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European values are not just about EU flags

Sunday, 06 June 2021
This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Ukrainian and EU flags hanging from the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs building in Kiev, Ukraine

A rather strange political trend has been recently observed in Kyiv and throughout Ukraine. The European Union flags had been displayed on many state buildings and public institutions under the pretext of speeding up the signing of the Association agreement and the visa-free regime that had already happened.

It is not a problem to fly the flag of the European Union, but no one seems to have given Kyiv the permission for this symbolism. Moreover, practically all popular, relatively popular and some extremely unpopular changes in the life of Ukrainians, undertaken by the Government, are communicated in the local media as “a necessary evil”, “required by the West – the European Parliament, the World Bank and the IMF”.

The “European fever” that gripped Ukraine during the Poroshenko presidency is still sweeping the country, which can only be compared by intensity to the “gold rush”, beckoning the country’s population “to adopt European rules of life” and providing a perfect cover for the authorities. After all, the local authorities realise that currently it is only Albania that has a real chance of joining the EU in the near future. Ukraine, on the other hand, has a way to go, a way not of populism and showmanship, but of real change.

At the same time, the lack of logic in such ‘pro-European policy’, the change of course of the Ukrainian governments in recent years sometimes by 360 degrees, does not confuse anyone in this Eastern European country. Substitution of concepts has become a normal rule of politics.

The fight against corruption is replaced by the fight against big and medium business, the parity taxation is replaced by the toughening tax burden, the judicial system, as the PACE pointed out, is replaced by the decisions of the President’s Office and another couple of officials, the earmarked funds of the West for fighting COVID-19 are misused as before with a flavour of corruption. And all this is taking place in a country fighting back against an aggressor on its eastern border.

One thing remains unchanged though – foreign investors, who seem to be the embodiment of the European idea, have had just as hard a time in Ukraine under Yanukovych and Poroshenko, as they are having now under Zelensky. A handful of European investors, who try to enter Ukraine, especially in the agrarian market, are forced to leave it. One may recall the case of TIU, a Canadian company that produces green energy. TIU’s management has invested over 65 million dollars in Ukraine, building four solar-powered plants, before it fell victim to a raider attack.

Ironically, it was TIU Canada that sponsored the Ukrainian House in Davos, where President Zelensky pledged protection for every foreign investor. Meanwhile, the culmination of the government’s move to impose massive restrictions on business has been the tax reform, which the Ukrainian parliament is preparing to adopt.

If the tax law, which was submitted to the local parliament last week, is passed, the combined taxation of businesses can be the highest in the world. This is illogical in a country that is defending its territory against Russia, fighting and asking Germany and the US for political, financial and economic support as well as for arms. After all, such ill-conceived taxation will only empty the treasury, which will play into the hands of Russia. Do those in Ukraine who ask the West for help understand this?

In theory they should help themselves first of all. Because the economy, weakened by the fighting, by the tension along all of the southern, eastern and now northern borders of Ukraine, will get even weaker. In other words, the integration of the Ukrainian and European economies will be set to zero by the efforts of Ukrainian officials.

In this regard it is obvious that the European Union is carefully evaluating the achievements and decisions of its potential members in strengthening their own economies, reducing unemployment, increasing transparency and stability in taxation, protecting local and foreign investors, as well as taking steps against corruption. So far the West observes Ukraine moving in the opposite direction, while we would prefer to see some real and lawful steps towards decriminalisation of the Ukrainian society and its officials.

European politicians are closely monitoring the developments in Ukraine and have decided to express their opinion at the decision-making stage. In particular, member of the European Parliament Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs Guiseppe Ferrandino in his letter to Ukrainian authorities emphasized: “While the EU is demonstrating its full support of Ukraine in its military standoff with Russia, it is sad to witness that Ukraine’s own government  seems to be taking countermeasures by intensifying the tax burden on its key employers.

In my understanding, these changes may not only worsen unemployment in Ukraine, but also spike the number of refugees in the EU and result in a further outflow of unskilled labour from the regions of Ukraine to EU countries, which already raises concerns”. He also stated that “instead of increasing taxes to the world’s highest levels and suffocating the country’s largest enterprises, the government needs to consider other more humane ways to stimulate the Ukrainian economy.”

Ukrainians, in general, are no strangers to waiting decades for a “bright future”. However, corruption, an unreformed judicial system, and highly destructive tax initiatives will only delay its onset. Representatives of the middle and older generation waited for communism during the Soviet period and today they are ready to wait for accession to the EU.

With the kind of laws that the political local elite is adopting, it may be at least another 70 years. However, what do you call the people who create such systems of governance and make a profit from them? Those who fly EU flags on Ukraine’s state institutions and say “one or two more years and we’ll live happily ever after”. And what could be better for people living in such countries than leaving them while it is still possible?