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Talkin’ ’bout a revolution

Talkin’ ’bout a revolution
Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity was the subject of an Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary Winter on Fire

EU Advisory Mission in Ukraine was set up in response to uprising

In the winter of 2013/2014, the people of Ukraine embarked on a series of demonstrations that culminated in the ‘Revolution of Dignity’.

One of the key protest demands was to bring an end to the corruption that had plagued the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

This demand was intrinsically linked with the population’s lack of confidence in the rule of law. The initial protests were sparked by the decision of the then-president Victor Yanukovych, in November 2013, to suspend preparations for the signature of an association agreement with the EU.

The protests were met with police force and, ultimately, this led to fatalities and casualties.

Talkin’ ’bout a revolution
Victoria Popovich, Tatyana Gosha, Lyudmila Ivashchuk, Irina Vuhovanec, Julia Galushchak and Yelena Nadeyeva at a prosecutors' training event

Talkin’ ’bout a revolution
Kestitus Lancinskas, EUAM head of mission, and a policeman at a Europe Day celebration in Kyiv in 2016

The president fled and the public subsequently broke into his vast residential compound outside Kyiv, finding a range of acquisitions indicative of an opulent and extravagant lifestyle.

The compound is now open to the public and is a popular weekend destination for hikers and cyclists, who can also tour the ex-president’s residence, Spanish-style galleon, expansive gardens, and mini zoo.

The revolution is the subject of a number of films, including the documentary Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2016 and which provides an insight into the reasons behind the initial protests and the escalation of events.

In response to the revolution, the Council of the EU decided to establish the EU Advisory Mission to Ukraine (EUAM), with the mission officially launched in December 2014. EUAM is a common security and defence policy mission under the European External Action Service, led by Ms Frederica Mogherini (High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy).

'EUAM is striving to ensure that all reforms are locally owned and driven

It is one of 11 such EU missions across Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. EUAM has the full support of the Irish Government, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade deploys two professionals (one police officer and one solicitor) to the mission.

Police reform

The focus of EUAM is on police reform (in part a response to Ukrainian police actions during the Revolution of Dignity), but it is also tasked with advising on prosecutorial and judicial reform and supports the full range of Ukrainian law enforcement bodies. Collectively, these bodies are referred to as the ‘civilian security sector’.

EUAM also works in cooperation with a range of EU Commission-funded projects targeting, among other things, corruption, judicial, and law-enforcement body reform. Accordingly, it is part of the ‘EU family’ operating in Ukraine.

The year 2017 was important for Ukraine in terms of Ukraine/EU relations. On 1 September, the EU association agreement came into effect, having been signed in June 2014 by the then newly elected president Petro Poroshenko, thus ‘righting the wrong’ of Victor Yanukovych in failing to sign it some eight months previously. Ireland was among the first of the EU countries to ratify the agreement.

A key feature of the agreement is the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, which creates a free-trade area between Ukraine and the EU, including Ireland. In addition, visa-free, short-term travel to Europe for Ukrainians with biometric passports came into effect in June 2017.

EUAM’s key task is to provide strategic advice to law-enforcement bodies, such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the national police, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the State Security Service, the State Fiscal Service, and the State Border Guard Service on a range of institution-building and capacity-enhancing initiatives. This includes advising on mechanisms to address corruption within their respective institutions.

To a lesser extent, EUAM advises the recently established Ukrainian anti-corruption agencies, some of which have, since establishment over two years ago, struggled to assert their independence and to disentangle themselves from political influence.

I do declare!

One of the most significant reforms introduced to combat corruption – and one of the requirements for visa liberalisation with the EU – was an ‘e-declaration system’, introduced in 2016, that obliges public officials to declare their property and wealth online.

In late 2016, when the e-declarations became publically accessible, there was quite an amount of surprise expressed at the wealth of certain politicians, and also by how much money they kept in cash.

Since then, there has been disappointment among both Ukrainians and the international community about the lack of action in terms of e-declaration verification and subsequent investigations. In this regard, Ukraine is currently in the process of drafting legislation on the establishment of a high anti-corruption court.

In October 2017, an opinion was provided by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe on two draft laws related to the establishment of such a court. Opinion 896/2017 was adopted by the Venice Commission in October 2017.

Discussions are currently ongoing in Ukraine about, among other things, the jurisdiction of the court and the manner in which the judges of the court should be appointed.

Upward trajectory

EUAM also works closely with the Ukrainian prosecution service and, to a lesser extent, with the courts. A recent public survey conducted by EUAM showed public trust in the prosecution system and the courts to be on an upward trajectory, with trust in the prosecution service at 20 per cent (a 7 per cent increase compared with two years previously) and in the courts at 17 per cent (a 4 per cent increase compared with two years previously).

In relative global terms, however, this level of public trust is very low and, if a similar survey were carried out in Ireland, where the courts are independent and free from political influence, those percentages would be significantly higher.

EUAM would like to see public trust in the prosecution service grow and, to this end, the mission (together with other donors) continues to provide support and advice to the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine on a range of issues, including:

  • Abolition of ‘general supervision powers’, which are a legacy of Ukraine’s Soviet past,
  • Establishment of prosecutorial self-governance bodies,
  • Performance evaluation, and
  • Legislative reform.


Progress has been made since the adoption of the Law on the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine in 2014, but there is still much to be done. In this regard, EUAM is striving to ensure that all reforms are locally owned and driven.

One of the key reforms that the prosecutor’s office is currently tackling is the obligation to transfer its investigative functions to a range of law-enforcement bodies, including the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (established 2015), and the State Bureau of Investigations (established late 2017, but not yet operational).

This has led to disputes over jurisdiction, with claims being made that the prosecution service is unwilling to make the reforms that are necessary in accordance with the law, and that its motivation is to retain its powerbase of investigative authority.

Under the reform process, prosecutors are obliged to take on the role of ‘procedural managers’ of individual cases, and to oversee criminal investigation cases.

EUAM has also played a role in coordinating donor activity in terms of the establishment of the new Supreme Court of Ukraine, which was officially launched on 15 December 2017. In November 2016, an advertisement was posted online for 120 vacancies at the new court, and over 800 applications were received.

Candidates who were found to fulfil the minimum criteria were subject to a background check, a written examination, a psychological test and an interview.

The interviews, which were broadcast on YouTube, gave the interview panel the opportunity to ask questions on the candidates’ past professional experience, their financial circumstances, and their assets. The law also provided for a 20-member Public Integrity Council, selected by civil society organizations, to investigate candidates’ circumstances in terms of meeting the necessary standards on ethical behaviour and integrity. In December 2017, the president appointed 114 candidates to the bench of the new court.

Judicial ethics

In terms of establishing/maintaining an independent judiciary, free from corruption, it is critical that judicial ethics are strictly observed.

To this end, in September 2017, Chief Justice Frank Clarke, Mr Justice George Birmingham and barrister Helen Boyle conducted a series of training events at the Ukrainian National School of Judges in both Kyiv and Kharkiv. There, they addressed questions of judicial ethics, including suitable judicial conduct off the bench, maintenance of judicial confidentiality, and recusal.

The Chief Justice also presided over an expert discussion on judicial independence, organised by EUAM, that was attended by a range of international organisations (Council of Europe, USAID, EU Delegation), together with high-ranking members of the Ukrainian judiciary.

At the expert discussion, the Chief Justice remarked on the high levels of transparency evident during the recruitment of judges to the new Supreme Court.

He also expressed a hope that it would bring with it the required levels of judicial independence, as he observed that there is not necessarily always a direct correlation between transparency and independence.

The cooperation with the Irish judiciary will continue this year, with a study visit by a delegation of Ukrainian judges to Ireland in spring 2018 and a return visit by the aforementioned Irish delegation to Ukraine to provide further training on judicial ethics.

These events are being conducted under the auspices of the National School of Judges of Ukraine and will be financed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and EUAM respectively.

At a glance

  • EUAM’s focus is on police reform, but it is also tasked with advising on prosecutorial and judicial reform and supports the full range of Ukrainian law enforcement bodies
  • The mission also works in cooperation with a range of EU Commission-funded projects targeting, among other things, corruption, judicial, and law-enforcement body reform
  • EUAM has also played a role in coordinating donor activity in terms of the establishment of the new Supreme Court of Ukraine