The bloc has made anti-graft reform one of the key conditions for starting accession talks
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has approved a new package of laws aimed at tackling the country’s endemic corruption, in hopes of bringing Kiev closer to EU membership.
On Friday, Zelensky signed three bills into law which had been approved by the parliament earlier in the day. The first increases the maximum number of staff at the National Anti-Corruption Bureau from 700 to 1,000, with its authors arguing that the measure would allow the body to crack down on graft more effectively.
The second reorganizes the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office to give it more autonomy and changes the process of selecting senior prosecutors.
The third law allows the National Agency on Corruption Prevention to check the property bought by officials and their family members before they were appointed to their posts.
In addition, Zelensky also signed a bill on the rights of ethnic minorities that takes into account the expert assessment of the EU Council. The initiative lifts some restrictions on languages used in the EU, but it does not apply to Russian, which the Ukrainian authorities have tried to eliminate from all public spheres.
The laws were passed after the EU Commission recommended opening formal accession talks with Kiev last month, but demanded that Ukraine implement a series of anti-corruption reforms. However, some EU states, including Hungary and Austria, oppose speeding up the integration process.
While Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban called the EU’s proposal “unfounded and poorly prepared,” Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg warned that rushing the process could alienate other candidates.
Ukraine has been plagued by rampant corruption for several decades. The country ranks 116th out of 180 on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, and in recent months, it has been rocked by several high-profile bribery scandals in the defense industry.
The problem has not gone unnoticed in the West, with CNN reporting in October that the US was pressuring Ukraine to do more about corruption, indicating that further aid would depend on Kiev’s progress in this area.
Orban has also cited the problem as one of the main obstacles to Ukraine’s EU accession, while his newly elected Slovak counterpart, Robert Fico, has argued against sending billions of euros in aid to the country for the same reason.
Andrey Yermak, the head of the office of President Zelensky, has rejected the idea that Ukraine is one of the world’s most corrupt countries, calling it a false “Russian narrative.”