BRUSSELS -- Kyiv has touted the promise of a visa-free regime for Ukrainians traveling to the European Union as evidence of its success in carrying out reforms, but behind the scenes several key EU member states are bemoaning the country's slow progress of implementation and lack of engagement both with its citizens and with Brussels.
A discussion paper supported by nine EU member states and seen by RFE/RL declares that the government and parliament in Kyiv "urgently need to respond to public demands and reinforce their efforts to adopt and implement effective reforms, in particular in the area of anticorruption."
The paper suggests that the establishment of a deputy prime minister for European integration could foster the creation of a "transparent and effective coordination structure for reforms."
The document acknowledges that substantial progress has been made as regards the passage of new laws but highlights the many problems still facing the country.
"In some areas the actual implementation of reforms lags behind and is hampered by vested interests and lack of capacity," the paper said. "The complex processes of change and perceived lack of tangible results create disappointment and frustration among Ukrainians."
The document is backed by EU heavyweights Germany and the United Kingdom; the Netherlands, which is the current EU holder of the rotating EU Presidency; and Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Sweden, countries that are generally supportive of the European Union's Eastern Partnership.
The discussion paper emerged as President Petro Poroshenko boasted to journalists on January 14 about Ukraine's implementation of a wide range of reforms in 2015, the success of which was evidenced by the EU's executive backing visa-free travel to Ukrainian citizens. The European Commission backed Ukraine's bid for visa-free access to the European Union in December, citing the country's implementation of reforms as a reason. The commission must now formally recommend granting visa-free status, which will then be subject to approval by EU governments and the European Parliament.
Poroshenko on January 14 also vowed to continue the reform process and said that new, corruption-free law-enforcement and judicial structures would be established.
The EU document suggested that if the Ukrainian government demonstrates a new push toward carrying out reforms, the "EU should respond to Ukrainian demands for assistance and assist Ukraine in overcoming the current obstacles in the reform process."
No concrete monetary figures were mentioned regarding assistance, but the document specified that Brussels should step up its "communication efforts and enhance its visibility in Ukraine" by way of regular visits to Kyiv at the highest political level. It also said that more attention could be paid to Ukraine's regions by sending various EU representatives on joint trips to cities beyond Kyiv.
Another suggestion is that the bloc might consider selecting "a few flagship projects in key areas that could demonstrate short-term tangible results, including in the regions, and improve the visibility of the EU."
The issues presented in the document will be discussed on January 18 when EU foreign ministers assemble in Brussels for the year’s first EU Foreign Affairs Council. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin is scheduled to be in the EU capital that day and is expected to meet several of his EU counterparts.
On January 14, EU diplomats opened discussions on prolonging asset freezes and visa bans against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and 16 of his associates, as well as an additional list of restrictive measures targeting 149 individuals and 37 entities that violated the territorial integrity of Ukraine during Russia's seizure of Crimea. Both lists are up for renewal in March, and it is expected that they will be carried over for one more year.