarchs” remains an important factor stabilization and development of potential EU members.
The publication also reviewed the report on Ukraine by the “Group of States Against Corruption” (GRECO), a key European anti-corruption structure, and came to the conclusion that possible problems during the next regular report could be the adoption of a draft law on lobbying, the completion of the formation of an effective High Qualification Commission of Judges and the restoration e-declaration.
The publication “RBC-Ukraine” wrote about the importance of restoring e-declarations of officials for the further successful European integration of Ukraine and investigated the readiness of the authorities to return this norm.
ANTS NGO analyst Marianna Onufrik reviewed the state of affairs regarding the deinstitutionalization of boarding schools (one of the requirements of the EU in the social sphere) and questioned Ukraine’s readiness to “get rid of orphanages as a phenomenon” in the near future. The expert emphasized the need to develop services for children and families at the community level as an alternative to the system of institutional care facilities.
Nataliya Galetska, a specialist in interregional cooperation of the Lviv Regional Council, analyzed the requirements of the EU regarding regional policy in a column for “European Truth”. She noted that in order to fulfill these requirements, Ukraine should improve coordination between authorities, coordination between program documents of different levels, as well as increase the efficiency of the use of European funds and improve the financial monitoring system.
The ecological organization “Ekodiya” wrote about how Ukraine will be affected by the new mechanisms for regulating carbon emissions in the EU and determined what reforms in the field our country should make in order to preserve the volume of imports to European countries. In particular, the organization noted the need to develop a legislative framework for the system of trading carbon emissions and implement a system of circulation of quotas for them.
The non-governmental organization “Center for Democracy and the Rule of Law” analyzed the process of development by EU countries of unified rules for the regulation of political advertising, which take into account new challenges regarding information security. The publication states that the new regulation does not apply to candidate countries. In addition, Ukraine is interested in voluntarily approaching EU standards in the field of regulation of the political process.