Three months since establishment of the Constitutional Commission in Ukraine, there is notable progress: a package of amendments on decentralisation has been produced and received an overall positive assessment of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission. The draft proposals for the reform of the judiciary and the constitutional chapters on human rights are being finalised and expected to be presented shortly. The work of the working group on human rights has been the most participatory and transparent in its approach.
President Poroshenko announced that the decentralisation package will be submitted to parliament instantly. Given the short reform process, understandable in view of the urgencies of these reforms, and the relatively closed deliberations by the Constitutional Commission, a lot more communication on these reforms will be needed in the context of parliament’s vote. The public in particular knows little of these reforms and their impact on citizens’ everyday lives.
Further comprehensive constitutional amendments are needed, and it is desirable that the Commission does not cease its activities after the above constitutional amendments are introduced but rather creates new thematic working groups. These were the main conclusions of the conference on Ukraine’s constitutional reform held by DRI together with the USAID RADA programme and the Reanimation Package of Reforms on 1 July in Kyiv.
Anka Feldhusen, the Deputy Head of Mission of the German Embassy, opened the conference with welcoming remarks. Referring to the draft amendments on decentralisation developed by the Constitutional Commission, she noted that the amendments deserve support as they received a positive review by the Venice Commission. Ambassador Vladimir Ristovski, Head of the Council of Europe’s Office in Ukraine, praised the Commission’s determination to follow the Venice Commission’s recommendations. “The credibility of reforms depends, among other things, on their alignment with the international standards”, he said. Michael Meyer-Resende, DRI’s Executive Director, spoke about the tension between the speed and the inclusiveness in the process of reform. “A demand for participation in the democratic process is difficult to balance with the demand for quick results,” he said. However, he appreciated that “while the Venice Commission’s opinions of the last 20 years sounded like a broken record, repeating the same recommendations, the latest opinion suggests that the record is being fixed. Europe and Ukraine start dancing a tango. But it should not be a tango of the governments. The public and the civil society have an inherent role in the process too.”
The first discussion session addressed the issues of transparency and inclusiveness of the current constitutional reform. Panelists discussed whether the composition of the Constitutional Commission is representative and whether it was open for the public. The Commission’s working group on human rights was praised as the leader in terms of ensuring the transparency and accessibility: all of its 25 meetings held were open for the media and public, however the attendance was poor and the discussions not covered by the media. The two journalists on the panel explained that the subject matter is difficult for media, in particular for the TV. Decentralisation was the most interesting issue for the public but the explanations provided officially were difficult to understand for non-experts. The panel agreed that journalists should nevertheless adopt a proactive investigative approach towards these reforms. The importance of ensuring the coverage of reforms on the national TV channels, the most popular medium of information in Ukraine, was also stressed.
Panel two brought together experts to discuss concrete achievements of the Constitutional Commission over the past three months. Panelists examined the contents of the proposed amendments for decentralisation. Concerns were voiced that the proposed new institute of prefects and the powers granted to the self-government bodies may not be accepted by the Ukrainians due to the lack of comprehensive information and explanation of the essence of reform. Several panelists questioned the proposed competency of the President to terminate the powers of the heads of local councils in certain circumstances. All panelists agreed that the proposed amendments overall ensure a shift towards more powers to the local self-governments in line with the European Charter of Local Self-government.
The conference was attended by over 90 participants, including the members of the Constitutional Commission, policy makers, local and international experts, representatives of the civil society and international organisations. The event was live streamed by the USAID RADA programme.
Watch the full video recording here.
The photo report is available here.
The conference was organised in the framework of the project implemented by Democracy Reporting International together with the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. The project is funded by the German Foreign Office.