Pushing for reforms in Ukraine: joint efforts of experts, officials and civil society

On the 9-11th December 2014, Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels with the support of the U.S. Mission to the EU, European Endowment for Democracy and International Renaissance Foundation organized a visit for the members of the Office to Brussels.

The experts took part in the “Day of Ukraine” in the European Parliament, the Conference in the Centre of European Policy Studies (CEPS), hold consultations with the EU officials working with Ukraine and donor organizations, which support projects in Ukraine. They also participated in the informal meetings with European experts, which work on Ukraine and related topics.

In the aftermath of the visit it became obvious that Ukrainian and European experts can work together with the EU institutions and Ukrainian government in order to push for reforms in Ukraine and to help implement the Association Agreement.

On the 9th December, during the “Day of Ukraine” in the European Parliament, experts took part in the conference under the patronage of the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz: “Ukraine as a test for European Solidarity?”. They had a chance to listen to the members of the European Parliament and of the Parliament of Ukraine, experts and journalists from Ukraine and member states of the EU. Main messages of this conference: Ukraine must hurry up its reform process, the EU should unite and be more decisive in its help to Ukraine and Ukraine and the EU should work together in order to counter common security threats.

In the Parliament, experts also visited a photo exhibition “Donbas: War and Peace”, where Ukrainian photographs, covering the conflict in the East of Ukraine, presented a reality of the daily life of thousands of people in the time of the war. The exhibition was opened by Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, Ukraine’s Representative to the European Union and members of the European Parliament. Participants also viewed the first episode of the documentary “Ukraine: staying alive in the fire” of Khrystyna Bondarenko.

The next day was rich on expert discussions with officials of the EU and Brussels based experts on Ukraine. and. Ukrainian experts took part in the CEPS / KAS conference “The EU’s relations with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova following the autumn elections”. During the conference, they were able to compare the processes happening in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova –  countries which have signed the Association Agreement with the EU and to find out what can each country learn from each other when it comes to the pursuit of reforms.

During an important meeting with the Support Group for Ukraine, European Commission, the participants once again confirmed their opinion that Ukrainian experts and EU officials working on Ukraine, are “natural partners” in promoting reforms in Ukraine. By combining their efforts, they can more effectively influence Ukrainian government to introduce reforms and at the same time, a proper implementation of the Association Agreement. Since most of the participants were from Ukrainian regions, another important area of cooperation was established – spreading knowledge about the Association Agreement in the regions where there is a lack of understanding what this agreement can bring to every citizen.

Next was the meeting with Jerzy Pomianowski, Executive director, European Endowment for Democracy (EED). During the meeting the experts discussed the current state of development of the civil society in Ukraine and its potential to influence the government and the processes that are happening. Participants agreed that the fundamental transformation of Ukraine was ongoing and activists were key players in it.

At the meeting with the representatives of the Ukrainian desk, External Action Service, special attention was paid to the question of National Dialogue. In order to prevent further worsening of the ties between Ukrainians and in order to restore the unity in the shortest period of time, the National Dialogue must continue to take place and be reinforced. The necessity for the political parties, which formed the coalition and the government, to unite was also discussed. Participants talked about concrete instruments that the EU can apply to help Ukraine’s reform process, in particular, recently formed the EU Advisory Mission for Civilian Security Sector Reform Ukraine.

After consultations, experts took part in the meeting of the members of the Office, where Olena Prystayko, Executive Director of the Office, gave a summary of what has been achieved this year and the participants drafted plans for the year ahead.

Visit of the experts to Brussels ended with a dinner with their European colleagues from Brussels – based think tanks.  It helped to not only establish informal relationships but also to discuss specific projects and programs that experts from Ukraine and the EU can implement. To do this, one has to raise the professional level of Ukrainian think tanks; they can learn the best practices in research from their European colleagues in order to be able to converse their studies into clear guidelines and policies for the benefit of all stakeholders, including government, business and society in general.

Experts from the following organizations – members of the Office and those who support the Office took part in this visit: Kharkiv Institute for Social Studies (Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine), Center for International Studies of Odesa Mechnikov National University (Odesa, Southern Ukraine), Association for Community Self-Organization Assistance (Odesa), Podolian Agency for Regional Development (Vinnytsa, Central Ukraine), International Centre for Policy Studies (ICPS) (Kyiv, capital), Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation (Kyiv), Center for Regional Policy Studies (Sumy, Northern-Eastern Ukraine), Centre UA (Kyiv) and International Renaissance Foundation.