Press Releases Press remarks by Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, following the informal General Affairs Council

Press remarks by Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, following the informal General Affairs Council

First of all, I want to thank the Swedish Presidency for reaching out and inviting me here and I was very happy to spend the lunch together with members of the General Affairs Council where I have provided our oral update, something that we have undertook as a commitment back in December. Because as you know, a year ago, the European Council has decided very clearly that there is European perspective offered to Ukraine Moldova and Georgia. The European Council also decided that Ukraine and Moldova are considered as candidate countries to become members of the European Union and in case of Georgia, the European Council is ready to provide candidate status once the priorities specified, so conditions as specified last year, will be addressed and met.


Going back to the debate we have had in December last year, there was a clear request from a number of Member States that they want to see how these countries are making progress with these priorities set forward by the European Council, and this resulted in an undertaking by the Commission to provide a so-called oral update. This is something that we never do because we have an annual regular reporting cycle that we don’t like to break. It takes a lot of work to prepare a report like this and this is why as on a truly exceptional basis we took the obligation to provide the Council with the oral update.


The oral update, as I said, is related to the priorities set last year for the three countries, so not the entire accession process as such. Not all the accession criteria. So, this is a much narrower reporting that we have been doing today. The regular one, the broader one, that covers all the areas are to be expected as always in October this year covering not only these three countries but also the six Western Balkans countries.


So, just before I read out a summary of what I have delivered to the ministers  – because this was also a very clear request from the side of the ministers to make it as public as possible – I want to walk you through the different categories. The marking, so to speak, that we have applied when the update was put together. So, we have basically five categories:


  • the first one is no progress, which means that the country has not yet started to deliver on the priority.
  • Then there is the limited progress category, which means that the implementation has started, but it is still at an early stage.
  • Then comes the some progress category, which means that several measures have been taken, but important measures are still pending, meaning overall less than half of the task has been delivered.
  • Good progress means that important measures had been taken, but some measures are still pending, but overall, more than half of the tasks have been delivered.
  • And finally, we have the category of completed, meaning that all the measures have been taken and we consider this step to be fulfilled.


With this explanation, I want to explain you what we have presented to the Council.


First, let me start with Ukraine. In the case of Ukraine there have been 7 steps or priorities identified in the June European Council opinion based on our proposal, based on Commission proposal. We consider now that out of these 7 priorities Ukraine has already completed 2 steps.


First of all, they have successfully addressed the reform of 2 key judicial governance bodies – that was Step 2: High Council of Justice and High Qualification Commission of Judges which are up and running after a merit-based selection process.

The second case where we consider the priority to be complete is the media area that is Step 6 where they have adopted the key media legislation fully in line with our own EU audio-visual media services directive.


Progress on the implementation of the other steps are on track as we say it in our Brussels language, meaning that the work is being delivered on time and as we work together with Ukraine.


Ukraine has achieved good progress on the Constitutional Court reform – this is Step 1- where they have adopted the necessary law in first reading. This law establishes – we think- solid process but it is still premature to say because the law is still pending for second reading in the Rada to which amendments could still be tabled until 24th June. And it is very important that in this process the decisive role of the internationally nominated members will have to be confirmed fully as proposed by the government. Now we need Ukraine to focus on the adoption of the draft law in the second reading, therefore, to make it fully in line as proposed by the government with the Venice Commission recommendations.


Ukraine achieved some progress in the remaining 4 steps, namely anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, de-oligarchisation, and national minorities.


On anti-corruption measures we have seen some progress by appointing the new heads of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Office (SAPO) and the other one, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU). Ukraine now needs to build a credible track record of prosecutions and convictions and to ensure a steady fight against corruption. For this, Ukraine should take further systemic measures, in particular restoring the e-asset declaration system and implementing the adopted anti-corruption state programme.

On anti-money laundering, Ukraine should on the one hand adopt the draft law for the restoration of the Financial Action Task Force   FATF) -compliant definition of politically exposed persons and on the other hand to continue the legislative alignment with FATF standards, for instance in areas such as virtual assets, financial investigations, or targeted financial sanctions.

On de-oligarchisation, Ukraine has an Action Plan to reduce the influence of oligarchs, which includes systemic reforms in key areas and now we need this to be implemented together with the Venice Commission recommendations on the anti-oligarch law in particular by legally suspending the implementation of the law during the war and by prioritizing systemic laws/measures against oligarchs and this would need to be followed up without any delay.

Regarding the national minorities, Ukraine needs to address the recommendations of the Venice Commission Opinion of this month on the law on minorities, in particular on the use of minority languages in public life, administration, media and books. In this opinion, the Venice Commission also recalled that Ukraine has to address also earlier recommendations of the Venice Commission on Law on Education and on Law on the State Language.  These are dating back to 2017 and 2019. In addition to that, on 11 June, Ukraine has adopted a law extending the transition period for education in minority languages by one year for pupils who started their education before 1 September 2018. This should now allow Ukraine to reconsider the minority school-system in the light also of previous Venice Commission recommendations to ensure the equal opportunities for people belonging to national minorities, avoiding a disproportionate interference in their rights.


Now, let’s turn to Moldova. In the case of Moldova, there have been nine steps identified by the European Council and we see that Moldova has already completed three of those.


First of all, by addressing the shortcomings identified by the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission on the judiciary reform and the reforms of the electoral code, that was Step 2, by enhancing the involvement of the civil society in decision-making processes, that was Step 8 and by strengthening the protection of human rights, particularly of vulnerable groups and to enhancing the gender equality and fight violence against women, that was Step 9, so these are completed.


Progress on the implementation of the other steps are also on track, just like in the case of Ukraine.

They have achieved good progress on other three areas, namely on justice reform, on de-oligarchisation and on public finance management reforms.

In the area of justice reforms, a comprehensive reform of the judiciary is taking place with legislative amendments already adopted following  the Venice Commission’s recommendations and to be able to fully address this step, of course Moldova has still work to do, to align the draft law on “vetting” with the Venice Commission recommendations,   appoint a general prosecutor in a transparent and merit-based procedure, fill the remaining vacancies of the Superior Council of the Magistracy and to ensure the functioning of the Supreme Court of Justice.

Regarding the de-oligarchization, Moldova adopted a systemic approach, following the Venice Commission recommendations. To fully address the step, Moldova needs to address all the recommendations of the Venice Commission, reinforce the competition policy, including the capacity of the Competition Council and further demonstrate the effectiveness of the Audiovisual Council.

On public finance management reforms, Moldova has to implement the policy on state ownership and to adopt the laws on public-private partnership and public property management.


Finally, most of the work has to be concentrated around now fighting corruption, on the fight against organised crime, including asset recovery and fight against financial crime and money laundering and on public administration reforms, where they have achieved some progress.

On anti-corruption, Moldova needs to ensure efficient actions of the Anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office and the National Anti-Corruption Centre and to improve further the quality of investigations and efficiency of the prosecution leading to convictions.

On the fight against organised crime: Moldova needs to adopt secondary legislation for the Law on Preventing and Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism and to adopt legislative amendments to implement the mechanism of civil confiscations.

And finally, on public administration reform, Moldova needs to finalize the functional review of the ministries and continue to reform the salary system and merit-based civil service.


This leads me to Georgia, where 12 priorities were identified in our June Opinion, and we see that three of these have been completed.

First, on gender equality and fighting violence against women. Second, taking into account European Court of Human Rights judgments in Court deliberations and, third, on appointing a Public Defender through a transparent process.

In seven other areas, Georgia has achieved some progress. These areas are on the issue of political polarization, to guarantee the full functioning of the State institutions and to further improve the electoral framework, to adopt and implement the transparent and effective judicial reform strategy, to strengthen the independence of the Anti-Corruption Agency, to strengthen the fight against organised crime, to strengthen the protection of human rights of vulnerable groups and to ensure the involvement of civil society in decision making processes.

So briefly, on the individual steps, what we see on Step 1, that is the political polarization most Members of the Parliament have ended their boycott of the Parliament and few laws were passed with cross-party support. To fully address this priority, Georgia needs to ensure an efficient oversight of the Parliament and end the use of harsh rhetoric and honour past political agreements, notably the one brokered by the European Union, which is called the EU-mediated 19th April Agreement.

On Step 2 to get into the full functioning of State institutions and to further improve the electoral framework, the Government has adopted a public administration reform strategy and an Action Plan. The electoral code and the Law on Political Associations were amended, to align them to the Venice Commission recommendations and ODIHR recommendations, but we still need Georgia to improve the parliamentary oversight, to adequately investigate allegations of electoral malpractices as highlighted in the ODIHR reports and to reverse the electoral amendments changing the appointment procedure of the CEC chairman, this is the Central Election Commission.

On Step 3, the inclusive and effective judicial reform, including the High Council of Justice, Georgia needs to submit amendments on judicial reform to the Venice Commission for a second opinion, to adopt a broader reform of the judiciary, especially of the High Council of Justice and finally, to appoint the remaining non-judge members of the High Council of Justice.

On step 4, on anti-corruption, a new Anti-corruption Bureau was set up. To fully address this step, Georgia still needs to ensure that the anti-corruption bureau operates independently and that the Venice Commission is consulted on the draft legislation and we would ask Georgia to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the OECD anti-corruption network.

On Step 6, organised crime, Georgia stepped up its cooperation with Europol and the Member States. Now Georgia needs to address all the outstanding recommendations of the Council of Europe MONEYVAL.

On Step 8, protection of human rights and vulnerable groups, Georgia needs to ensure that an Action Plan for Human Rights Strategy is prepared in an inclusive manner and to ensure freedom of assembly and protection for members of the LGBTQI community.

On Step 10, involving the civil society in decision-making processes at all levels, Georgia needs to resume constructive dialogue with the civil society and implement regular and transparent consultations.

In the area of the de-oligarchisation, Georgia has achieved limited progress. In this area, the Venice Commission in its recent recommendation from 12th June, reiterated that the draft law should not be adopted in its current form. In this regard, I welcome the announcement made yesterday and the day before by the ruling party that this draft law will not be adopted. Now, Georgia has to focus on and adopt a law setting out a systemic approach, in line with the Venice Commission recommendations, including by reinforcing rules on competition policy and financing of political parties.

Finally, on media pluralism and standards for criminal procedures against media owners, Georgia has reached no progress. In order to fulfil this step, Georgia needs to amend the Law on Broadcasting, in line with the legal opinion of the Council of Europe and to ensure the safety of journalists and to raise the level of protection of freedom of journalists and media owners.

So, this is all about the actual state of play in the three countries. This is just a snapshot. And as I said, we’re coming back with a much broader, deeper analysis in October.

And now I’m happy to answer your questions.

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